What a year. At least the books were good.
Our cover author this year is Sujatha Gidla, whose amazing family memoir, Ants Among Elephants, addresses a lot of topics—class, immigration, opportunity, poverty, inequality—that have been lighting up your news feeds. She's joined in our top 10 by other authors who offer smart takes—on both the fiction and nonfiction sides—on these strange days, how we got here, and what's around the corner. But don't stop there. Our reviews editors have selected the year's 100 best books for adults, and 50 fantastic titles for children and teens. Enjoy.
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India
Sujatha Gidla (FSG)
Gidla’s spectacular memoir opens a window onto a world unfamiliar to most Westerners: that of India’s untouchable caste. As her relatives make their way through 20th-century India, Gidla reveals how caste intersects with class, gender, religion, and more. It’s a rare feat when personal stories are so clearly able to elucidate hotly contested political battles. Gidla’s deep generosity of spirit is evident on every page.
Hari Kunzru (Knopf)
In this astute take on gentrification culture, 20-something white roommates Carter and Seth are audiophiles who record an old chess player singing in the park and remix it into a counterfeit blues song by a black singer they make up named Charlie Shaw. When a collector insists Charlie Shaw is real and Carter is left in a coma, Seth travels from New York to Mississippi to unravel Kunzru's fast-paced, ambitious, hallucinatory mystery.
Far from the Tree
Robin Benway (HarperTeen)
Three siblings separated as infants reconnect in this National Book Award finalist from Benway, which fearlessly addresses the difficulties of family: profoundly felt absences, shortcomings, and connections that persist despite distance and circumstance.
Gem & Dixie
Sara Zarr (HC/Balzer + Bray)
Two sisters, growing apart with each passing day, struggle through high school, let down at nearly every opportunity by their irresponsible and neglectful parents. Writing with deep empathy and care, Zarr has crafted a tough, honest account of vulnerable sisters doing whatever they can to persevere.
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee (HC/Tegen)
Lee whisks readers to 18th-century Europe in a rollicking adventure starring the charismatic and quick-witted Henry Montague, who dashes across the continent with his sister and friend (and crush), Percy, staying barely ahead of whatever (self-inflicted) scandal is now nipping at his heels.
The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas (HC/Balzer + Bray)
Thomas's debut novel has been on bestseller lists throughout 2017, and it's not hard to see why: this hard-hitting exploration of police brutality, racial injustice, and the double lives that children of color are so often asked to live is more necessary and relevant than ever.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Maurene Goo (FSG/Ferguson)
A high-achieving Korean-American teenager tries to get a boyfriend by using lessons she's gleaned from her favorite Korean soap operas in Goo's hilarious romantic comedy. Desi's awkward pursuit of new student Luca can be painful to watch, and readers will be laughing every step of the way.
La Belle Sauvage
Philip Pullman (Knopf)
After more than 15 years, readers can return to the parallel world of Pullman's His Dark Materials series, in this thrilling first book in a companion trilogy. Lyra Belacqua, the heroine of the original series, is just an infant—one whom 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead desperately tries to keep safe, in a story of daemons, Dust, a rampaging flood, and the forces of the Magisterium.
Landscape with Invisible Hand
M.T. Anderson (Candlewick)
This indelible novella from the National Book Award winner is a masterpiece of understatement: it follows the fallout from the arrival of the "vuuv," 1950s-culture-obsessed aliens whose advanced technologies have eviscerated the human economy and led to widespread poverty and ruin.
The Librarian of Auschwitz
Antonio Iturbe (Holt/Godwin)
Originally published in Spain, this poignant addition to the pantheon of Holocaust literature draws from the life of real-life survivor Dita Kraus who, as a young teenager, surreptitiously guarded a collection of forbidden books within Auschwitz. A painful but rewarding portrait of resilience.
Long Way Down
Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
Told through clipped poems that pack a visceral punch, Reynolds's powerhouse examination of gun violence unfolds over the course of an elevator ride: the victims of gun violence who, somehow, board at each stop force 15-year-old Will to look hard at the revenge he intends to exact.
A Skinful of Shadows
Frances Hardinge (Amulet)
Set as the English Civil War gathers momentum, Hardinge's sumptuously written, haunting fantasy follows a girl named Makepeace who seeks answers about her family after her mother is unexpectedly killed in a riot. What she discovers reshapes what she knows about life as she finds unexpected allies among the dead.
Anything Is Possible
Elizabeth Strout (Random House)
In this excellent, emotionally wrenching novel in stories, the residents of Amgash, Ill., and the surrounding communities, who were offstage characters in My Name Is Lucy Barton, are given voice. These include a Vietnam veteran with PTSD; a rich woman who is complicit in her husband's depraved behavior; and one of the five Mumford sisters, who reunites with her runaway mother in Italy.
Tillie Walden (First Second)
In a graceful graphic memoir, Walden looks back at her youth spent as a competitive figure skater and the attraction to girls that she kept to herself for years. Her spare images, colored in violet with dashes of gold, are ideally suited to the quiet, introspective tone of her writing.
Turtles All the Way Down
John Green (Dutton)
Centering on a missing billionaire and a teenager whose anxieties grip her like a vice, Green's first book since the phenomenon that was The Fault in Our Stars is a raw, hard-to-forget novel about the power that mental illness can exert over a person's life and relationships.
Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers
Deborah Heiligman (Holt)
Heiligman delves into the fraught relationship between brothers Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, "companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art." It's a thorough study of two highly dissimilar siblings, Vincent's struggles with mental illness, and the body of work he produced.
Marie Lu (Putnam)
Virtual reality gaming is all but woven into society's DNA in the world of Lu's thrilling SF novel. First in a duology, it introduces hacker turned bounty hunter Emika Chen, who competes in a high-profile, high-stakes championship tournament while simultaneously seeking out a rogue hacker.
We Are Okay
Nina LaCour (Dutton)
Holed up in her empty New York dormitory over Christmas break, college freshman Marin faces a past she longs to forget in LaCour's gorgeously melancholic novel, which carefully reveals the reasons that Marin isn't ready to return to her California home.
You Bring the Distant Near
Mitali Perkins (FSG)
This vivid family saga chronicles several decades in the lives of three generations of Indian women working to reconcile their culture with their American home amid new romances, professional and political awakenings, and tested family relationships.
Animals Strike Curious Poses
Elena Passarello (Sarabande)
Passarello dazzles in this wildly inventive essay collection that borrows its form from the medieval bestiary and its title from a Prince lyric. The 17 brief essays each examine a famous animal immortalized by humans, with appearances by Charles Darwin’s pet tortoise, Koko the signing gorilla, and Cecil the Lion, who met her fate at the hands of an American dentist and recreational hunter.
