Best Books: 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010
Summer Reads: 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012

As we start winding down a year that can't end soon enough, it's nice to focus on something—dare we say—positive? In this case, it's PW's best books of 2020. Our editors took their usual debates online. We argued over Zoom and Slack and email about the works that deserved to be on this list, and what we landed on is a powerful mix of books that speak to the times, and some that are timeless. On our cover is Ayad Akhtar, a Pulitzer-winning playwright and incoming PEN America president, whose Homeland Elegies blew us away. It's very much steeped in the now, and it'll read as fresh as it does today a decade or two from now. Nine other standout works join Akhtar's on our top ten list, and we follow that up with deeper dives into fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, as well as 50 excellent titles for children and teens. Take a look.

  • The City We Became

    N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

    The personified boroughs of New York battle cosmic horrors that threaten the soul of their city in the blockbuster urban fantasy that opens Jemisin’s Great Cities trilogy. Equally playful and poetic, this exquisite novel works as an action-packed romp, a searing indictment of gentrification, and a heartfelt ode to N.Y.C.

  • Becoming Muhammad Ali

    James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dawud Anyabwile (Little, Brown/Patterson and HMH)

    Alexander and Patterson team up to deliver this propulsive fictionalized biography of boxer, activist, and cultural icon Muhammad Ali, beginning with his early life as Cassius Clay. Structured in “rounds,” the book’s anecdotal narration describes his rise to prominence, starting with 16-year-old Cassius’s fight for the Golden Gloves championship, while witty lines of free verse illustrate the figure’s charisma and drive.

  • All the Days Past, All the Days to Come

    Mildred D. Taylor (Viking)

    This absorbing historical novel concludes the five-volume story of the Logan family, which began in 1975. Through narrator Cassie, Taylor deftly sketches the strong characters of this tight-knit, though increasingly far-flung, family, and offers insights into seismic social movements amid the grim realities of racism. A satisfying conclusion to a landmark saga.

  • Bedtime for Sweet Creatures

    Nikki Grimes, illus. by Elizabeth Zunon (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

    “No! No! No!” begins Grimes’s rhythmic, playful romp through a restless child’s bedtime routine. As the toddler resists sleep, a mother patiently creates an imaginary animal menagerie—“Your eyes swell, wide as owls”—transforming a bedroom into a forest full of friendly creatures, shown in Zunon’s expressive, heavily textured collage. A loving, effective lullaby.

  • The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Wealth, Race and Power

    Deirdre Mask (St. Martin’s)

    Mask’s enthusiastic debut explores the stories and histories behind street names and how they often have the power to determine who matters, and who doesn’t. The research is impressive, covering thousands of years of history from the ancient Romans to the present day while also revealing remarkable truths about power, class, race, and history.

  • Come Home, Indio: A Memoir

    Jim Terry (Street Noise)

    Terry’s unflinching memoir navigates coming of age between two worlds as he passes between divorced dysfunctional households, from his stern Irish-American father to his troubled Native American mother and their extended family on the reservation. As Terry deals with his own addictions as an adult, the graphic work evolves into a stunning portrait of healing through art, self-discovery, and spirituality.

  • The Book of St. John

    Fergus Henderson and Trevor Gulliver (Ebury)

    One doesn’t necessarily come to this cookbook for the recipes, but rather for its one-of-a-kind perspective on cuisine, technique, ingredients, and life in general. In Henderson and Gulliver’s world, every meal is an occasion, nothing goes to waste, and the wine never stops flowing.

  • And Now She’s Gone

    Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge)

    L.A. PI Gray Sykes, who grew up in the foster care system and escaped an abusive relationship, looks into the mysterious disappearance of Isabel Lincoln, who may not want to be found. Gray soon discovers that she and Isabel have a lot in common. Hall brilliantly explores themes of Blackness, abuse, and mirrored identities.

  • The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Wealth, Race and Power

    Deirdre Mask (St. Martin’s)

    Mask’s enthusiastic debut explores the stories and histories behind street names and how they often have the power to determine who matters, and who doesn’t. The research is impressive, covering thousands of years of history from the ancient Romans to the present day while also revealing remarkable truths about power, class, race, and history.

  • DMZ Colony

    Don Mee Choi (Wave)

    Choi’s captivating collection is a cross-genre achievement in docupoetics, offering a voice to those silenced in the Korean War and the Park Chung Hee military dictatorship. Choi’s personal narrative (including her family’s flight from South Korea and her father’s work as a photojournalist) is contextualized through larger considerations of political history, making this a vital investigative work.

  • American Sweethearts

    Adriana Herrera (Carina)

    Priscilla Gutierrez and Juan Pablo Campos have been on and off for years and finally find a way to make it work in the knock out conclusion to Herrera’s Dreamers series. In writing characters who know each other so well, Herrera creates a dynamic that is simultaneously comfortable and vulnerable, playful and passionate.

  • After Whiteness: An Education in Belonging

    Willie James Jennings (Eerdmans)

    Theologian Jennings recounts a series of distressing personal experiences within academia and lambasts mainstream curricula within American divinity schools. The result is a clarion indictment of systemic inequalities within universities, which Jennings argues elevate primarily white voices.

  • The Abstainer

    Ian McGuire (Random House)

    Irish-born widower James O’Connell, a Manchester cop, hunts down an American Civil War veteran at the center of a Fenian rebel plot in McGuire’s taut, deeply immersive masterpiece. The city’s brutal, rain-soaked streets become a character of their own and provide unforgiving backdrop for grief-stricken O’Connell’s punishing search for redemption.

  • Being Frog

    April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)

    Focused on frogs’ essential frog-ness rather than anthropomorphized interpretations of amphibian life, Sayre uses rich photographs and evocative language to explore how frogs might understand and experience their environments. Sayre’s gentle argument—“for me a made-up frog cannot match the beauty of a real frog—a creature so alive in its pond world”—persuades.

  • Chance: Escape from the Holocaust

    Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    This searing, evocative memoir chronicles the wartime experiences of Caldecott Medalist Shulevitz, whose family fled 1939 Warsaw to avoid persecution when he was four years old. The spare, keenly observed narrative offers a harrowing look at a Jewish family’s plight during WWII while documenting the birth of an artist with a great capacity for creativity.

  • Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

    Judith Heumann (Beacon)

    In this bold memoir, civil rights activist Judy Heumann, paralyzed from polio at 18 months, tells the harrowing tale of her lifelong fight for equality. Her activism helped lead to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This riveting account commemorates a landmark moment in the history of civil rights activism.

  • Class Act

    Jerry Craft (HarperAlley and Quill Tree )

    In this companion to Newbery winner New Kid, eighth grader Drew Ellis embarks on a turbulent second year at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School. Deftly weaving discussions of race, socioeconomics, colorism, and solidarity into an accessible narrative, Craft offers a charming cast journeying through the complicated landscapes of puberty, self-definition, and changing friendships.

  • Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field)

    Sy Montgomery, photos by Tianne Strombeck (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    In 1982, fewer than two dozen California condors were left in the wild, their numbers decimated by hunting, habitat loss, and lead shot poisoning. As Montgomery relates this history alongside Strombeck’s crisp photographs, she introduces readers to people working to protect the condor today. Though the condor’s future remains tenuous, Montgomery’s compelling page-turner inspires optimism.

  • Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation after the Oklahoma City Bombing

    Jeanne Bishop (Zondervan)

    This incredible story of friendship between Bud Welch, whose daughter died in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and Bill McVeigh, father of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, is an astounding testament to the faith and tenacity of two men brought together by tragedy. Creating a portrait of the relationship from interviews, Bishop makes a profound case for the power of forgiveness.

  • Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel

    Julian K. Jarboe (Lethe)

    Jarboe’s debut collection careens from tongue-in-cheek body horror to incisive science fiction populated by characters on the margins of society and ranging in tone from the incandescently furious to the devotional. Featuring emotional climate apocalypses, playful riffs on Kafka, and tenderly imagined space colonies, this collection is an outstanding showcase of an exciting new voice in genre fiction.

  • Daring Darleen: Queen of the Screen

    Anne Nesbet (Candlewick)

    In 1914 New Jersey, Daring Darleen, the 12-year-old star of silent film adventure serials, becomes embroiled in a publicity stunt that goes awry, complete with a kidnapping, a runaway hot air balloon, and dastardly villains. Film studies professor Nesbet writes her intrepid heroine with swashbuckling verve and sweet familial affection, incorporating extensive knowledge of early-20th-century filmmaking into a well-paced, gripping tale.

  • Cemetery Boys

    Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads)

    In Thomas’s vibrant YA debut, Yadriel, a gay, trans 16-year-old, is determined to prove himself, as a brujo and as a boy, to the traditional brujx cemetery community he grew up in. Thomas combines concept and execution in a romantic mystery as poignant as it is spellbinding, weaved in a mosaic of culture, acceptance, and identity.

  • The Blue House

    Phoebe Wahl (Knopf)

    “Leo lived with his dad in an old blue house next to a tall fir tree” in a neighborhood that’s being redeveloped. When they find out that their house is going to be torn down, the supportive, honest father helps his son ride a wave of emotions and land safely on the other side. Wahl makes both characters distinctive and sympathetic, and devotes loving attention to every spread.

  • I Know You Rider: A Memoir

    Leslie Stein (Drawn & Quarterly)

    Stein’s meditative, ephemerally painted diary comics reach a profound new level in her latest memoir, which focuses on her abortion, its context, and her recovery and accompanying grief and relief. She illuminates both the vulnerability and self-determination inherent in this often hidden experience, with a frank observational gaze that brings the reader intimately along.

  • Falastin: A Cookbook

    Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ten Speed)

    Tamimi and Wigley weave a fascinating tale about the evolution of Palestinian cuisine in this offering. What really sets this splendid cookbook apart is the way in which the authors reveal each recipe as if it were a family secret—and the reader is lucky to witness the occasion.

  • Black Sun Rising

    Matthew Carr (Pegasus Crime)

    When an English explorer dies in a terrorist bombing in 1909 Barcelona, his widow sends a private detective from England to investigate. Meanwhile, a blood-drinking murderer is terrorizing the people of Barcelona. This blend of early-20th-century Spanish history with a baffling plot is as intelligent as it is thought-provoking.

  • The Book of Eels

    Patrik Svensson trans. from the Swedish by Agnes Broomé (Ecco)

    Journalist Svensson dives into the mysteries of an unlikely creature born where “life teems in the dark, like a nocturnal forest” in this innovative mix of memoir and science writing. The chapters about eels turn scientific discovery into poetry, while the sections focused on personal narrative make for a lyrical account of father and son; the combination is striking.

  • Bluebeard’s First Wife

    Ha Seong-nan, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong (Open Letter)

    Ha’s nitro-fueled collection captures the dark side of South Korean society in mischievous, unapologetic feminist stories. Shocking violence occurs between a new married couple, a dog is stolen, and neighbors are suspiciously noisy among other disturbances in this wonderfully weird book. Each story stands out, and together they form a nightmare impossible to turn away from.

  • The Historians

    Eavan Boland (Norton)

    Throughout her career, Boland (1944–2020) was committed to documenting the interior lives of women in their full complexity, as well as the richness of daily life. This posthumous collection showcases Boland’s vivid imagery and singular intelligence, humility, and lyric power through poems that address memory, political citizenship, and the greater role of poetry and writing.

  • Boyfriend Material

    Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks Casablanca)

    The effortless charm and effervescent wit of this rom-com from Hall take a favorite trope to new heights. Uptight Oliver Blackwood would not have been roguish Luc O’Donnell’s first choice for a publicity boyfriend, but their fake relationship turns into real love the more they get to know each other—with plenty of laugh-out-loud mishaps and heart-swelling moments along the way.

  • Beheld

    TaraShea Nesbit (Bloomsbury)

    Nesbit mines a trove of primary sources from Plymouth Colony for a riveting story of a murder amid religious hypocrisy and inequities between indentured servants turned rebels and prominent Mayflower colonists. The author’s in-depth portrayal of the female characters imagines a vital history of women’s voices and day-to-day activity in the colony, unrecorded in the archives.

