26 March 2018
Recommendations: These are the books that thrilled us, chilled us, and fulfilled us. These are the books we both wanted and needed in 2017, and we’re grateful to their authors and editors and publishers for bringing them into the world. So, start off 2018 with a load of great books in your TBR pile, and let’s keep on resisting and reading.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
After the turn of the last century, a Korean family finds itself in disgrace when their beloved daughter Sunja winds up pregnant by her deceitful, gangster lover. When Sunja gets a surprising marriage offer from a minister, she accepts, and travels with him to Japan to start over. But things aren’t much easier in Japan for Sunja and her family. Over the course of the century, we follow the family’s saga as they open pachinko parlors—a national obsession that became an addiction for many players, and made good money for the parlor owners. The family struggles with their Korean identity in Imperial Japan, but they experience moments of joy, too. A beautiful book that feels somewhat Tolstoyan—profound yet utterly sink-into-able. (Grand Central)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The first novel by the legendary short story master George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo caught the eye of many this year, present company included. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died, and Lincoln was known to frequently visit his son’s crypt—a grief-stricken father in a cemetery, rather than an infamous figure leading a country through war. Saunders narrates these visits through ghosts in the cemetery, as well as elaborating on those ghosts’ own troubles and strife. A rape victim, a murderer, a hunter, a soldier: these characters are all outcasts in one way or another, and the chorus of voices they create brings forth a unique and very Saunders-esque version of what American society looked like during the Civil War. A gorgeous, engrossing novel. (Random House)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Mohsin Hamid’s most recent novel is all about the compromises we make, be it for safety or love. Saeed and Nadia meet and fall in love in their home country—never named—and must deal with a relationship that develops amidst the ravages of war and its everyday tolls. They’re both eager to escape, though Nadia is more passionate about getting away, and eventually, they find a remarkable path out. Through a series of magic doors, they emigrate to Greece, Britain, and eventually to the U.S. Both of them are changed by exile and the psychological ramifications of being refugees who know they will never see home again. These changes begin to fray the bonds of their relationship. Will it survive? And will their new lives be better, worse, or something in the gray area of reality? (Riverhead Books)
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Ariel Levy thought she had it all figured out. She had a wife she loved, a career she was well-positioned in, and a sperm donor eager to help out with the finances of having a child as well. But while on assignment for The New Yorker and at 19 weeks pregnant, Levy’s child was born so prematurely that she held him in her palm as he died. She began interrogating her life and her choices and believed that she’d somehow brought about this tragedy by living too decadently, by wanting too much, by believing the rules of reality didn’t apply to her. Levy’s self-flagellation will likely leave most readers aching to grant her some sort of forgiveness or absolution, to tell her that rules don’t apply to grief or tragedy, which can strike any of us at any time. (Random House)
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Elif Batuman, also a staff writer for The New Yorker, debuted with her first novel this year, and we’re as tickled as the pink on its cover. The book is set in 1995, when Selin, daughter of Turkish immigrants, is attending college. She falls hard for a Hungarian student who looks at everyone as if he’s trying to see into their souls—for the literary and wordy Selin, this is a big turn-on. Eventually, she goes to Hungary to teach English and perhaps see this man on the weekends. Her obsession knows few bounds, and she follows it even as the reader wants to warn her away from this man we know isn’t good enough for her. Beyond her love interest, Selin’s ability to observe the world in keen and clever detail is completely mesmerizing. (Penguin Press)
Marlena by Julie Buntin
Cat is in her 30s and living in Brooklyn, as one does. But that’s not really the important part. Cat spends the novel remembering her adolescence, specifically the year she spent with her beloved friend Marlena. Both poor young women living in Michigan, the girls forge a rare connection. But it isn’t meant to last—we know from the beginning that by the end of the year, Marlena will be dead from drowning in only a few inches of water. How, and what her death will leave with Cat, is what we read the novel to discover. As the two bond over things less innocent than the clothes they share and the Joni Mitchell songs they sing along to, they also find a downward and dangerous spiral and life lessons learned along the way. (Henry Holt)