The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories
Ilan Pappe (Oneworld)
The U.S. may incarcerate more people than any other nation, but its ally Israel runs the world’s largest prison: the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where the Palestinian people lack basic human rights and are subject to the indignities of illegal collective punishment. Israeli historian Pappe lays out how this dire situation came to be, beginning with the plans formulated prior to 1967’s Six-Day War.
Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook
Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter)
Chef and restaurateur Waters (In the Green Kitchen, etc.) wonderfully evokes the 1970s, when she first opened her innovative Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café in Berkeley, Calif. At a time when Americans were eating processed food, Waters was at the front of the organic movement. She is a charming and understated narrator in this intimate and vibrant book.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
Nancy MacLean (Viking)
In an impressive feat of intellectual and political history, MacLean shows how Nobel Prize–winning economist James McGill Buchanan’s theories have shaped today’s political landscape. A product of the Jim Crow South, Buchanan was profoundly influenced in his libertarian views by his opposition to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. MacLean’s book acts as a chilling warning that his ideas, as preserved by right-wing billionaires and D.C. think-tanks, threaten American democracy.
Kei Miller (Pantheon)
The year is 1982, and a teacher cuts the dreadlocks off a child named Kaia because he looks "like some dirty little African." From there, Miller's narrative jumps back 60 years to tell an extraordinary story of the enduring struggle between those who reject an impoverished life in Jamaica and the forces that hold them in check, what Rastafarians call Babylon.
The Exile: The Stunning Inside Story of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Flight
Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy (Bloomsbury)
The term “cinematic” doesn’t adequately describe this extraordinary work of investigative journalism. Scott-Clark and Levy exhaust every possible source as they follow al-Qaeda from its origins in the CIA-backed Afghan mujahideen, through 9/11 and the subsequent American wars, to its eclipse by the Islamic State. In the process, the authors illustrate the myriad injustices committed in the name of the War on Terror.
The Gourmands’ Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy
Justin Spring (FSG)
In this excellent history, Spring (Secret Historian) highlights the American artists, cooks, and writers who introduced French cuisine to the dining tables of American homes and restaurants: Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, Alexis Lichine, A.J. Liebling, Richard Olney, and Alice B. Toklas. It’s a remarkable story, beautifully told.
Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919
Mike Wallace (Oxford Univ.)
Nobody knows New York history like Wallace, and his tightly organized tome is a masterwork on a crucial period in the city’s history. New York as we know it now was forged during this time, and Wallace translates Gotham’s grit and gusto to the page perfectly.
Henry David Thoreau: A Life
Laura Dassow Walls (Univ. of Chicago)
Combining academic rigor with lucid storytelling, Walls unites Thoreau’s many facets—as author of the canonical Walden, abolitionist, naturalist, inventor, family man, friend, and even suitor—into a single coherent portrait. Her richly detailed chronicle leaves one wanting to read Thoreau himself. This scholarly epic may well stand as the definitive biography of a pivotal figure in American letters.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body
Roxane Gay (Harper)
Novelist and cultural critic Gay (Bad Feminist) writes with beauty and grace about her life as “a woman of size.” She is unflinching in describing even the most painful moments of her life, offering great insight into what it’s like to live in a society that looks down upon large people, especially women.
I Couldn’t Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us: An Oral History of the Attacks Against the Students of Ayotzinapa
John Gibler (City Lights)
Journalist Gibler's investigative prowess yields a book that uses a chorus of voices—eyewitness accounts of the students and others at the scene—to add depth and clarity to the Sept. 26, 2014, massacre of students in the city of Iguala, Mexico, that left six people dead, 40 wounded, and 43 students missing who have yet to be seen since. It's an unforgettable reconstruction of a national tragedy.
I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad
Souad Mekhennet (Holt)
Journalistic coups abound in Washington Post correspondent Mekhennet's behind-the-scenes account of her experiences attempting to untangle the roots of Islamic extremism while on assignment in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. While Mekhennet's job as a reporter opened doors to rulers, religious and political figures, and even an ex-rapper, her focus is sharply on ordinary people.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
David Grann (Doubleday)
Masterful storytelling about a baffling 1920s murder spree drives New Yorker writer Grann's true crime saga about the investigation of the killings of more than two dozen members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered "the wealthiest people per capita in the world."
Leonardo da Vinci
Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster)
In what might be Isaacson's best book to date, he mines thousands of pages from the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci for insights into the life and work of the elusive Renaissance artist, showing how da Vinci's inquisitiveness set him apart from his contemporaries but frequently distracted him from completing commissions.
Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
James Forman Jr. (FSG)
Forman takes on an entangled, thorny issue—the part African-Americans have played in shaping criminal justice policy over the past four decades, whether as voters, law enforcement officers, politicians, or activists. The complex picture he draws is informed by his experience as a public defender, Supreme Court clerk, and Yale Law School professor. His multifaceted perspective brings fresh insights into how African-Americans have been treated in the U.S. legal system.
Jeff VanderMeer (MCD)
In a future strewn with the cast-off experiments of a laboratory called the Company, a scavenger named Rachel finds a bizarre creature named Borne. Rachel adopts Borne and takes on its education over the objections of her lover Wick, but Borne soon threatens Rachel and Wick's fragile existence even as it brings painful truths to the surface. VanderMeer's singular novel has enough imagination to fill multiple books.
The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
Douglas Preston (Grand Central)
This hair-raising true adventure tale about thriller writer Preston's 2015 expedition to locate an ancient city in the Honduran mountains reads like a fairy tale. Preston details the emotionally draining experience of exploring snake-infested wilderness on foot and the remarkable archeological finds along the way.
Wallace Shawn (Haymarket)
Shawn, the award-winning playwright and acclaimed actor, airs his thoughts on an array of topics—civilization, social mobility, Beethoven, and 11th-century Japanese court poetry—in a discursive meditation on inequality and privilege. Acerbic yet compassionate, Shawn’s writing epitomizes qualities he admires—curiosity, thoughtfulness, sharp logic, deep emotion—and sees society turning away from.
No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
Naomi Klein (Haymarket)
Trumpism is not an aberration, but the logical consequence of decades of corporatist governance, writes Klein in arguably this year's most immediately useful political book. Drawing on her previous work, she lays out how we got to now and what to do about it, pointing to Canada's Leap Manifesto and A Vision for Black Lives in the U.S. as the early growths of anti-racist, ecologically minded anticapitalist movements.