  • Bluebeard’s First Wife

    Ha Seong-nan, trans. from the Korean by Janet Hong (Open Letter)

    Ha’s nitro-fueled collection captures the dark side of South Korean society in mischievous, unapologetic feminist stories. Shocking violence occurs between a new married couple, a dog is stolen, and neighbors are suspiciously noisy among other disturbances in this wonderfully weird book. Each story stands out, and together they form a nightmare impossible to turn away from.

  • The #MeToo Reckoning: Facing the Church’s Complicity in Sexual Abuse and Misconduct

    Ruth Everhart (IVP)

    Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor, uses her own chilling story of sexual abuse to ground this resonant call to action for Christian communities to reject patriarchal systems and end widespread sexual abuse within American churches. Everhart’s voice is bold, and the many shocking statistics she cites bolster her affecting appeal for change.

  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

    V.E. Schwab (Tor)

    A Faustian bargain fuels this gorgeous, melancholy fantasy from Schwab. The devil grants immortality to Addie LaRue, but curses her so that no one she meets will ever remember her. Rendered in breathless, lyrical prose, this poignant novel sweeps through 300 lonely years of Addie’s life as she searches for a way to make her mark on an indifferent world.

  • Echo Mountain

    Lauren Wolk (Dutton)

    A girl realizes her gifts as a healer in this exquisitely layered historical novel set in Depression-era Maine. Via strongly sketched cabin-life cadences and memorable, empathic characterizations—including, perhaps most vividly, of the wilderness itself—Wolk builds a powerful, well-paced portrait of interconnectedness, work and learning, and strength in a time of crisis.

  • Dragon Hoops

    Gene Luen Yang (First Second)

    In 2014, as a teacher at a Catholic high school in Oakland, Calif., Yang is drawn to a story about the school’s basketball team. He alternates portraying player backstories and the Dragons’ 2014 season with interstitials about the sport’s beginnings and early tensions, historical and present-day discrimination, and Yang’s own work-life balance. With signature illustrations that bring the fast-paced games to life, Yang has crafted a triumphant, telescopic graphic memoir that explores the effects of legacy and the power of taking a single first step.

  • Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

    Meg Medina, illus. by Sonia Sánchez (Candlewick)

    As movers pack Evelyn’s family’s belongings, Daniela tells readers about her: “my mejor amiga, my número uno best friend.” Digital artwork by Sánchez radiates warmth and specificity as Daniela and Evelyn revel in their last moments as neighbors, adding poignancy to their vibrant connection in Medina’s portrait of two girls of color and their strong, resilient friendship.

  • How to Catch a Queen

    Alyssa Cole (Avon)

    Cole subverts both expectations and gender roles with the smart, sexy contemporary romance that opens her Runaway Royals series. Anxious King Sanyu II has no desire to rule, but ambitious commoner Shanti Mohapti has enough political acumen for the both of them. Their unlikely arranged marriage strikes a delicate balance of politics and passion that is sure to delight.

  • Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio

    Derf Backderf (Abrams ComicArts)

    Fifty years following the tragedy at Kent State, Backderf brings to bear extensive research and his trademark comics reportage for this nuanced portrait of the last days of the student victims—amid Nixon-driven paranoia and surveillance on campuses across the nation. This distressing account of a dark moment in the nation’s history has a powerful resonance today.

  • The French Laundry, Per Se

    Thomas Keller (Artisan)

    In this stunning collaborative effort, two celebrated restaurant kitchens—those of the French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and Per Se in New York City—provide a feast for the eyes, mind, and soul. The extensive notes on technique convey a tremendous respect for cuisine as an art form and every gorgeous page is an ode to the experience of fine dining.

  • The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne

    Elsa Hart (Minotaur)

    The stabbing murder of Sir Barnaby Mayne, an avid plant collector, drives this fair-play whodunit set in 1703 London. Botanist Cecily Kay, who was staying at Sir Barnaby’s home, is unconvinced by the confession of the alleged killer and turns sleuth. Hart has outdone herself with this historical.

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

    Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

    Wilkerson’s deeply researched, exquisitely written, and exceptionally timely investigation into America’s “shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based” caste system is as must-read as it gets. Drawing incisive parallels to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson debunks widespread myths about U.S. history and reveals the steep price American society pays for limiting the potential of Black Americans.

  • Homie

    Danez Smith (Graywolf)

    Smith’s poems celebrating Black culture and experience powerfully deliver testaments to the importance of friendship and community. The distinctive use of language, punctuation, and form amplifies the collection’s vision of a country plagued by violence and bigotry, but saved by the grace of fearless resistance and the joy of individual connections.

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

    Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

    Wilkerson’s deeply researched, exquisitely written, and exceptionally timely investigation into America’s “shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based” caste system is as must-read as it gets. Drawing incisive parallels to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson debunks widespread myths about U.S. history and reveals the steep price American society pays for limiting the potential of Black Americans.

  • The Butterfly Lampshade

    Aimee Bender (Doubleday)

    Francie, the protagonist of Bender’s rich meditation on memory, swallows a dead butterfly at age eight, in order to remember the butterfly pattern on a lampshade in her aunt’s house. In her 20s, Francine catalogs and revisits her childhood memories to astonishing effect through Bender’s extraordinary literary inventions and inimitable prose.

  • The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War

    Catherine Grace Katz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    Katz goes behind the scenes of the Yalta Peace Conference to reveal how the daughters of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman managed their fathers’ egos, put out diplomatic fires, and helped to preserve the alliance that would win WWII. The result is one of the year’s most impressive and skillfully researched debut histories.

  • Theological Territories: A David Bentley Hart Digest

    David Bentley Hart (Notre Dame)

    This brilliant collection of essays from Eastern Orthodox scholar Hart showcases his philosophical and theological chops. Included are stimulating ruminations on how science influences religion, trenchant responses to secular atheist critics, and revealing explorations of the translation process. The result is an illuminating and thorough look at modern Christianity.

  • The Lost Future of Pepperharrow

    Natasha Pulley (Bloomsbury)

    Pulley pulls off an impressive feat with this sophisticated work of speculative fiction. In an alternate 19th-century Japan, clairvoyant watchmaker Keita Mori uses his knowledge of the future to manipulate the lives of the people around him. The resulting plot is just as intricately constructed and delightful as one of Mori’s clockwork creations

  • Fighting Words

    Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial)

    When sisters Della and Suki are placed with a gruff but caring foster mother after escaping from their mother’s predatory boyfriend, Della gradually adapts to stability, while Suki experiences a mental health decline. Della’s tough, straightforward narration pulls no punches as she inspires others to tell their stories when and how they can. Brubaker Bradley's sharp characterizations create an essential, powerful mirror and window for any reader.