American War by Omar El Akkad
In his stirring debut, Omar El Akkad brings to life the United States in 2074, when the Second Civil War breaks out between the North and the South, based on the current American “war on terror.” We follow the lives of the Chestnut family as the war begins. Twins Sarat and Dana are only six; their brother, Simon, is nine. Soon after the war breaks out, their father is killed by a suicide bomber, and the children and their mother are relocated to a refugee camp in Louisiana. Narrated by Benjamin, Simon’s son—who survives a plague in the early 22nd century—the story revolves around his heroic aunt, Sarat, a defiant girl and young woman who becomes the leader of a resistance. She witnesses and overcomes much along the way, and the verve with which her story is told will sweep you along. (Vintage)
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
David Grann is already known for spinning incredible tales that, as Dave Eggers wrote for the New York Times, also happen to be true. In this incredible book, he turns to the sickening mistreatment of the Osage Indians. Tracing the lies of white men and the government back to the beginning of the colonial arrival to the Americas, he brings us to the Osage tribe in the early 20th century. Having already been hounded out of the land they’d rightfully owned, they were inhabiting oil-rich land that was legally and contractually theirs, and many Native American Osage folks got very, very wealthy. Until, that is, they started being murdered. Following the harrowing tale of the deaths of Osage members from mysterious wasting diseases or outright murder with guns, Grann uncovers a conspiracy that will spear your heart. (Doubleday)
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan
Patrick Rafferty loses control of his car, and he dies. J. Courtney Sullivan’s engrossing novel takes place in the few-day span between Patrick’s death and when he’s laid to rest, but in that space, we get the entire history of the Rafferty family, with a focus on Nora, Patrick’s mother. Nora left her Irish village in the 1950s to remake her life in the U.S., but she couldn’t escape herself. As the man she married turns out to be different than she expected, as her children grow up and become creatures she barely recognizes, and as her sister whiles away her hours at a convent in Vermont, Nora attempts to maintain control of her reality, which involves pretending certain things are true when they aren’t. Her son is sober (he’s not), her daughter is straight (she’s not), she herself has no sister (she does). A gorgeous family novel, Sullivan drills down into the decisive moments that seem like mistakes in hindsight. (Knopf)
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Deming Guo’s life hasn’t been easy. When his mother discovered she was pregnant with him while living in China, she knew she didn’t want to marry the father, and when she arrived in the U.S., she realized she was going to have to keep the baby as well. Deming is shuttled back and forth between China and America, but he finally has a home in the Bronx with his mother, his mother’s boyfriend, the boyfriend’s sister, and her son. But when Deming’s mother disappears one day, he’s separated from his community and given a different name. Lisa Ko’s gorgeous debut is about family, yes, but also about how we position ourselves in relation to our families, and what losing that context can do. (Algonquin Books)
White Fur by Jardine Libaire
Jamey Hyde has it all, yet some part of him has always yearned for more. More proves itself to be the kind of girl and experiences someone like Jamey was never supposed to have: Elise, the girl whose life hasn’t had room for ambition and overflowing bank accounts because she’s been too busy living it. The two of them have a mad dash of a romance, supremely intense and bathed in the neon glamor of the 1980s. Jamey doesn’t doubt Elise, except when she’s not around, and he has to reckon with what the hell he’s doing. Elise doesn’t doubt Jamey because it’s not her way to doubt—she just does instead. But we all know something’s got to give. This incredibly written novel is well-worth your time. (Hogarth)
Hunger by Roxane Gay
What happens to a body that has learned its own vulnerability? This is one of the many questions that Roxane Gay grapples with in her memoir, Hunger. Master of the nonfiction essay as well as an acclaimed fiction author (who’s also expanded into comics), many of us already know Gay for her various cultural criticism pieces. She’s typically kept things close to the vest, and this memoir also keeps you at a distance, even as it explains exactly why and how Gay created that distance for herself in the first place. Her body was first a safe place of childhood until it was attacked mercilessly. Food became part of how Gay turned her body into a fortress, which eventually became an unexpected cage. Trauma makes for tricky coping mechanisms, and Gay explores the long-lasting ramifications of hers in spare and searing prose. (Harper)
