Fiction A to Z
Green by Sam Graham-FelsenWhat it's about: It's 1992, and sixth-grader Green is one of the few white students at Boston's Martin Luther King Middle School. After Marlon, a studious black kid from the housing projects nearby, stands up for him, a friendship is born. It's strong enough to weather the typical middle school problems, but it may not be strong enough to survive their differences -- or the increasingly bigger problems they face.
Why you might like it: you're interested in stories about interracial friendships (and the strains they come under) or you enjoy coming-of-age stories told by imperfect but likable narrators.
Heart Spring Mountain: A Novel by Robin MacArthurWhat it's about: Ostensibly, a woman's search for her mother, lost after tropical storm Irene floods Vermont. But it's also the tale of three generations of her family, of the experiences of women in rural America, and of hidden family histories.
Read it for: authentic characters, a complex narrative structure, and a strong depiction of people's connection to the land.
Reviewers say: "nuanced, poetic, and evocative" (Publishers Weekly).
A State of Freedom by Neel MukherjeeWhat it is: a set of interconnected stories (each written in a different style), bound together by recurring characters and common themes, and set in modern-day India.
Why you might like it: A State of Freedom offers a variety of characters all dealing with disruption; the divide between the haves and have-nots is starkly depicted.
Read it with: V.S. Naipul's 1971 novel In a Free State, which is similarly structured.
The Maze at Windermere by Gregory Blake SmithWhat it is: the stories of five characters, over three centuries, all set in Newport, Rhode Island. Links between them create a rich, layered tale that reveals not only changes in American society but also the vagaries of the human heart.
Is it for you? Absolutely, if you like historical fiction in which distinct characters -- and the writing style -- clearly reflect their times. Shifting points of view and a complex structure reflect the title, too.
Reviewers say: "staggeringly brilliant" (The Washington Post).
Red Clocks by Leni ZumasIntroducing: four very different women in a small Oregon fishing town, all struggling with personal issues in a country where Roe v. Wade has been overturned, single parenthood is soon to be outlawed, and misogyny is on the rise.
Why you might like it: You've read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and are looking for another chilling take on women's reproductive rights, identity, and freedom.
Book buzz: Red Clocks, which the author has said draws on real government proposals, has been trumpeted by such diverse media outlets as Amazon, The Wall Street Journal, Elle, PopSugar, and more.
Best Short Stories of 2017
What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories by Lesley Nneka ArimahWhat it is: a vividly imagined debut collection by a Nigerian-born author who moved to the U.S. when she was 13.
Why you might like it: Exploring what binds people together (and their grief when those ties are cut), these stories are set in Nigeria or among Nigerian expats in the U.S. Though they move between genres, with surreal elements that serve to highlight Nigerian traditions and history, these stories will appeal to readers looking for relationship-centered tales.
Difficult Women by Roxane GayWhat it is: the stories of a diverse array of imperfect, fully realized women haunted by pain and loss in unusual, often troubling situations.
What's inside? In "The Mark of Cain," a woman pretends not to know that her abusive husband and his gentler identical twin have switched places; women participate in fight clubs in another story, while a priest refuses to feel bad about an affair in a third.
Reviewers say: With complex characters and straightforward writing, this "fantastic collection is challenging, quirky, and memorable" (Publishers Weekly).
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria MachadoWhat it is: recognizably realistic yet edging into science fiction and horror, these short stories are a gripping, sometimes horrifying mix of tragic, creepy, and thought-provoking, centered as they are on women's lives and bodies and the violence inflicted upon both.
For fans of: the genre-bending stories of Karen Russell, the female characters of Roxane Gay, or the twisting inventiveness of Angela Carter.
Five-Carat Soul by James McBrideWhat it is: the first short story collection from National Book Award-winning James McBride, featuring a multitude of different voices and settings, often focusing on themes of race, identity, and history.
What's inside: a grieving Abraham Lincoln; five at-risk youth who form a funk band; a zoo menagerie that communicates through Thought Speak; an antique toy seller and the priceless toy train he seeks.
Reviewers say: "Every one of them is brash, daring and defiantly original" (NPR).
The Refugees by Viet Thanh NguyenWhat it is: eight short stories, set mostly in California and portraying Vietnamese refugee experiences in the U.S. But the topics they explore -- relationships, grief, the desire for fulfillment -- "transcend ethnic boundaries to speak to human universals" (Kirkus Reviews).
Author alert: Author Viet Thanh Nguyen's 2015 debut novel The Sympathizer won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Carnegie Medal.
Why you might like them: Written before The Sympathizer was published, they'll appeal to readers interested in sympathetic characters, cultural dislocation, or the experiences of refugees.
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