  • Elatsoe

    Darcie Little Badger, illus. by Rovina Cai (Levine Querido)

    Indigenous stories, modern-day technology, and the supernatural successfully blend to build a fast-paced murder mystery in Little Badger’s intriguing solo debut. After asexual 17-year-old Ellie’s older cousin is fatally injured, he comes to her in a dream; Lipan Apache Ellie, who has inherited the gift of waking and training ghosts, sets out to unmask the killer. Cai’s grayscale illustrations imbue the book with shadowy breath and movement.

  • Every Color of Light

    Hiroshi Osada, trans. from the Japanese by David Boyd, illus. by Ryōji Arai (Enchanted Lion)

    In a story that sharpens the senses and quiets the soul, the creators capture the ephemerality and magic of a summer rainstorm—wind whips, leaves fly, rain slashes sideways. By employing landscapes in lieu of human or animal characters, Osada and Arai ask readers to look—really look—at the rain, the way the changing weather transforms the visible spectrum, and the magnificence of the night sky.

  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist

    Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly)

    Once a “boy wonder,” Tomine approaches middle age recalling a career in comics through anecdotes of his most mortifying memories and sustained grudges, foibles that reveal the casual racism and constant status-jockeying of the indie comics scene. It’s acutely, almost painfully funny—proving even a literary comics genius can still deliver great laughs—elevated by a moving, philosophical close.

  • Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen

    Alexander Smalls (Flatiron)

    This eclectic cookbook provides classic Southern recipes with extra flair thanks to Smalls’s affinity for music. An internationally recognized opera singer, he elevates the work by naming each chapter after a type of music and diving into the details of his South Carolina childhood and how it influenced his cooking style.

  • The Devil and the Dark Water

    Stuart Turton (Sourcebooks Landmark)

    In 1634, famed investigator Samuel Pipps is aboard a ship bound from the Dutch East Indies to Amsterdam, where he’s to face trial for an unknown crime. Odd phenomena plague the voyage, including weird symbols that appear on the sails. With his ingenious explanations for all the strange goings-on, Turton shows he’s the modern master of the classic impossible crime mystery.

  • Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking

    Bill Buford (Knopf)

    Buford shines as a prose stylist and keen observer of humanity in this sprawling deep dive into French cuisine that sees the author move his family to Lyon. (Chaos and enlightenment ensue.) It’s a memoir, a cultural history, and a blast of a story that’s incredibly funny at times and incredibly sad at others.

  • The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir

    Wayétu Moore (Graywolf)

    With the lyrical precision of a folktale, Moore’s memoir details her traumatic flight from her home in war-torn Liberia in 1990, her childhood in Texas, and the racially fraught romances of her postgraduate years in Brooklyn. In the book’s final chapters, Moore accomplishes one of the year’s most moving and eye-opening feats of imagination, shifting perspective to recount her mother’s nerve-jangling journey from New York to Africa to rescue her family.

  • Obit

    Victorian Chang (Copper Canyon)

    Exploring and riffing on the newspaper obituary form, Chang’s lyrical prose block poems and tankas pay witness to grief and endurance. Life’s cycles play out in exquisite, detailed language that considers how death gives new meaning to memory, and how losses outlast and impact the living.

  • The Lost Love Song

    Minnie Darke (Ballantine)

    This sweeping, life-affirming tearjerker from Darke tracks a love song as it makes its way around the world, touching lives and hearts as it passes from musician to musician, ultimately offering a grieving man a second chance at love. Darke makes a powerful case for the healing power of music with this vibrant romantic panorama.

  • The Cold Millions

    Jess Walter (Harper)

    Walter’s sweeping epic, set in the early 20th century, follows two Montana brothers as they search for work and get involved in the free speech riots among miners looking to organize a union in Spokane, Wash. The vivid human drama cuts across the rigid social strata of the time, invoking the best of 1930s social realism.

  • Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

    Candace Fleming, illus. by Eric Rohmann (Holiday House/Porter)

    The brief but complex life of an Apis mellifera—a worker honeybee—is explored with depth in this richly detailed picture book. Fleming uses lyrical language to describe Apis’s jam-packed short life, while Rohmann’s realistic oil-on-paper illustrations artfully capture close-up details, such as the glisten of transparent wings and the fine hairs covering a bee’s body.

  • How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure

    John Rocco (Crown)

    This expansive illustrated history of the Apollo space program delves ambitiously into the collective efforts and engineering feats required to send the first astronauts to the moon. Using realistic colorized drawings—many replicated from archival documents and photos—Rocco maintains a consistent, accessible aesthetic throughout. A paean to ingenuity and collaboration.

  • The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: A Memoir

    Wayétu Moore (Graywolf)

    With the lyrical precision of a folktale, Moore’s memoir details her traumatic flight from her home in war-torn Liberia in 1990, her childhood in Texas, and the racially fraught romances of her postgraduate years in Brooklyn. In the book’s final chapters, Moore accomplishes one of the year’s most moving and eye-opening feats of imagination, shifting perspective to recount her mother’s nerve-jangling journey from New York to Africa to rescue her family.

  • How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion

    Ashima Shiraishi, illus. by Yao Xiao (Make Me a World)

    Teen author and climber Shiraishi doesn’t just scale rocks—she solves problems. A spread shows a boulder covered with images, visual mnemonics to help her as she climbs and falls. When problem-solving is a necessary part of any process—one that informs and aids in resilience—the specter of failure disappears. Xiao’s cleanly outlined forms show Shiraishi honing analytical skills whose power reaches beyond the climbing wall.

  • We Are Called to Be a Movement

    William Barber (Workman)

    In this resounding call for Americans to address the current poverty crisis, reverend Barber turns one of his 2018 sermons into a soaring rhetorical feat. Writing in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., Barber argues that God uses the rejected to lead moral revivals. Barber’s eloquence and passion elevate this to required reading.