The Windfall by Diksha Basu
Mr. Jha is a serial entrepreneur, and he’s finally managed to hit it big. When he sells his company for a cool eight figures, he decides to make some changes that befit his new status. From the comfortable middle-class housing complex he lived in with his wife and son (although said son has just left for Ithaca College to study business like his father), Mr. Jha moves to a wealthier neighborhood of New Delhi, the kind of place where wealth is both hoarded and flaunted in equal measure. As Mr. and Mrs. Jha try to adapt to this new way of living with greater or lesser success, their son is having two romances and wishing dearly that he could study film instead of business. All three of them are trying to figure out what makes a person truly wealthy—monetary value or a sense of community. (Crown)
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Monique is a journalist, and she has no idea why she’s been chosen by the well-known actress Evelyn Hugo. Chosen, that is, not only to conduct an interview with her, but to write a biography that Hugo wants published only after her death. Monique doesn’t really care why Evelyn picked her because she needs this boost, and she needs it now. But this is just the beginning—it’s once Evelyn starts spilling about her complicated and difficult life history that we start to see the fascinating character we have here. Her secrets include hiding her Cuban roots for years by dyeing her hair blonde in order to pass as white in a cruel 1950s Hollywood and huge part of herself she kept hidden in order to achieve fame. A relevant and riveting read. (Atria)
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
This debut novel by powerhouse Zinzi Clemmons is relatively slim, with brief chapters, images, and graphs—that is, it holds the outer markers of an experimental novel. But the prose is clear and beautiful, and in a series of vignettes, Clemmons unfolds the life of Thandi, a young woman losing her mother to cancer and learning how to reckon with that awful loss. Clemmons deftly handles the subject of grief so that it becomes a kind of main character, its shape changing and growing and waning over time, as Thandi falls in and out of love with men, the world, and her mother. This is the kind of novel you sink into for several hours and wake from with a warm stone in your belly, both weighing you down and making you feel secure and understood. (Viking)
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Cyril can’t remember his birth, of course, but he’s heard the story of his mother’s shame. At 16 and unwed, she was brought to the front of her church to be publicly shamed, chastised, and then ejected from her parish. Soon after, she gave Cyril up for adoption, and his new family considered his stay with them a tenancy rather than a familial connection, so Cyril grew up feeling unwanted in all sorts of ways. On top that, he’s always known that he’s gay, including during the years that Ireland was an almost de facto theocracy in terms of the strength the Catholic Church held in everyday life. Through the years, Cyril finds the people who will teach him how to love himself, but it’s a journey. A warmhearted one—often funny, sometimes harrowing, but altogether enchanting to read. (Hogarth)
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
An incredible debut novel, A Kind of Freedom follows the lives of three generations of a family in New Orleans. In 1944, Evelyn, the daughter of a Creole mother and a well-to-do black doctor, falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who wants to study medicine but is stuck working menial jobs. Years later, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is trying to decide whether or not to give her partner another chance to live with her and their son, but she’s concerned he’ll lose himself to crack, as he has before. Years later still, Jackie’s son T.C. has to reckon with a post-Katrina New Orleans in which he’s become a weed grower who loves the craft and biology of the growing far more than any high. Through their eyes, we see a changing New Orleans, as well as all the things that have stayed the same. Gathering these strands and investing readers in several characters couldn’t have been easy, but Sexton has mastered her storytelling. (Counterpoint)
***** Recommendations from Title Wave Books NEVER take the place of the adults in a child’s
life picking books that suit their reading level, likes, triggers, and appropriateness. We are
always here for suggestions, but please - you know your child best. Pick accordingly.
BOOKS FOR TWEENS (the boys should like most of these too)
The Mighty Odds (series) by Amy Ignatow.
A bus accident gives a four students, an Amish kid, a bus driver and a teacher superpowers
ranging from invisibility to teleportation. This diverse group of people must now work together to
solve the mystery behind what happened during the accident and how they got their powers.