October: The Story of the Russian Revolution
China Miéville (Verso)
A century on, the nature of the Russian Revolution remains hotly contested, both within and outside of leftist circles. Miéville, a master storyteller, makes a powerful case in his first nonfiction work that the Bolsheviks’ October success should not be disavowed as the onset of disaster but looked to as an inspirational moment in a grand narrative of human liberation.
The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South
John T. Edge (Penguin Press)
James Beard Award–winning writer and Southern food historian Edge thoroughly explores the foodways and evolution of cooking in the American South. It’s superb history that celebrates the cooks, waiters, and activists—both well-known and unsung—who shaped the region’s cooking.
Patricia Lockwood (Riverhead)
Poet Lockwood is irreverent and hilarious in this memoir of when she and her husband moved back in with her parents. Her father is a practicing, married Catholic priest (yes, really) who loves cars, guns, and Baileys Irish Cream and conducts family meetings in his underwear. Try not to squirm.
Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan
Elaine M. Hayes (Ecco)
Jazz singer Sarah Vaughan gets her due in this fantastic history of her life. Jazz historian Hayes movingly evokes 1920s Newark, N.J., where Vaughan first sang in her church choir; from there, Hayes follows Vaughan’s career until her death in 1990, showing that, no matter how challenging Vaughan’s life became, she remained in control of her musical career during a time when few female performers could.
The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age
Andrew O’Hagan (FSG)
In this splendid collection, O’Hagan explores identity in the internet era. His profile of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (O’Hagan was hired to be his ghostwriter) is a lacerating and hilarious study in narcissism, while his account of purported Bitcoin inventor Craig Steven Wright is unsparing yet sympathetic. But it is Ronnie Pinn, O’Hagan’s own invented online identity, whose semi-existence says the most about who we are now.
The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale
James Atlas (Pantheon)
The author of Bellow: A Biography and Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet illuminates the art of biography. While pondering what makes a good biographer, Atlas honors mentors like Joyce biographer Richard Ellmann, traces his profession’s history back to ancient Greece, and describes the contrasting challenges posed by deceased, obscure subjects (Schwartz) and famous, living ones (the irascible Saul Bellow). His graceful, witty memoir doubles as a biography of the form itself.
The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease
Meredith Wadman (Viking)
Vaccine development has long been a fraught process prone to controversy, but the issues at stake today are different than those of a half-century ago. Wadman digs into the politics, economics, and—most importantly—the science involved in creating vaccines. Viruses are fascinating entities in their own right, but Wadman brings to bear the ethical quandaries and vicious competition their existence engenders.
Chasing the King of Hearts
Hanna Krall, trans. from the Polish by Philip Boehm (Feminist Press)
This devastating, fragmentary Holocaust narrative follows a Jewish woman's tireless drive to rescue her husband from Auschwitz. With nothing more than whispers about his location, Izolda borrows money, delivers illegal letters, and sells black-market bacon to ensure her husband's safety. The prose never once seems out of the author's control; Krall's prodigious artistry elevates and illuminates the harrowing material.
Word by Word: The Secret Lives of Dictionaries
Kory Stamper (Pantheon)
This debut is a sly, spirited behind-the-scenes tour of the offices of Merriam-Webster, where Stamper works as a lexicographer and produces the “Ask the Editor” video series. Taking aim at prescriptivist pieties concerning “real and proper English,” Stamp approaches her subject with irreverence but also a genuine appreciation for the glory of finding just the right word.
Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants
Stefani Bittner and Alethea Harampolis (Ten Speed)
Bittner and Harampolis, owners of the San Francisco landscape design firm Homestead Design Collective, put common plants to full use while showing readers how to increase the bounty of their harvest with this eclectic collection of easily executed projects including salves, dyes, and teas. Their book contains all the information of a garden reference book, yet looks worthy of a spot on the coffee table.
The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat
Stephan Guyenet (Flatiron)
Guyenet, a health writer and obesity researcher, approaches health and weight management not through diet or fitness specifics, but by understanding and combating the urge to overeat. Guyenet wields his degrees in biochemistry and neuroscience while guiding readers through a wilderness of raw data; he explains how the brain works, discusses important research, and develops strategies from this information. His important new perspective on weight loss both informs and inspires.
King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World
Joan Nathan (Knopf)
James Beard Award–winner Nathan explores the evolution of Jewish cuisine, beginning with King Solomon. The recipes are enticing, and the culinary history is meticulously researched and beautifully conveyed. This is quite possibly Nathan’s best book to date.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
Samin Nosrat (Simon & Schuster)
Nosrat, who got her start in the kitchen of Alice Waters, burst onto the cookbook scene this year with this exceptional one, her first. She conveys the essential elements of cooking with tempting recipes, accompanied by fun and helpful illustrations and charts by Wendy MacNaughton.
WD~50: The Cookbook
Wylie Dufresne, with Peter Meehan (Ecco)
Dufresne opened his landmark restaurant, Wd-50, on New York City’s Lower East Side in 2003, and in this outstanding, wonderfully photographed cookbook he shares his genius methods. Sure, many of the recipes may be inaccessible to novice home cooks, but the cookbook inspires and offers a great opportunity to fantasize.
Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Matthew Walker (Simon & Schuster)
This unique health treatise begins with the reminder that, until very recently, the process of sleep was profoundly mysterious. Neuroscientist and first-time author Walker conveys up-to-date findings in an accessible conversational style, enlivened by anecdotes—a concert pianist who can “just play” even the most demanding piece after a good night’s sleep—and facts—such as that lack of sleep can literally kill.
Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby
Candida R. Moss and Joel S. Baden (Princeton Univ.)
Moss, professor of the New Testament and early Christianity at Notre Dame, and Baden, professor of the Hebrew Bible at Yale, pull the curtain back on the Green family, billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby and creators of the Museum of the Bible opening November 17th in Washington, D.C., in this penetrating and often shocking account of how a powerful few are influencing American Christianity.
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster)
FitzGerald, historian and journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for Fire in the Lake, turns her attention to the origins of American evangelicalism in this comprehensive study. In acessible prose, FitzGerald elegantly untangles the many movements and personalities (particularly Billy Graham, Karl Barth, Jerry Falwell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Pat Robertson) that have created the modern evangelical movement.
The Meaning of Belief: Religion from an Atheist’s Point of View
Tim Crane (Harvard Univ.)
In this convincing exploration, Crane, a British philosopher and professor at Central European University who focuses on philosophy of the mind and metaphysics, tries to bridge the gap between atheists and religious communities by explaining the human “religious impulse.” He argues persuasively that religious belief is complexly human, rather than something that should die in the face of science.