  • The Only Good Indians

    Stephen Graham Jones (Saga)

    Sharp satire blends with gut-wrenching gore as a past mistake comes back to haunt a group of friends from the Blackfeet nation in this frenetic, funny, and genuinely frightening horror novel. This is Jones at the height of his considerable powers, grounding both supernatural and psychological scares in impressive cultural specificity.

  • King and the Dragonflies

    Kacen Callender (Scholastic Press)

    Callender returns to middle grade in this powerful tale of grief, intersectional identity, and love. When King, 12, realizes he was the last to see the racist, pale-skinned sheriff’s gay son, he ponders his obligation to tell anyone, struggling with his Louisiana town’s homophobia, his brother’s death, and his own identity. As a Black child learning to navigate sociocultural pressures and expectations, King shines wholly real.

  • Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

    Daniel Nayeri (Levine Querido)

    Marked by a distinctive voice, Nayeri’s impressive autobiographical novel is narrated by 12-year-old Khosrou, known as Daniel, who models himself after Scheherazade. The chapterless “patchwork story” moves nimbly through Daniel’s dreamlike early childhood in Iran, a year in an Italian refugee camp, and the family’s eventual life in Oklahoma. Mesmerizing and hard-hitting at once, this work of personal mythology is a rare treasure.

  • I Am Every Good Thing

    Derrick Barnes, illus. by Gordon C. James (Penguin/Paulsen)

    The creators of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut craft an empowering ode to Black boy joy. In metaphor-driven verse, Barnes moves from the interpersonally specific to the iconic, and from the naturalistic to the historical. James paints Black boys of varying skin tones and ages engaging in work and play, solo and in community. Together, the two powerfully convey the idea that all Black boys are “worthy/ to be loved.”

  • Paying the Land

    Joe Sacco (Metropolitan)

    Culture, commerce, and climate change clash in Northern Canada, where Sacco immerses with the Dene, a First Nations people, as fracking threatens the land and their way of life—but promises jobs. Sacco, as a master war reporter in comics journalism, delivers a striking portrait of a different kind of conflict zone.

  • Vegetable Simple: A Cookbook

    Eric Ripert (Random House)

    This sensational offering from Ripert, one of the world’s best chefs and co-owner of the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernadin, is a remarkable departure from traditional vegetarian recipe collections. The secret sauce here is Ripert’s passion for paring back seasonings to the basics in order to reveal the flavors, textures, and colors of each vegetable.

  • Eight Perfect Murders

    Peter Swanson (Morrow) (Morrow)

    Bookstore employee Malcolm Kershaw once posted a list of eight mysteries, each with a perfect murder, on the blog of a Boston bookstore. Years later, an FBI agent tells him she’s investigating multiple killings that she believes may have been influenced by his blog post. Swanson does a superb job updating Agatha Christie.

  • The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

    Katie Mack (Scribner)

    We know how the world will end, theoretical astrophysicist Mack writes in her brilliant debut, but what matters to her is “a bigger question: how will the universe end.” Mack turns the end of the universe into a starting point and delivers an accessible, enthusiastic survey of scientific forces. Lively and original, this is science writing done right.

  • Homeland Elegies

    Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown)

    This year’s Great American Novel, a masterpiece of autofiction, confronts a series of contradictions, reversals, and enigmas among the author-protagonist’s family members, friends, and lovers. The most affecting—and occasionally the funniest—is the story of Ayad’s complicated relationship with his father, an immigrant from Pakistan who once served as Donald Trump’s doctor, leading him to support Trump in 2016.

  • Runaway

    Jorie Graham (Ecco)

    In this dazzling collection, Graham considers humanity’s future survival in poems that address and interrogate the mind, body, and spirit of the collective, as well as the power and language of hope. In characteristically intellectual and contemplative style, Graham’s urgent and formally distinctive poems consider the sacrifice of the natural world and the risks to future generations.

  • Take a Hint, Dani Brown

    Talia Hibbert (Avon)

    When a video of Zaf—a burly hopeless romantic in the process of launching a charity—rescuing Dani—a bisexual academic with no time for love—goes viral, the pair agree to fake a relationship to keep the buzz going, meanwhile embarking on a no-strings-attached affair behind the scenes. The result is a hot, hilarious rom-com sure to sweep readers off their feet.

  • Crooked Hallelujah

    Kelli Jo Ford (Grove)

    Reney, a struggling young Cherokee woman, finds strength from her mother, even as she works to forge her own path and break her family’s generational chain of dysfunction and heartache. Ford’s prose dazzles with glitter and grit, tracing the limits and possibilities of a mother, daughter, and granddaughter’s best efforts with pure grace.

  • If You Come to Earth

    Sophie Blackall (Chronicle)

    Meeting children from around the world gave Caldecott Medalist Blackall a vision of a book “that would bring us together.” This exquisite catalog of human experience is the result. Featuring encyclopedic paintings rendered in painstaking detail, it is a volume that can be shared with strangers, visitors, friends old and new—a work in which differences build to reveal an inclusive human family on a single, precious planet.

  • Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-Up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World

    Lesley M. M. Blume (Simon & Schuster)

    This entertaining and expertly researched chronicle reveals the astonishing lengths reporter John Hersey and New Yorker managing editor William Shawn went to in order to get the real story on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Interweaving Hersey’s on-the-ground reporting with Shawn’s editorial decision-making, Blume spins a rousing tale of American journalism at its finest.

  • In the Half Room

    Carson Ellis (Candlewick)

    In rhymes and nighttime interiors that recall Goodnight Moon, Caldecott Honoree Ellis imagines a space in which everything is neatly divided down the middle: half pieces of furniture appear eclectically antique as “the light of the half moon/ shines down on the half room.” By centering the fragmentary, Ellis offers a strange, thrilling logic, inviting readers to engage with a concept fundamental to children’s experience: liminality.

  • God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World

    Alan Mikhail (Liveright)

    Yale University historian Mikhail restores Ottoman ruler Sultan Selim I to his rightful place in world history in this provocatively argued and vividly written account. Unearthing Ottoman influences on the Protestant Reformation, the European conquest of the New World, and the transatlantic slave trade, Mikhail proves that the histories of Islam and the West are more conjoined than opposed.