The narration switches among the protagonists so readers get many different viewpoints.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
A magical, mysterious modern day Alice in Wonderland. 12 year old Alice is determined to find
her father after he disappears from Farenwood. Alice is a bit of a misfit. In a world full of color,
she has pure white hair and white skin, and she performs miserably at the magic competition,
when all 12 year olds are supposed to display their unique talent. After the competition, Alice
and a boy, Oliver, set off on a topsy-turvy, inside-out and upside-down adventure into
Furthermore to find and bring back her father.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (series) by Eric Berlin.
After Winston gives his little sister a puzzle, they both find themselves stumped. They begin a
journey to solve the puzzle which leads them on a scavenger hunt which may lead to a load of
cash. Readers solve puzzles along with the protagonists, all the while realizing that cooperation
is the most necessary ingredient.
The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen.
This is a very suspenseful tale by the author of two other series I have not been able to put
down (The False Prince and The Mark of the Thief) . When Ani is captured and tested for a
deadly disease she is sent, along with her social opposite, to a quarantined colony. While in the
colony Ani and her cohorts begin to discover the truth about the supposed disease. They plot
escape and hatch a plan to bring the government’s deception to light. Thrilling!
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands.
There is some dark subject matter in this book, but it is an incredibly suspenseful and action-packed
read aloud for older kids. (On par with some of the darker imagery in the Harry Potter
books). Christoper, an orphaned apprentice in 17th century London must solve a complex
puzzle surrounding the murders of apothecaries. Despite the seriousness of the plot, the well drawn
characters provide some humor. Be sure to pick up the companion book, Mark of the
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
Woodson describes her memories of growing up in South Carolina, and later in Brooklyn,
against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. The narrative is funny and poignant as
Woodson figures out what makes her special and discovers her love words. See all those
medals on the cover? This book totally earned every one of them. ** Really loved this one!
Lawrence Yep’s Golden Mountain Chronicles
A 10 book series which tells the story of the Young family over many generations and two
centuries. Dragon’s Gate is set in 1867. Otter has always been in awe of his father and uncle
who work for the railroad companies across the sea. When he gets there himself, however,
working conditions, the bitter cold, racism and his uncle’s behavior serve to disillusion him. You
don’t need to read the series in order to enjoy them and Yep is a skilled author. Your kids won’t
want to put the book down.
As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds.
Both my kid and I loved this book about 11 year old Genie and his brother who have come to
rural Virginia to spend the summer with their grandparents. Genie is a boy who loves to ask
questions and when he learns about his grandfather’s blindness he has a lot to ask! During the
summer Genie struggles with making sure he makes the right decisions as he uncovers the
secrets of his family’s history.
The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh, illustrated by Kelly Murphy.
This is a fascinating novelization of the Baba Yaga folk tale. The suspense will keep your tween
turning the pages long into the night. (Try to encourage her to get a little sleep, though.) 12 year
old Mary is taken away from her orphanage by the mysterious Madame Z. Madame Z is full of
secrets and lives in a curious house. In town, Mary befriends Jacob, a magician’s assistant.
When they learn the true identity of Madame Z they must work together to escape her power.
Hazardous Tales (series) by Nathan Hale.
My kid loves the Nathan Hale’s historical graphic novels. The topics range from the
Revolutionary War to the Donner Party, the Alamo to WW1 and more. As a narrator, Hale makes
history fascinating and funny. If your kids say they aren’t “into history” sneak a few of these
books into their reading stash and you may just change their minds!
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz,
illustrated by Hatem Aly.
Multiple narrators describe the adventures of several children and their (potentially) holy dog.
This book is an amazing mix of morality tale and puzzling mystery. Jeanne with her psychic
visions, Willian, a biracial Muslim monk with superhuman skills, and Jacob, a Jewish fleeing his
destroyed village who has healing powers come together for an adventure that enriches their
lives, as well as the lives of the reader.
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford.
Lucy and Max are trying to put an end to the War of 1812 by assembling a mysterious and
ancient engine. While on a ship, The Left-Handed Fate, the ship is captured by the Americans
and put under the command of a 12 year old, Oliver who must wrestle with the moral decision of
becoming a traitor or putting the lives of others in jeopardy. Full of high adventure, treacherous
journeys and suspenseful action, this book will keep your tween on the edge of his seat