Making Our Way Home
Historian and activist Blair Imani’s stunning new book focuses on the Great Migration, the six decades during which many Black Americans left the South and traveled across the US to create new lives and spaces of their own. Imani links this migration to today’s American culture, civil rights landmarks, and great art, even as these were marred by backlash like discrimination, domestic terrorism, and segregation. Beautifully illustrated by Rachelle Baker, this history reminds us how integral Black Americans’ humanity has always been to this nation’s progress.
A Long Petal of the Sea
When Roser flees from the Spanish Civil War at the end of the 1930s, she’s pregnant with her husband Guillem’s child. But Guillem has been killed, and when she arrives in France and finds his brother, Victor, still alive, the two of them make a decision that will allow them to survive: they marry, so as to qualify for a place on poet Pablo Neruda’s ship bound for Chile. While they miss the ravages of World War II, their lives are difficult in other ways, their personalities and beliefs diverging. Still, love finds a way to blossom.
Talking about tragedy is one thing—feeling it is another thing entirely. In Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano manages to convey the way it feels to lose beloveds, because she paints them for us in the midst of their busy, messy lives, only moments before death. The novel centers around Edward, the sole survivor of a plane crash. Among the many other passengers were his parents and brother, and while Edward moves in with his aunt and uncle, barely able to deal with the world of the living, readers come face to face with the newly dead.
There’s basically nothing about Matthew’s case that’s typical. For one, his name is just a placeholder; no one knows who he is, and the papers have dubbed him “Mr. Nobody” after he washed up on a Norfolk beach without his memory or any way to communicate, whether spoken, signed, or written. He appears, in other words, to be one of the rare patients that neuropsychiatrist Emma Lewis has treated who’s exhibiting a true fugue state, though his brain scans are odd, and then there’s the NDA she had to sign. What has Emma gotten into?
One of Us Is Next
Karen M. McManus
The high school students of Bayview are finally settling down after last year’s terrible events (a gossip app that led to a death in One of Us Is Lying). But a mysterious new bully is stirring up trouble in the form of a game of Truth or Dare—though, really, it’s blackmail. If you do the dare, you’re safe, but if you choose truth or don’t respond to his text, he reveals a secret about you. Maeve, Phoebe, and Knox shouldn’t have time for this in their complicated lives, but they get roped in, determined to find the culprit.
Jess’s life has never felt particularly dramatic. The middle child from an English farming village, her visions of what life should be like for an aspiring artist have been painted by Dr. Lorna Clay, an Agatha Christie scholar who argues compellingly for the destruction of one’s personal life in the pursuit of Great Art. Enchanted, Jess attends the college where Dr. Clay teaches, and where she forges friendships and falls further under the spell of Dr. Clay. You’ll wonder: just how much destruction is enough?
Such a Fun Age
Black millennial Emira Tucker likes being a babysitter, but doesn’t like that she likes it. She should want to do more, shouldn’t she? White Alix Chamberlain is a successful blogger and is writing a book, kind of, but everything’s slowed down since she moved to Philadelphia, away from the center of the universe (New York City, obviously). When Emira takes Briar, Alix’s daughter, to a grocery store one night, a guard is alerted and begins giving Emira a hard time. Everyone is safe that night, but the consequences unexpectedly ripple out for everyone.
Recipe for a Perfect Wife
Alice Hale’s husband wants to move to the ‘burbs. Because Alice is no longer employed (she was fired, which she hasn’t told her husband), she can’t see a logical reason to object, though she loves city living. At the new house, she discovers the cookbook of a former resident, Nellie Murdoch, a housewife who wrote long letters to her mother but left them tucked into the abandoned cookbook. As Alice becomes intrigued by Nellie’s terrible 1950s marriage, she begins to see her own more clearly, and recognize her own strength, too.
Long Bright River
Mickey Fitzpatrick is a policewoman and single mom to 4-year-old Thomas. Her sister, Kacey, has been living on the streets with a substance-use disorder. The sisters’ parents died of opiate overdoses, and their ways of responding diverged—where Kacey found herself gripped with the same illness, Mickey became the intensive rule-follower, lonely and fearful in her own ways. Now Kacey has disappeared, and women are turning up murdered in Mickey’s district. Mickey becomes obsessed with the case, determined to find Kacey before it’s too late.
The Words I Never Wrote
In 1936, two sisters, Cordelia and Irene, find their paths going opposite directions. Cordelia, a journalist in Paris, sees where the wind is blowing and finds her way back to England to train as a spy, while Irene marries a German businessman who she discovers is a Nazi sympathizer. In present-day New York, a photojournalist buys Cordelia’s old typewriter, and in its case lays a novel—or is it a thinly veiled true account?—about the sisters themselves. As the threads come together, secrets unfold.