Nicole Krauss (Harper)
Krauss's elegant and provocative novel might be her best yet. Rich in profound insights and emotional resonance, it follows two characters on their paths to self-realization. In present-day Israel, two visiting Americans—one a young wife, mother, and novelist named Nicole, the other an elderly philanthropist whose relentless energy has dimmed with his recent divorce—experience transcendence.
The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege
Ken Wytsma (Intervarsity)
Wytsma, president of Kilns College and lead pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, Ore., explains the insidious ways white dominance shapes American culture and conversations about race from the perspective of a passionately committed evangelical Christian. His measured explanations combined with deep research elucidate the damaging “white normative standard” in order to inspire conversations around a difficult topic.
Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
Robert Wright (Simon & Schuster)
Religious scholar Wright uses evolutionary psychology cleverly to assess whether Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human condition makes sense. Opting for the modular model of mind, he argues that there are ultimately many versions of the self (or “no-self”). His absorbing thesis champions placing emotions on par with reason as influencers of our perceptions and interpretations.
For Isabel: A Mandala
Antonio Tabucchi, trans. from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Archipelago)
A man claiming to be a journalist searches in Lisbon for an old classmate named Isabel, who became involved with the Communists and disappeared during Portugal's authoritarian regime. What follows is a fractured, Rashomon-like series of interviews with Isabel's friends and coconspirators. This is more than the story of a missing girl; it is history recalled as though in a dream, a book that reckons with death in the midst of life.
Vivek Shanbhag, trans. from the Kannada by Srinath Perur (Penguin) (Penguin)
Shanbhag's concise and mesmerizing novel traces the effect of a sudden financial windfall on a lower-class Bangalore family. The family members' fraught relationships with each other are further complicated in their new, unexpected situation. As dark undercurrents come to the surface, Shanbhag depicts the fallout of fortune and how it can alter the foundation of family.
Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf)
Queerness permeates Machado's eerie, inventive collection, shaping the stories' women and their problems, with a recurring focus on the inherent strangeness of female bodies. These bodies, and the women in them, face an epidemic of inexplicable evaporation, linger as distorted masses after weight-loss surgery, or gain the ability to hear the thoughts of actors in porn.
I Am the Brother of XX
Fleur Jaeggy, trans. from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff (New Directions)
A woman searches for her friend who has deserted a psychiatric clinic; a younger brother feels his life is diminished by his sister's influence ("While I spoke to her of solitude she looked at her watch."). Jaeggy's short stories are nonpareils of fury and restraint. They dig up chilling yet beguiling reflections on loneliness, on regret, and sometimes even on love.
The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost
Peter Manseau (HMH)
A rare work of historical nonfiction that is both studious and just plain entertaining, Manseau's book focuses on the 1869 trial for fraud of William H. Mumler, a spirit photographer whose portraits of ghostly loved ones hovering near mortal sitters captivated a nation still recovering from the Civil War and obsessed with intimations of the afterlife.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Transit)
Makumbi's sprawling epic follows a curse on a Ugandan family that begins in 1750, when Kintu Kidda inadvertently causes the death of his son. Two hundred years later, the members of the Kintu bloodline must come together if they are to free themselves from the curse. A masterpiece of cultural memory, Makumbi's novel is elegantly poised at the crossroads of tradition and modernity.
Jonathan Dee (Random House)
Dee's sobering novel is bookended by 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis. Between, a cascade of hubris and folly rumbles through a small Massachusetts town after a billionaire moves there and takes over, and a local contractor and his family are alternately lifted and hammered by a historical moment as it turns on them. There's no finger-wagging here, but rather a smart, lucid take on everything going to hell.
Julie Buntin (Holt)
Fifteen-year-old Cat's unenthusiastic outlook on her move to a small town in northern Michigan changes when she meets Marlena, an electric 17-year-old whose father cooks meth. In this poignant, unforgettable debut novel, Buntin displays a remarkable control of tone and narrative arc, charting Cat's charged relationship with Marlena and a tragedy that stays with her for the rest of her life. (Buntin is married to PW deputy reviews editor Gabe Habash.)
Kristen Iskandrian (Twelve)
When college freshman Agnes learns her mother has left her father, she begins writing letters to her as a coping mechanism, though she has no idea where her mother is and cannot mail them. These letters, which continue after Agnes becomes pregnant, showcase Agnes's sharp and humorous voice, resulting in a touching, delightful, and satisfying novel about motherhood.
Paul Yoon (Simon & Schuster)
Yoon's wonderful collection is bound by the longing for meaning and connection experienced by its mostly migrant protagonists, each of whom has suffered trauma stemming from wars fought by previous generations. These stories span the globe—including the Hudson Valley, France, and China—and time periods to arrive at truths about how greatly lives are affected and influenced by shared history.
Min Jin Lee (Grand Central)
Lee's immersive novel tells the story of one Korean family's search for belonging, beginning in the Japanese-occupied Korea of the 1910s, when young Sunja accidentally becomes pregnant and a kind, tubercular pastor offers to marry her and act as the child's father. The novel, which follows four generations of the family, exquisitely explores questions of history, legacy, and identity.
Jon McGregor (Catapult)
McGregor's momentous, haunting novel begins with a 13-year-old girl's disappearance from an English village, and then tracks the village through the following years—teenagers become adults, babies are born, people grow old and die, and couples get together and separate while what happened to the girl remains a mystery. McGregor portrays individuals and the community as a whole, marked by a strange darkness after the girl's disappearance.
See What I Have Done
Sarah Schmidt (Atlantic Monthly)
Schmidt's suspenseful, nearly unbearably claustrophobic debut novel recounts the events surrounding the 1892 murders of Andrew and Abby Borden from the perspectives of Lizzie Borden; her older sister, Emma; the family's maid, Bridget Sullivan; and a mysterious man known only as Benjamin. Equally successful as a whodunit, "whydunit," and historical novel, the book honors known facts yet fearlessly claims its own striking vision.
The Seventh Function of Language
Laurent Binet, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor (FSG)
Binet (HHhH) ups the metafictional ante with this detective story about the death of French philosopher Roland Barthes, who was hit by a laundry van after lunch with presidential candidate François Mitterrand. The mystery is really just an excuse for a loving inquiry into 20th-century intellectual history; Binet folds historical moments into an illustration of the possibilities left for the modern novel.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
Lesley Nneka Arimah (Riverhead)
In one story in Arimah's powerful and incisive debut collection, a deceased mother magically reappears in her family's life. In another, a reckless teenage girl is sent from America to her aunt in Nigeria, only to get caught up in the life of her equally reckless cousin. Arimah shuttles between continents and realities to deliver stories of loss, hope, violence, and family.