  • I Talk Like a River

    Jordan Scott, illus. by Sydney Smith (Holiday House/Porter)

    In this autobiographical story by Canadian poet Scott, a boy who stutters is given a new way to think about his speech: “See how that water moves? That’s how you speak.” Smith’s art renders the internal change a light-filled moment, an account of the child experiencing himself and his individuality as part of the great forces of the natural world.

  • Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs

    Jennifer Finney Boylan (Celadon)

    Boylan captures her past with an empathetic touch in this unforgettable memoir, organized around the dogs Boylan has owned. Each pet marks a memory and the outcome is, yes, an ode to hounds and to love, but more so it’s a powerful celebration of self-discovery.

  • Julián at the Wedding

    Jessica Love (Candlewick)

    Julián is back! He is going to be in a wedding, arriving in a sharp lavender suit and magenta shoes. There he meets flower girl Marisol, who attends in a ball cap. The specificity of Love’s characterizations—the brides’ enthusiasm, the children’s expansive gender expressions—offers vibrancy and immediacy, and under their community’s watchful eyes, Julián and Marisol find affection, acceptance, and room to grow.

  • Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

    Robert Kolker (Doubleday)

    Kolker captures how “baldly emotional” schizophrenia can be in this page-turner that asks “what it means to be a family.” Both a portrait of a family deeply affected by schizophrenia and an empathetic look at the ways the mental illness is often shrouded in mystery, this singular account offers as much insight as heartbreak.

  • A New Green Day

    Antoinette Portis (Holiday House/Porter)

    Giving voice to wonders great and small, Portis crafts short riddles about things and events encountered over the course of a summer day, answered through the turn of a page. The surprise of each allows readers to engage in familiar moments with awakened senses, offering nothing less than a new world filled with fresh experiences.

  • Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, an Investigation, and a Manifesto

    Michelle Bowdler (Flatiron)

    Bowdler argues that rape is not taken seriously by the criminal justice system. While sharing her own experience as a rape survivor as well as detailed research into her devastating case, she sheds light on how police departments fail rape victims and why it is a national crisis. This standout memoir marks a crucial moment in the discussion of what constitutes a violent crime.

  • Just Us: An American Conversation

    Claudia Rankine (Graywolf)

    Rankine challenges herself and others to communicate across America’s racial divides in this eloquent and authentic account. Whether she’s relating her own thorny conversations about race and privilege with white strangers and Latinx friends or analyzing social media posts, Rankine brings a deep well of imagination and a firm commitment to questioning her own assumptions.

  • Riot Baby

    Tochi Onyebuchi (Tor.com)

    Superpowered Black teenage siblings Ella and Kev contend with American racism past, present, and future in this brilliant, brutal novella. When Kev is wrongfully arrested in New York City, Ella uses their preternatural connection to offer him visions of freedom within his prison cell. It may be a novella, but it packs in all the power and awe of an epic.

  • The List of Things That Will Not Change

    Rebecca Stead (Random/Lamb)

    When eight-year-old Bea’s father comes out as gay, her divorcing parents give her a notebook containing the titular list, an accounting that helps the anxious girl navigate her shifting family landscape. Newbery Medalist Stead’s knack for authentic tween voices shines through in a first-person narration that explores themes of building resilience and savoring joy.

  • The Inheritance Games (The Inheritance Games #1)

    Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Little, Brown)

    When high school junior Avery Grambs is summoned to a billionaire stranger’s will reading, she is stunned to learn that he has left her the bulk of his estate. To inherit, she must spend a year living in his labyrinthine mansion with his furious daughters and his brilliant, hypercompetitive grandsons. Tony trappings complement the delightfully soapy plot of Barnes’s strong, Knives Out–esque series opener.

  • The Old Truck

    Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey (Norton Young Readers)

    In the Pumphrey brothers’ debut, featuring illustrations created from more than 250 stamps, an old truck’s maturation on a family farm mirrors a brown-skinned girl’s growth into adulthood. A celebration of diligence and grit, the quiet text conjures a cyclical, Giving Tree–reminiscent relationship, but with a healthier, deeply loving dynamic.

  • The End of October

    Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

    In this timely thriller, a World Health Organization doctor investigates the outbreak of a deadly disease in an Indonesian refugee camp. The virus soon spreads around the world. Pulitzer Prize winner Wright, best known for his nonfiction, shows he’s a master of fiction as well.

  • The Last Great Road Bum

    Hector Tobar (MCD)

    Tobar follows up Deep Down Dark, his celebrated work of narrative nonfiction, with a stunning novel based on the life of failed Hemingwayesque writer Joe Sanderson, who died fighting with the guerillas in El Salvador. Tobar keeps up fascinating tension between his critiques of innocent globetrotter Joe’s desire to remake the world in his own image and a genuinely exciting chronicle of Joe’s adventures.

  • The Dominant Animal

    Kathryn Scanlan (MCD)

    The pleasures of language abound in Scanlan’s collection of very short stories showcasing some of the best sentence writing around. Familiar tropes and images are made uncanny through strange details and absurdist humor, reminiscent of prose masters Lydia Davis and Russell Edson.

  • Our Little Kitchen

    Jillian Tamaki (Abrams)

    “Tie on your apron!/ Roll up your sleeves!” Every Wednesday, an inclusive team of volunteers gathers to prepare a weekly meal for their neighbors. Making the collaborative meal preparation visually brilliant, Tamaki injects energy into this life-giving celebration. The cooks can’t save the world alone, but together they convey the power of thrift, collective action, and community building.

  • Katrina: A History, 1915–2015

    Andy Horowitz (Harvard Univ.)

    Tulane professor Horowitz covers a century of New Orleans history to deliver the definitive portrait of the “causes and consequences” of Hurricane Katrina. Horowitz brilliantly explores the disastrous links between warming temperatures, systemic racism, government mismanagement, and corporate greed. Few books better capture the monumental threat that climate change poses to America’s cities.

  • Outside In

    Deborah Underwood, illus. by Cindy Derby (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    “Once/ we were part of Outside/ and Outside was part of us,” begins Underwood in plainspoken lines. Derby’s pictures follow a small child and family, visualizing moments, indoors and out, when “outside reminds us” of its abiding presence. A moving reminder that nature’s beckoning need not go unrequited.

