BEST OF FICTION - 2019
In alphabetical order -
Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis - This is an achingly beautiful and tender story of a group of closeted queer women friends from a small town of Uruguay in the late 70s. For awhile, they escape to a remote beach area away from their hometown. Here they can be who they really are, love who they really love. Carolina’s prose is rich and full, and her characters are sure and steady, but victims of the era they live in and their circumstances. You’ll find yourself devouring the book and rooting for all of them throughout their journey.
Daisy Jones and the Six by TJ Reid - Read full review here - http://www.paulafarmer.com/books-blog/daisy-jones-the-six-book-review
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips - This superb combination of literary fiction and mystery about two abducted young girls in a remote area at the northeastern edge of Russia sneaks up on you. As the search begins and continues, we are introduced to several disperate characters that are in some way touched by the crime. Through this debut novelists writing, we are exposed to the sense of family and community. By the story’s end, it’s obvious why this book was a Pulitzer finalist.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Everisto won this year’s Booker Prize, centers around profoundly interesting characters that collectively display some of the Black experience in Britain. This is done from the voice of several characters, including Amma, an acclaimed playwright who unabashedly explores and embraces her lesbian identity. Like in real life, all the characters have challenges, but they and their stories are full of humor and humanity that makes this novel absolutely compelling.
Lost Children Archives by Valeria Luciselli - This is one of the most unique novels you’ll ever read. It’s sparce, yet very rich and layered. Not just in its story and themes, but stylistically. A young family, a blended family of four set out on a road trip across country during the summer. Going along the Appalachian route, they drive through Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and beyond. Along the way, they make discoveries about these various locations, but also about themselves and each other.
It’s a journey story that covers themes such as childhood, marriage- the disintegration of it or maybe its rebirth, immigration issues, native american history, politics and injustices. But what I really love about it, is it’s a book that you not only read, but you hear, see and feel. So much of it is about sounds and observations. While you’re reading it, you want to look up maps or listen to certain songs, make a list of other books to read or re-read. You really feel like you’re in the car with this family experiencing what they are, like a book their reading or song listening to or oral history the father is sharing about Native Americans or seeing the Polaroids the son is taking.
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead uncovers a little known stain on American history as we follow the detainment of a young teen black boy put in a juvenile facility in South Florida. Although Whitehead has changed the name of the facility and fictionalizes the characters, such a place did actually exist, and its horrific policies of abusing and sometimes killing and burying the inmates was only recently discovered. Whitehead uses masterful restraint in clearly drawing his protagonist, supporting characters and painful situations, yet you are deeply invested in everyone and each scenario throughout. Coming in at just under 200 pages, it is a quick, yet hugely satisfying read.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson - Family history and the family dynamics of two merging black families are at the core of this completely enthralling novel. The two families, both living in Brooklyn, come from different social backgrounds. Woodson, known more for her works of fiction for young adults, steps into literary fiction for only the second time with Red at the Bone, and she does so with grace and unflinching grit. When 15-year-old Iris becomes pregnant, her middle class parents’ world is rocked. So too are the plans of Malcolm, her boyfriend and his single mom. How they all navigate this new territory, yet fully embrace the baby who becomes a lovely young girl, is true and beautiful. In some ways, young Malcolm is a better father than Iris a mother, but in their own way, the whole family pitches in to ensure Iris graduates and continue both families history of succeeding through college, while giving Melody the best life possible.
This is a sweet and welcome approach to a rare portrayal of a black family in contemporary literary fiction. Throughout the story and in both families separate and intertwining lives, Woodson’s prose is rich and lyrical. She paints fully drawn, intriguing characters, wonderfully and effectively alluring readers into the lives, past and present. Subtly and sometimes obviously, she dabbles the atmosphere with elements unique to black families and communities. Reading “Red at the Bone” is like wrapping yourself in a warm, smooth shawl, with characters you can relate to, love or love to hate. and at less than 200 pages, you will want to experience it more than once.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott - Read author interview and review here - http://www.paulafarmer.com/books-blog/lara-prescott-qa
The Water Dancer by Ta Nehisi Coates - Known for his powerful and halting works in non-fiction such as, “We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates jumps into the literary fiction pool with a stunning debut. The main character, Hiram Walker, is a young slave with little memory of his mother who died when he was a child. He discovers he has some sort of magical powers after almost drowning and being saved by an unknown entity. Although he initially is unable to tap into and harness his powers, there are those who feel they can. As such, they recruit him for work with the Underground Railroad. This begins his journey to freedom and to self discovery. It is not long, when he is willing to give it all up though as he is determined to secure the same freedom for the two women he cherishes- Thena, his chosen mother, and Sophia, a tortured woman he is in love with. “The Water Dancer” is a moving and complex story of slavery, freedom, love and determination. The elements of magical realism are a welcome surprise that elevate the story and effectively perpetuate the plot without overwhelming it. From the opening pages, the reader is entranced.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha - In 2019, two Korean siblings, Miriam and Grace Park who are both in their twenties, and like many others their age, are grappling on a social level of the shooting of a black teen by a Los Angeles police officer. Personally, they have challenges within their family as Miram is estranged from her parents for some unknown reason, and leaving Grace who is a dutiful daughter, caught in between. At the same time in a very different part of LA, Ray Matthews and his young black family have just welcomed his cousin Ray back home after his release from prison. Not long after Ray’s release, another devastating crime takes place that causes both the Park and Matthews families to converge while grappling with events from twenty years earlier. This novel is immediate, explosive and disturbing, causing readers to look at violence and all the victims in ways not previously considered. With “Your House Will Pay,” Cha displays a rare talent for a debut novelist, ensuring a long future penning unforgettable fiction such as this.
SUPPORT INDIE, SUPPORT LOCAL! All the above books can be bought at an independent, local bookstore near you. Here are a few suggestion:
Book Passage - San Francisco/Corte Madera, Ca - bookpassage.com
Books are Magic - Brooklyn, NY
Parnassus Books - Nashville, Al
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