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
Richard Rothstein (Liveright)
Making the case that the de facto segregation found throughout the U.S. is in fact de jure, Rothstein maps out, in encyclopedic detail, government actions at the federal, state, and local levels throughout the 20th century that denied housing opportunities to African-Americans. His authoritative history puts forth a transformative picture of racial inequality in modern-day America and offers a compassionate remedy for these persistent divisions.
A Working Woman
Elvira Navarro, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Two Lines)
In Navarro's brilliant mindbender of a novel, Elisa, a struggling writer in Madrid, becomes increasingly fascinated by her roommate, the more willful and dramatically unhinged Susana. Susana and Elisa set out to combine their artistic endeavors, only to become ensnared in each other's madness in the process. This exceptional novel defies easy interpretation and culminates in a breathtaking and surprising ending.
The Complete Poems of A.R. Ammons
Edited by Robert M. West (Norton)
This monumental and authoritative two-volume set collects every poem the prolific Ammons ever published. Ammons continued the American vernacular tradition of Whitman and Williams, pushing it in unexpected directions. His poems were humorous and contemplative, concerned with feeling and natural processes. These books are large and sprawling and unwieldy, which is probably how Ammons would've wanted it.
Don't Call Us Dead
Danez Smith (Graywolf)
In what's arguably the year's most powerful and affecting collection, Smith celebrates black and queer identity through an array of poetic forms. Often surreal and always supremely imaginative, these poems confront white supremacy and the reality of being HIV-positive, among other subjects. But pity isn't the point here; this is a book about life and the transformative capabilities of both sorrow and joy.
The Happy End/All Welcome
Mónica de la Torre (Ugly Duckling)
Grab a chair—any one of the various office chairs scattered throughout this absurdist send-up of corporate culture from de la Torre—and get uncomfortable. De la Torre mixes into her poems a variety of elements rarely considered "poetic": office jargon, job postings and interviews, and item inventories. This book is amazingly fun and profound, given how bleak it can sometimes be.
In the Still of the Night
Dara Wier (Wave)
Heartening and comforting for work largely spurred by grief, this is a collection of deep wisdom. Wier's plainspoken language reads in some measure as a conversation with an absent party. The poems often turn inward, as would be expected, but more regularly reach out to those closest to her, as if acknowledging the necessity of community in trying circumstances.
We're On: A June Jordan Reader
Edited by Christoph Keller and Jan Heller Levi (Alice James)
This selection of the ever-relevant work of poet, essayist, and activist June Jordan contains "a lot of her greatest hits and some of her lost treasures"—writings and interviews on housing development, land reform, gender and state violence, identity politics, economic injustice, international solidarity, poetics, and freedom fighters and revolutionaries.
A.J. Tata (Kensington)
Tata, a retired brigadier general, combines distinctive characters and unconventional threats to thrilling effect in his terrific third novel featuring Jake Mohegan, a former Delta Force operative, who teams with an 11-year-old autistic prodigy to thwart a terrorist plot to cripple American infrastructure.
The Cuban Affair
Nelson DeMille (Simon & Schuster)
Daniel MacCormick, a 35-year-old army veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan and is now a charter boat captain in Key West, Fla., ventures into Cuba on a risky covert mission involving a fortune hidden in a cave—and a treacherous, beautiful woman. A line from the novel perfectly describes this page-turner: “Sex, money, and adventure. Does it get any better than that?”
Gin Phillips (Viking)
A searing exploration of motherhood at its most basic, this all-too-plausible thriller about a mother and her four-year-old son dodging multiple shooters in a zoo over a period of three hours may haunt even readers with steely nerves and strong stomachs.
Extreme Cities: The Perils and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change
Ashley Dawson (Verso)
Books on climate change are a dime a dozen now, but few, if any, truly reckon with the potential scale of the disasters that await. Dawson reveals the inadequacies of current plans to deal with the problems that cities around the world will face. Forget such buzzwords as "green cities," "resilience," and "sustainable development"—the age of "disaster communism" is here.
Christopher Farnsworth (Morrow)
The combination of a telepathic lead and a terrifyingly plausible effort to use the internet for social manipulation produces intelligent and knuckle-biting suspense in Farnsworth’s brilliant second thriller featuring the man known as John Smith.
Don Winslow (Morrow)
Winslow peers into the soul of modern America through the eyes of a supremely skilled and corrupt police officer, Dennis Malone, a veteran NYPD detective sergeant who leads the Manhattan North Special Task Force, in this epic novel of devastating moral complexity.
Emma Flint (Hachette)
One of New York City’s classic tabloid crime cases—the controversial conviction of cocktail waitress Alice Crimmins for the 1965 murders of her two young children—is the springboard for British author Flint’s affecting, achingly beautiful debut.
Long Black Veil
Jennifer Finney Boylan (Crown)
In this madcap thriller full of hidden identities, a night of goofy postcollege mischief goes fatally amiss in Philadelphia’s shut-down Eastern State Penitentiary in 1980. Embedded in the whodunit is a heartwarming midlife love story, in which hard-won candor, tenacity, and a generous sense of humor are saving graces.
Nine Lessons: A Josephine Tey Mystery
Nicola Upson (Crooked Lane)
In the seventh series entry, set in England in 1937, the moving and complex interpersonal conflicts of Upson’s main characters, Scotland Yard’s Det. Insp. Archie Penrose and real-life novelist Josephine Tey, blend perfectly with an intricate mystery involving a series of murders inspired by the ghost stories of M.R. James.
The Nine-Tailed Fox
Martin Limón (Soho Crime)
Clever plotting and superior characterizations lift the suspenseful, atmospheric seventh entry in Limón’s mystery series set in 1970s Korea and starring U.S. Army CID agents George Sueño and Ernie Bascom; this time, they are looking into the case of three missing American soldiers.
A Rising Man
Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Crime)
In 1919, Capt. Sam Wyndham, a former Scotland Yard detective, arrives in Calcutta, India, where he investigates a sensitive murder case. British author Mukherjee’s outstanding debut and series launch combines a cleverly constructed plot with a locale drawn in convincing detail.
Vicious Circle: A Joe Pickett Novel
C.J. Box (Putnam)
Edgar-winner Box’s 17th novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett pits Joe against erstwhile rodeo star Dallas Cates—whom Joe helped put in prison 18 months earlier—now newly released and bent on revenge. This outing is the most suspenseful yet, setting a new standard for Box.
Wolf’s Revenge: A Leo Maxwell Mystery
Lachlan Smith (Mysterious)
In his fifth outing, San Francisco attorney Leo Maxwell continues to deal with the emotional fallout from his belief that his father murdered his mother. Operating at the top of his game, Smith combines a mystery with the overlay of existential dread that noir fans relish with as much skill as anyone writing today.
Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon)
In this brief, magnificent story, in which a unicorn gives birth in a hollow on the scraggly farm of a misanthropic Calabrian poet, legendary fantasy author Beagle displays his unmatched facility with the nuances of language and the juxtaposition of the timeless and fantastical with the modern and mundane. Each word is precisely chosen and placed for vivid effect, the story soaked with unabashed emotion and strewn with Technicolor set pieces.
Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics
Kim Phillips-Fein (Metropolitan)
The neoliberal transformation of the U.S. began, in Phillips-Fein's view, with the piecemeal dismantling of New York City's vibrant experiment in social democracy during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Municipal bonds aren't a sexy subject, and neither is the gutting of public services that sustain a city and protect its most vulnerable, but Phillips-Fein turns what could be a dry history into a riveting exposé of power.
A Closed and Common Orbit
Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager)
Chambers’s second novel is a polished, subtle work of near-future science fiction. Lovelace is an AI trying to learn how to live in a body; her friend Pepper’s cheerful, no-nonsense attitude stems from a deeply traumatic childhood as an enslaved clone. The surface story of interstellar adventure is accompanied by deep explorations of sentience, emotion, and the necessity of self-determination.
The Witch Who Came in from the Cold
Lindsay Smith et al. (Saga)
This creative compilation of 13 novella-length episodes hauls readers into an alternate Cold War–era Prague where two factions of magic users are trying to control unwitting humans, known as Hosts, who channel elemental magic. The writing team includes several of the genre’s rising stars, who enhance the catchiness of the serial format with gripping writing and shocking double-crosses.
The Bedlam Stacks
Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)
Pulley’s Victorian-era sophomore effort is almost literally breathtaking, set high in the Peruvian mountains where air and facts are thin. Merrick Tremayne is hoping to steal quinine tree cuttings that will save India’s British colonizers from malaria; he’s surprised to meet a young priest who may somehow have known his grandfather. Eloquent prose and compassionate portrayals of the myriad relationships among men elevate this extraordinary work.
The Stone Sky
N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
Jemisin concludes her tour de force Broken Earth trilogy with a work of consummate craftsmanship. In a world rocked by cataclysms, two powerful wielders of earth magic and ancient technology face off. Aging, grieving Essun wants to save the planet; her traumatized young daughter, Nassun, wants to destroy it. Jemisin pushes speculative fiction to a new level, challenging readers to acknowledge—and fix—the broken parts of our own societies.
An Unkindness of Ghosts
Rivers Solomon (Akashic)
This striking debut novel, set aboard a generation ship where white supremacists enslave black laborers, combines sharp allegory with poetic metaphor. Aster Grey, a literal-minded medic, hopes to undermine the ruling Sovereignty with the help of notes left by her mother, but decoding them is an almost impossible challenge. Solomon addresses numerous daunting topics with incision and insight in this stunning achievement.
Marina J. Lostetter (Harper Voyager)
In Lostetter’s sweeping debut, a convoy of clones sets out from Earth to examine an unusual star whose light may have been altered by intelligent aliens. Over the centuries, different iterations of the clone lines grapple with questions of identity, sovereignty, and the value of their mission. Lostetter evokes an almost old-fashioned sense of wonder that will move the hearts and excite the minds of science fiction readers.
Yasmine Galenorn (Diversion)
Lily, a reclusive 600-year-old succubus, is pulled into the larger paranormal community when a politically popular weretiger is killed in her one-woman brothel. Help comes from an unexpected source: chaos demon Archer, who reaches her emotionally in a way that few have managed. Galenorn’s crackling mix of paranormal mystery and erotic romance boasts a layered, complex plot that rewards multiple readings.
Sarah Hegger (Zebra)
Hegger’s utterly delightful first Ghost Falls contemporary is what other romance novels want to grow up to be. Alongside the tale of two warm-hearted friends who cheerfully decide to act on their longtime mutual attraction is a thoughtful, sympathetic examination of all the pressures of modern life, including being (in)famous on social media, caring for aging relatives, contending with addiction and associated shame, and balancing conflicting careers and ambitions.
You May Kiss the Bride
Lisa Berne (Avon)
Debut author Berne’s Regency romance sparkles with dry, subtle wit. The wealthy Penhallows have always married for duty, not love, but stuffy Gabriel Penhallow’s magnetic attraction to fiery, penniless Livia Stuart upends his plans. Berne smoothly works in social commentary on quack medicine and boorish men while championing the righteous rage and suppressed longings of mistreated women, updating Austenian sensibilities for the 21st-century reader.
An Extraordinary Union
Alyssa Cole (Kensington)
In Cole’s impressive Civil War–era romance, Malcolm McCall, a white man, and Elle Burns, a black woman, develop a dangerous mutual attraction while spying for the Union. Cole is unsparing when depicting the racism and sexism that both terrify Elle and allow her to pass almost unnoticed in a wealthy Rebel household; society’s casual disregard for her is balanced by Malcolm’s deep respect for her knowledge, skills, and bravado.
Dan Chaon (Ballantine)
Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread in this extraordinary novel about Ohio psychologist Dustin Tillman, whose parents and aunt and uncle were murdered when he was 13—and whose testimony helped put his adopted brother, Rusty, in prison for the crime. Rusty, who has just been exonerated through DNA evidence, reaches out to Dustin's troubled son, a teenage junkie sliding into Cleveland's underground.
Under Her Skin
Adriana Anders (Sourcebooks Casablanca)
Anders’s riveting contemporary debut explores the aftereffects of trauma, here depicted in physical form. Uma’s ex-boyfriend covered her body with unwanted tattoos. Fleeing, she finds a menial job, a clinic offering free tattoo removal, and a neighbor, Ivan, who exudes safety. Ivan’s own scars are emotional but no less real. Kindness and trust infuse this romance, encouraging readers to believe in hope even after torture and terror.
Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Tamaki explores the intersection of identity, technology, and memory in this remarkable short story collection that captures modern life’s wry ambivalence. People in these tales deal with obstacles both quotidian—bedbugs, less-than-clear skin—and fantastic—a woman who shrinks to nothing and a mysterious, haunting music album. The shifting art styles are grounded by laser-focused storytelling.