  • Out the Door

    Christy Hale (Holiday House/Porter)

    Intricate, textural cut-paper collage distinguishes Hale's directional tale, which follows a brown-skinned child sporting a red jacket through a weekday commute via the New York City subway—from a Brooklyn brownstone to school and back. A charming, detailed primer for easing children into new routines and spatial phrases.

  • Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck

    William Souder (Norton)

    Historian Souder creates a brilliant portrait of John Steinbeck, an American classic who “blended fact and fiction in what he wrote and in what he said about himself.” By setting Steinbeck’s life and work against the country’s struggles during the Great Depression, Souder masterfully renders the life of an American original as much as the larger forces that shaped him.

  • We Are Water Protectors

    Carole Lindstrom, illus. by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook)

    In this passionate call for environmental stewardship that honors those protecting the Earth’s fresh water, a girl tells of the arrival of an oil pipeline, the “black snake.” Observation is not enough, Metis/Ojibwe author Lindstrom communicates—action is necessary. And the girl doesn’t just participate, she stands at the front of a protest portrayed by Tlingit and Haida artist Goade: “We are water protectors. WE STAND!”

  • The Man Who Ate Too Much

    James Birdsall (Norton)

    Birdsall’s novelistic look at 20th-century food world icon James Beard is carefully researched and brings a critical eye to the entirety of Beard’s life, including his work in the kitchen, his life as a closeted gay man, and, naturally, his prodigious appetites. It’s a rich, rewarding, and punchy affair that more than measures up to its towering subject.

  • You Matter

    Christian Robinson (Atheneum)

    Under Robinson’s broad gaze, everything in the cosmos has a part to play. Simple and heartfelt, the refrain of the Caldecott Honoree’s poem speaks directly to readers: “You matter.” By seeing all life as intertwined—ancient and new, minuscule and gargantuan—Robinson represents life as both interconnected and precious. It’s a profound thought expressed with singular focus and eloquence.

  • Strange Labour

    Robert G. Penner (Radiant)

    Penner offers a visionary new take on postapocalyptic tropes in his deeply felt debut. When every neurotypical adult is mysteriously compelled to abandon their lives and take up the creation of monumental earth works, it falls to the neurodivergent to navigate the new world and care for its abandoned children. This thought-provoking novel represents a fresh direction for the subgenre.

  • Mañanaland

    Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic Press)

    Set in the fictional Latin country of Santa Maria, Newbery Honoree Ryan’s richly tiered novel infuses nearly 12-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba’s family story with a mystery based on local lore, closely guarded secrets, and a missing birth certificate. Lyrical allusions to the heartbreaking reality of life under repressive regimes and Max’s belief in the promise of tomorrow fuse the title and plot of this compelling novel.

  • The Magic Fish

    Trung Le Nguyen (Random House Graphic)

    Alternating between Tiến, 12, who “speak[s] mostly English” and struggles to come out to his parents, and his mother, Hiến, a refugee and seamstress who “speak[s] mostly Vietnamese,” the graphic novel intertwines fairy tales with the characters’ narrative. Nguyen’s poignant debut captures the essence of the bond between a parent and child, proving that language—and love—can transcend words.

  • The Familiar Dark

    Amy Engel (Dutton)

    When two 12-year-old girls are murdered in their impoverished hometown in the Missouri Ozarks, one girl’s mother becomes enraged by what she sees as a less than vigorous probe by the local police and begins asking questions of dangerous people. With this dark thriller Engel joins the top writers of the genre.

  • Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains

    Kerri Arsenault (St. Martin’s)

    Arsenault launches an investigation into the local mill that both employs her hometown’s inhabitants and led to the area being nicknamed “Cancer Valley.” Using scientific reports, archival material, and interviews, she provides insight into rural America’s working class and an excavation of her own past. This exceptional work brings fresh meaning to the concepts of home and community.

  • The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

    Zachary D. Carter (Random House)

    Journalist Carter untangles the personal and professional contradictions of economic theorist John Maynard Keynes in this magisterial biography. From Keynes’s late-in-life love affair with a Russian ballerina to his abandonment of the Paris Peace Conference over German war reparations and influence on FDR’s New Deal, Carter renders his subject’s brilliant mind and “spirit of radical optimism” accessible to lay readers.

  • Fiebre Tropical

    Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press)

    Lopera’s fresh and deliciously irreverent bilingual novel follows 15-year-old protagonist Francisca on a restless search for freedom and self-discovery after moving with her mother from Bogota to Miami. Francisca’s infectious insouciance and deep appetite for experience, revolving partly around a sexual relationship with her preacher’s daughter, make this a singular coming-of-age story.

  • The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move

    Sonia Shah (Bloomsbury)

    “From the earliest years of childhood, we are taught that plants, animals, and people belong in certain places,” writes journalist Shah in this remarkable study of climate change and migration. As she makes a case for migration as the planet’s “best shot” for the future, her prose brims with curiosity, empathy, and stunning lyricism. Shah’s insightful study couldn’t be timelier.

  • The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes

    Zachary D. Carter (Random House)

    Journalist Carter untangles the personal and professional contradictions of economic theorist John Maynard Keynes in this magisterial biography. From Keynes’s late-in-life love affair with a Russian ballerina to his abandonment of the Paris Peace Conference over German war reparations and influence on FDR’s New Deal, Carter renders his subject’s brilliant mind and “spirit of radical optimism” accessible to lay readers.

  • Hamnet

    Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf)

    O’Farrell’s outstanding novel of Shakespeare’s inspiration places the bard offstage for most of the action, centering instead his wife and children as they contend with the effects of the bubonic plague at Stratford-upon-Avon. O’Farrell’s inventive biographical details and narrative conceits enliven the historical material, making this one to cherish.

  • Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976–1980

    Rick Perlstein (Simon & Schuster)

    Perlstein concludes his four-volume study of the American conservative movement with this epic chronicle of Ronald Reagan’s rise from the ashes of defeat in the 1976 Republican primary to claim the presidency in 1980. Stuffed with colorful character sketches, dramatic set pieces, and keen insights into the cultural and social forces at play, this is political history at its finest.

  • Homeland Elegies

    Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown)

    This year’s Great American Novel, a masterpiece of autofiction, confronts a series of contradictions, reversals, and enigmas among the author-protagonist’s family members, friends, and lovers. The most affecting—and occasionally the funniest—is the story of Ayad’s complicated relationship with his father, an immigrant from Pakistan who once served as Donald Trump’s doctor, leading him to support Trump in 2016.