Cassie Chambers’s grandmother raised seven children in Owsley County, Kentucky, nestled in the Appalachian mountain range. Only one of her children, Willa, graduated high school and went to college, while another daughter was well-known as one of the hardest working farmers in the county. Willa gave birth to Cassie when she was still in college, so Cassie was raised by her grandmother and the other women of Owsley as much as by Willa, showing how communities without systemic support find ways to support each other. Now Ivy League–educated herself, Chambers pays homage to her roots.
The Better Liar
Inheritance is rarely simple, regardless of whether it takes the form of genetics or money. After her father dies, Leslie’s set to inherit his savings, but the will stipulates she must show up to the lawyer’s with her sister, Robin, who ran away years ago. When Leslie finds Robin dead in her Las Vegas apartment, she hatches a plan with Mary, a somewhat Robin-lookalike who agrees to pretend to be Robin and split the cash. Except Mary becomes just a little too invested in her role, and begins weaseling her way into Leslie’s—and her family’s—life.
We Wish You Luck
In low-residency MFA programs, the sabbaticals in which students come together on campus to work with people they’ve only been corresponding with are always intense. For Hannah, Leslie, and Jimmy’s fellow graduate students, who narrate this novel, it’s especially so. When Jimmy, a poet on the brink of a perpetual breakdown, gets his work ripped apart (literally) by bestselling author and workshop leader Simone, Leslie and Hannah decide it’s time to do something about such pointless abuses of power. As they set out to right institutional wrongs, their fellows watch, astonished.
Topics of Conversation
Most of us construct our identities through the stories other people tell us about our actions, as well as the stories we tell others about what we’ve done. These stories are rarely stable, as Miranda Popkey knows. In her debut novel, an unnamed narrator goes through two decades of conversations, mostly with other women, in which she listens to and relates stories about becoming. From grad student to intellectual to mother, the narrator’s way of navigating the self changes with age and experience.
Welcome to Beetletopia, a world where most industries have become monopolized by Beetle, a company that’s basically Apple+Amazon+Google+ten more years of technological advancement. Everything is totally normal, except Beetle’s predictive algorithms keep track of everything so as to avoid disruptions to the work and consumption cycle. Is there free will in such a world? Or was the cold-blooded murder of a woman and two children merely a predictive error? Now, Beetle has to do damage control and figure out how its algorithms have glitched or been hacked—both options, until now, believed to be impossible.
When You See Me
Jacob Ness, serial kidnapper, torturer, and murderer, may be dead, but there are still unsolved cases out there that he might be linked to, and victims’ families who might appreciate having answers. So when a lead on a new link comes in, Kimberly Quincy of the FBI invites D.D. Warren of Boston PD and his informant, Flora Dane, who both have a history with Ness, to join her task force. Soon, the skeletal remains believed to belong to a Ness victim become the least of the task force’s worries as new dangers reveal themselves.
Building a Life Worth Living
Marsha M. Linehan
Psychologist and researcher Marsha M. Linehan has long been admired as the developer of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a strand of cognitive behavioral therapy that blends mindfulness, self-acceptance, and concrete exercises, and that’s been clinically proven to help people with a range of mental health diagnoses. But until now, Linehan had never spoken of why she entered the field in the first place. In this stirring memoir she shares her own depression and institutionalization, the drugs and ECT that left her with few early memories, and her determination to discover a better, more humane treatment for people like her.
Willis Wu lives in a Chinatown SRO and works at Golden Dragon, which isn’t a Chinese restaurant but rather the perpetual setting of a police procedural where Wu is an extra. He’s worked his way through a variety of stereotypical parts thanks to his Generic Asian Man face, which is entirely replaceable. If his character dies, it’s annoying: he has to wait 45 days before he can work again. Alternately funny and cringe-worthy, author Charles Yu uses every Asian and Asian-American trope in film and TV, while also making Wu entirely his own person.
The Vanished Birds
Nia Imani is always leaving, and each time she returns, it’s to worlds changed. Captain of a faster-than-light ship, only months go by for her, while years pass on the planets she visits to gather resources for the galaxies-spanning Umbai Company. When she meets a boy who can’t speak but has been taught to play traditional worker songs from a planet Nia visits once every 15 years (on that planet’s time), she takes him with her, drawn to him for reasons she can’t explain.
Newly divorced dad Marcos just moved into a new apartment, a blank slate of a place that doesn’t include any of the things that made up the life he lived before. Instead, it has its own history, which he begins to learn about when letters start arriving from a woman signing off only as “A.” Addressed to the previous tenant, Marcos nevertheless opens the daily missives and falls under the spell of A.’s dramatic narrative of a broken relationship, one that turns ever darker, spinning Marcos’s mind toward increasingly troubling thoughts.
Welcome to 2020, dear readers—a new year full of books to enjoy, escape through, learn from, and find solace in. Whether you’re looking for an epic tale of star-traveling love, a quiet psychological thriller that will have you questioning the nature of power, or a vivid portrait of class and race among well-meaning liberals, we’ve got just the thing. With these books and so many more, we’re starting out a year that’s sure to be full of its own turmoil—but with wonderful reads, we’ll keep ourselves, and others, together.