Sophia Foster-Dimino (Koyama)
Foster-Dimino’s lines are clean and simple; no shading or color is needed to capture the heartbreaking longing and frustrated disappointment on the faces of the characters in these short stories. Despite the title, the emphasis is mostly on relationships, the sacrifices made, and the self-delusions that people cling to in a desperate quest to not be alone.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters
Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)
Karen Reyes, the 10-year-old heroine of Ferris’s irresistible debut graphic novel, sees herself as a monster, just like the tortured ghouls from the 1960s-era monster movies and fanzines that she loves. But Karen also sees herself as a kind of monster-detective (picture a small werewolf in fedora and trench coat) looking for answers in a book that is by turns a haunting murder mystery and a deeply affecting spiritual portrait of the rich social underbelly of 1960s Chicago.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness
Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas)
In this relentlessly honest, often funny graphic memoir, Kabi methodically dissects her admittedly dysfunctional life looking for a way out of her neurotic, self-imposed cage of social isolation. She puts her considerable cartooning skills to work in an effort to understand her demoralizing disconnection from her peers and parents, as well as her crippling antipathy to sex and personal contact.
The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry
David Carlson, illus. by Landis Blair (First Second)
Forced to confess to his son that he has lied about his past and his disability, Matt Rizzo must now tell his real life-story: in 1936 he is sentenced to prison for a botched robbery that also left him blind. His cellmate is Nathan Leopold of the notorious 1920s murderous duo Leopold and Loeb, a polymath and jailhouse intellectual who passes on to the barely literate Rizzo a deep love of literature. Under Leopold’s tutelage, Rizzo—jailed, blind, bitterly despairing and suicidal—discovers the power of poetry and rediscovers his will to live in a remarkable story of literary enlightenment and social redemption.
Andrea Tsurumi (HMH)
Racked with guilt after spilling juice on an upholstered chair, an armadillo named Lola flees to the library. But, as Tsurumi's catastrophe-packed illustrations reveal, everyone makes mistakes. Pots overflow, rockets misfire, whales sail through windows faster than you can say "Calamity!" It's utter chaos and utterly fun.
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
Dan Santat (Roaring Brook)
Caldecott Medal winner Santat imagines the aftermath of Humpty Dumpty's most infamous moment, turning a nursery rhyme most children and adults know by heart into an unforgettable exploration of trauma, anxiety, and fear—one that builds to one of the most moving and rewarding endings of the year.
Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship
David Elliott, illus. by Melissa Sweet (Candlewick)
Two sheep, fond of reading and knitting, find more adventure than they bargained for when they meet a literal wolf in sheep's clothing. Elliott's dry-as-a-bone narration makes for delicious reading, and Sweet captures the awkward geniality of a blossoming cross-species friendship built on books and the occasional run-for-your-life chase.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Derrick Barnes, illus. by Gordon C. James (Bolden/Millner)
In a book as gorgeous as it is important, empowering text and lustrous portraits celebrate the ritual of the barbershop haircut: how good that fade or shape-up can make a person feel, and how, for many boys with black or brown skin, it's a chance to be treated like a king in a world that too often views them with suspicion or contempt.
In the Distance
Hernán Díaz (Coffee House)
In Díaz's brilliant debut, a young Swedish immigrant named Håkan is separated from his brother en route to America. Håkan lands in San Francisco knowing only that he must get to New York, but his journey becomes a series of increasingly dangerous episodes. This suspenseful novel is a potent depiction of loneliness, a memorable immigration narrative, and a canny reinvention of the old-school western.
A Different Pond
Bao Phi, illus. by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers)
Vietnamese-American poet Phi's childhood memories inform this hauntingly understated and atmospherically illustrated account of a predawn father-son fishing outing, just one of several ways the child's immigrant parents work tirelessly to keep the family well-fed and cared for.
Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Children can accompany a girl and her father on a trek through the Grand Canyon in Chin's meticulously illustrated picture book. The journey covers several miles and more than a billion years: the girl is magically transported to various points in the region's vast history as Chin takes readers through the layers of the canyon's past.
Her Right Foot
Dave Eggers, illus. by Shawn Harris (Chronicle)
The Statue of Liberty's torch and crown get plenty of attention. Eggers is more interested in the fact that her right foot is raised: "That's right! She is going somewhere! She is on the move!" The point, more crucial than ever, is that freedom isn't static or automatic—it requires effort, action, and forward momentum.
The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way)
Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown)
It's an alphabet book, it's a guessing game, it's a wild goose chase! (Minus the goose.) Using the letters of the alphabet as his only text, McDonnell sends the eponymous cat on a misadventure, in which it's set upon by an alligator (for a), bear (for b), and other creatures in a whirlwind escapade that leads up to—what else?—Zzzzzzzzzzz.
Mama Lion Wins the Race
Jon J Muth (Scholastic Press)
Leave it to the creator of Zen Shorts and its sequels to transform a twisty-turny road race into a contemplation of kindness, good sportsmanship, and what winning truly looks like. Even so, Muth doesn't skimp on automotive action, and readers will love following his animal characters' retro racers through the lushly painted landscapes.
The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!
Carmen Agra Deedy, illus. by Eugene Yelchin (Scholastic Press)
After a mayor's rules turn a vibrant town into a silent place of fear and sadness, a rooster refuses to give in, and others soon join his cause. Available in English and bilingual Spanish-English editions, Deedy and Yelchin's allegory vividly illustrates the power of using one's voice to stand up to oppression.
Soldier Song: A True Story of the Civil War
Debbie Levy, illus. by Gilbert Ford (Disney-Hyperion)
Levy and Ford thoughtfully explore the role of music during the U.S. Civil War, including how it was used to inspire, unify, and divide. "Whether Billy Yank or Johnny Reb, the soldiers heard the same bugle calls, fife melodies, and drumbeats," Levy writes. "After all, just the year before, they had all been part of one, united country."
What Does Baby Want?
Tupera Tupera (Phaidon)
A baby's head fills the circular pages of this board book, and the baby is not happy. When its mother realizes what her child is after—it's time for breastfeeding—the genius of the book's design is revealed (among other things). Breastfeeding in public remains a touchy subject and children's books can be skittish around nudity, but neither is an issue for this smart, defiant book.
When's My Birthday?
Julie Fogliano, illus. by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Birthdays are generally jubilant affairs in the life of a child, and this poetic tribute fits the occasion to a T, powered by a child's wishes and questions ("will it never be my birthday?/ is it almost happy birthday?/ happy day to me and me?") and by Robinson's bold, childlike collages.
Why Am I Me?
Paige Britt, illus. by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (Scholastic Press)
Deceptively simple questions of identity course through Britt's contemplative offering. "If I were someone else, who would I be?" wonders a child who makes his way through Qualls and Alko's diverse cityscape; like Britt's poem, their images tease out the connections between individuality and community.
Gail Godwin (Bloomsbury)
After 11-year-old Marcus's mother dies, he goes to live with his great-aunt Charlotte, a reclusive painter, on a small South Carolina island. There, during a summer that will change his life, Marcus becomes obsessed with the island's supposedly haunted beach shack. This coming-of-age novel is a moving depiction of a boy who must decide how to grieve: to raze his identity completely or memorialize his tragedies.
