Census by Jesse BallWhat it's about: The widowed father of young man with Down syndrome is dying -- and must figure out how to provide for his son after his death.
Why you might like it: Consider this a non-traditional road novel; the unnamed narrator takes a long-postponed cross-country trip with his son, paid for by his role as census-taker for a mysterious governmental agency.
What reviewers say: "strange and wonderful" (LitHub); "an understated feat" (The Washington Post).
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue HalpernWhat it's about: A trio of oddballs finds a home of sorts in the Carnegie library of a declining industrial town in New Hampshire.
Why you might like it: Authentic characters, unexpected and evolving relationships, and multiple narrators keep the story moving forward.
For fans of: other book-oriented novels with quirky characters, like Felicity Hayes-McCoy's The Library at the Edge of the World or Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower.
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma IwealaWhat it's about: Star athlete Niru is bound for the Ivy League...until his loving but traditional Nigerian parents discover that he's gay. The repercussions are violent and far-reaching.
Why you should read it: Cross-generational misunderstandings, as well as cross-cultural complications, are sensitively portrayed. Niru is a complex young man trying to come to terms with being a young gay black man.
Is it for you? Readers who prefer happy endings will want to look elsewhere.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha RaoStarring: motherless Poornima and penniless Savitha, whose deep friendship sustains them in their rural Indian town.
What it's about: Separated by acts of cruelty and abuse, the two young women must navigate the world alone, each searching for the other.
Why you might like it: Narrated in the girls' alternating voices, this debut novel offers a vivid portrayal of contemporary India, as well as a devastating exploration of gender inequalities and human trafficking.
The Arctic & the Antarctic
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-DaltonStarring: astronomer Augustine, seemingly stranded at the top of the world, and astronaut Sully, whose voyage to Jupiter is coming to an end.
What happens: Both unable to contact anyone else on Earth (are they all dead? Have radio transmitters been silenced?), the two scientists must come to terms with their future in a dark and silent world.
Why you might like it: This leisurely paced, unusual take on a post-apocalyptic novel is quietly moving.
The Sunlit Night by Rebecca DinersteinDid you know? The sun never sets if you're above the Arctic Circle in summer, as both 21-year-old Frances and 17-year-old Yasha learn when they arrive in remote Lofoten, Norway. She's there to take up residency in an artists' colony; he's there to bury his father.
Why you might like it: With a cast of quirky supporting characters, poetic language, and vivid descriptions of the harsh and melancholy landscape, this not-quite-romance offers an intriguing portrait of family, uncertainty, and loss.
I Am Radar by Reif LarsenWhat it is: a sprawling novel that involves a black boy named Radar born inexplicably to white parents and a secretive group of physicist puppeteers who stage experimental performances in the world's war zones.
You might also like: Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang, another character-centered tale with performance artists in starring roles.
Where does the Arctic come in? Radar meets the puppeteers in northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria SempleWhat it's about: Eighth-grader Bee Branch has been promised a trip to Antarctica by her parents, tech guru Elgin Branch and architect Bernadette Fox. Until Bernadette -- whose creative genius is outstripped only by her social anxiety and agoraphobia -- disappears.
Why you might like it: A compilation of emails, faxes, official documents, and letters forms the basis of this delightful, charming, witty novel.
South Pole Station by Ashley ShelbyStarring: floundering but talented painter Cooper Gosling, who gets to spend a year at an artists' colony in Antarctica, where she is drawn into the complex social and political dynamics of the isolated station.
Why you might like it: This humorous, inventive debut novel combines science, art, and the politics of climate change -- with plenty of quirky characters to drum up complications.
For fans of: oddball workplace comedies, exotic locations, and complex social situations. For a warmer setting, try T.C. Boyle's The Terranauts.
Sun at Midnight by Rosie ThomasWhat it is: a story of self-discovery in a beautiful but unforgiving environment.
Starring: geologist Alice Peel, who seeks change after ending a relationship. And James Rooker, a man trying to outrun his past.
Read it for: the claustrophobic nature of a small research station, the developing relationship between Alice and James, and above all, the descriptions of Antarctica.
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