The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse
Mac Barnett, illus. by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
"I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten," declares a duck who has set up (a rather nice) residence in the belly of a wolf, where a mouse has recently arrived. Like previous Barnett-Klassen collaborations, this is a witty story with real philosophical heft: when the theoretical worst has happened, what do you do next?
The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid
Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane)
Winter traces the life of Zaha Hadid in this elegantly illustrated biography, which highlights the architect's perseverance in an industry dominated by men and the inspiration she took from nature to create daring and unconventional towers, stadiums, and other structures around the globe.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Time and again, Pinkney has demonstrated his skill for shedding fresh emotional light on familiar stories and fables. His reinterpretation of this tale of hungry goats and an ill-tempered troll is no different, trading the typical revenge-driven ending for one that allows for grace, forgiveness, and the possibility of change.
All's Faire in Middle School
Victoria Jamieson (Dial)
Newbery Honor author Jamieson immerses readers in Renaissance fair culture and the social travails of middle school in this empathetic graphic novel about a homeschooled girl's rocky introduction to public school life. Imogen's insecurities and struggles with friendships and family will resonate broadly.
Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd)
Julie Bowe (Penguin/Dawson)
Unwanted changes abound in Bowe's novel about nine-year-old Wren, who is contending with both her parents' divorce and with the fear of losing her best friend to another girl. Bowe sensitively and realistically traces Wren's gradual recognition that she isn't the only one with secrets and unseen depths.
Bronze and Sunflower
Cao Wenxuan, trans. from the Chinese by Helen Wang (Candlewick)
Chinese writer Cao, a recent recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, transports readers to rural China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s in this eloquent story about the developing friendship between two children—one orphaned, the other mute. A rewarding story for children and parents to share together.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad)
The thrum of the blues serves as a backbone to Williams-Garcia's powerful story, a National Book Award finalist, set in present-day New York City. An African-American boy named Clayton adores playing the harmonica alongside his bluesman grandfather, but when Cool Papa Byrd unexpectedly dies, Clayton is left to contend with grief and familial betrayal.
The Doorman's Repose
Chris Raschka (New York Review Children's Collection)
Raschka brings readers to Manhattan's Upper East Side in this delightful novel told through linked stories, set in and around a fictional apartment building. With a quasi-sentient elevator and stories about mice families and city-mandated opera singers, it's an off-kilter vision of New York City that feels simultaneously true in its bones.
Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today
Cynthia and Sanford Levinson (Peachtree)
This husband-and-wife team collaborates on a timely and thought-provoking study of the U.S. Constitution, exploring how its language and statutes relate to of-the-moment topics that include the Electoral College and gerrymandering, as well as historical incidents in which the document was put to the test.
The Glass Town Game
Catherynne M. Valente (S&S/McElderry)
In a dazzling combination of literary history and wildly imaginative fantasy, Valente builds on the real-life writings of the Brontë siblings as children, sending their fictional counterparts to the unpredictable world of Glass Town, where they embark on an adventure that not even they could quite have imagined.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)
Ward's blistering novel unpacks a stark legacy of hatred as a drug-abusing young mother drives into the dark reaches of Mississippi to pick up her husband after he's released from prison. Her mother's on her deathbed, her son sees the ghost that haunts her father, and everything, everywhere is drenched with creeping doom. Ward's Mississippi is an unforgiving place, and she draws even her most troubled characters with a remarkable empathy.
I'm Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups
Chris Harris, illus. by Lane Smith (Little, Brown)
Ridiculously entertaining is the best way to describe this first poetry collection from screenwriter Harris, jam-packed with observational humor, absurdities, and wordplay. The hilarious sniping between Harris and Smith in and around the poems and exuberant artwork is icing on the cake.
The Lotterys Plus One
Emma Donoghue, illus. by Caroline Hadilaksono (Scholastic/Levine)
In her first book for children, Room author Donoghue introduces a sprawling and very memorable clan whose freethinking ethos is given a jolt when a conservative grandparent is thrown into the mix. This is a found family well worth seeking out.
Pablo and Birdy
Alison McGhee, illus. by Ana Juan (Atheneum/Dlouhy)
Accompanied by a flightless lavender parrot, a boy puzzles over his unknown past: he washed up on the island of Isla as a baby. McGhee carefully blends themes of identity and home in a story whose many dashes of humor lighten the seriousness of the questions Pablo faces.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Laura Amy Schlitz, illus. by Brian Floca (Candlewick)
An overscheduled princess turns the palace upside-down (and finally gets her parents to listen to her) with help from an opinionated and mischievous crocodile in this droll early chapter book, written and illustrated with style by Newbery Medalist Schlitz and Caldecott Medalist Floca.
Shannon Hale, illus. by LeUyen Pham (First Second)
The author of The Goose Girl and other beloved books reflects thoughtfully and honestly about her childhood relationships with friends and family in this graphic memoir, illustrated with equal care by Pham. What's more, it's also a lovely portrait of a writer finding her confidence and voice.
Alan Gratz (Scholastic Press)
Gratz intertwines the fictional stories of child refugees at three points in time: Nazi Germany, 1994 Cuba, and Syria in 2015. Each tale is harrowing on its own; together they draw potent connections between past and present while demonstrating how far some people must go to ensure their safety, then and now.
The Road to Ever After
Moira Young (FSG)
Tinged with mystery, magic, and inexplicable turns of events, Young's engrossing story of intergenerational friendship follows 13-year-old orphan Davy David as he escapes his grim hometown with the elderly Miss Flint, racing to reach her childhood home before her 80th birthday.
The Stars Beneath Our Feet
David Barclay Moore (Knopf)
A 12-year-old with a Lego fixation copes with the gang-related murder of his older brother—while simultaneously forging new friendships and facing other family difficulties—in Moore's engrossing and multilayered first book for children, set in present-day Harlem.
Katherine Applegate, illus. by Charles Santoso (Feiwel and Friends)
A red oak tree serves as the narrator of Applegate's story of a community in the midst of change: a new-to-the-area Muslim family becomes the target of ugly messages, and the fate of Red, the tree, isn't secure either. It's a timely reflection on the crucial need for empathy and kindness.
Ibi Zoboi (HC/Balzer + Bray)
A richly written look at contemporary immigration and intersections of culture, this National Book Award finalist from first-time novelist Zoboi follows Haitian teenager Fabiola Toussaint's adjustment to life in Detroit—made all the harder by her mother's being sent to a detention center en route.