  • Surviving Autocracy

    Masha Gessen (Riverhead)

    This unerring takedown of the Trump administration and its enablers in Congress, the media, and the judiciary rises above a crowded field thanks to Gessen’s rigorous thinking and extensive knowledge of post-Soviet Russia and the Eastern Bloc. There is no “magic bullet” to stop Trumpism, Gessen writes—only a renewed commitment to envisioning “America as it could be.”

  • Igifu

    Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. from the French by Jordan Stump (Archipelago)

    In five delicate, affecting stories, French Rwandan writer Mukasonga focuses on everyday moments in the lives of her Tutsi characters amidst the waves of genocide in Rwanda from the 1960s to the ’90s. The work is full of searing moments as the characters contend with a legacy of violence, government exploitation, and igifu (hunger) of many types.

  • Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different

    Lisa Selin Davis (Hachette)

    Davis entertainingly explores the history of tomboyism from the Victorian era up until today with painstaking attention to detail and healthy doses of humor. She sheds new light on a fascinating subject and brings fresh insight to the discussion of gender nonconformity. This one-of-a-kind narrative is both innovative in subject and breathtaking in scope.

  • Warhol

    Blake Gopnik (Ecco)

    This meticulously researched biography about one of the most enigmatic artists in recent history is an exemplar of the form. Though widely known and recognized as the inimitable inventor of pop art, Warhol notoriously evaded biographers, to their chagrin, which makes this work even more remarkable in its depth and breadth.

  • Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger #1)

    Amy Timberlake, illus. by Jon Klassen (Algonquin)

    When Skunk barges into Badger’s quiet brownstone, readers sympathize with the scholarly, solitary Badger, who spends his days doing “Important Rock Work.” Faced with an unwanted housemate, Badger must learn to live with—and learn from—Skunk’s warm, chaotic presence. Art by Caldecott Medalist Klassen offers Wind in the Willows wistfulness, while Newbery Honoree Timberlake tackles sensitive issues with an expertly light touch.

  • Punching the Air

    Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

    Using free verse, Zoboi and Salaam craft a powerful indictment of institutional racism through the imagined experience of Amal, a wrongly convicted Black 16-year-old. Likening the pervasive imprisonment of Black bodies to the history of chattel slavery and describing how educational racism feeds Black students into the school-to-prison pipeline, the authors deliver an unfiltered perspective of the U.S. criminal justice system.

  • The Forger’s Daughter

    Bradford Morrow (Mysterious) (Mysterious)

    After an old enemy blackmails erstwhile literary forger Will into forging a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems, Will’s 20-year-old daughter puts her life at risk to assist. This smart look at the dark side of the book trade is an exceptional blend of literary homage and crime.

  • We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

    Becky Cooper (Grand Central)

    In this mesmerizing debut, former New Yorker staffer Cooper recounts her pursuit of justice for Jane Britton, a 23-year-old Harvard anthropology grad student who was murdered in 1969. In addition to presenting a tense narrative, Cooper delves into the phenomenon and morality of true crime fandom. The author’s passion to uncover the truth marks this as a standout.

  • A Saint from Texas

    Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

    The spiritual and the profane get equal airtime in White’s wickedly funny tale of a Texas oil heiress who trades on her wealth to become a French baroness while her sister devotes herself to a convent in Colombia, as each explores her own sexuality. Manners of the French aristocracy and American nouveau riche are wonderfully, lovingly skewered by White’s perfect touch.

  • Snapdragon

    Kat Leyh (First Second)

    When middle schooler Snapdragon’s dog goes missing, she dares to enter the house of a reputed witch, an older woman named Jacks who makes her a deal—Jacks will help Snapdragon care for some found possums if Snapdragon helps Jacks with her work selling articulated skeletons online. Full of magic and humor, Leyh’s intersectional, layered tale offers joyful and affirming depictions of social outsiders and comfortably complicated families.

  • An Inventory of Losses

    Judith Schalansky, trans. from the German by Jackie Smith (New Directions)

    Schalansky’s extraordinary, genre-defying collection is ordered around a series of lost objects and vanished places, each evoked with a ghostlike, fantastical image: a German romantic painting lost to a fire, a 17th-century unicorn skeleton, a “phantom island” that disappeared from the South Pacific. Each entry reaches new heights through a Sebaldian blend of fact and fiction.

  • White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color

    Ruby Hamad (Catapult)

    Intertwining her experiences as an Arab woman working in the “suffocatingly white Australian media space” with astute historical and cultural analysis, Hamad delivers a bracing exposé of the role white women have played in keeping people of color down. Hamad’s razor-sharp observational skills and wide-ranging approach make this an essential addition to the modern feminist canon.

  • It Is Wood, It Is Stone

    Gabriella Burnham (One World)

    Second-person narration redeems itself in Burnham’s captivating novel about a Brazilian American woman, Linda, who moves to São Paulo with her husband. Linda’s behavior grows erratic after she becomes attracted to a woman, and she describes her self-dissociation in painstaking, Lispector-esque clarity. Burnham’s ever-tense domestic drama becomes an awe-inspiring study of gaps between race and class.

  • Wild Thing: The Short, Spellbinding Life of Jimi Hendrix

    Philip Norman (Norton)

    This phenomenal biography of one of history’s greatest rock stars follows Jimi Hendrix from his troubled childhood through to his blazing career and untimely death. Naturally, there’s plenty of excess and flamboyance to this story, but Norman captivates most with his take on offstage Hendrix. Any future Hendrix biographer has their work cut out for them.

  • The Last Great Road Bum

    Hector Tobar (MCD)

    Tobar follows up Deep Down Dark, his celebrated work of narrative nonfiction, with a stunning novel based on the life of failed Hemingwayesque writer Joe Sanderson, who died fighting with the guerillas in El Salvador. Tobar keeps up fascinating tension between his critiques of innocent globetrotter Joe’s desire to remake the world in his own image and a genuinely exciting chronicle of Joe’s adventures.

  • Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy

    David Zucchino (Atlantic Monthly)

    In gripping prose and meticulous detail, Zucchino unearths the little-known story of the 1898 white supremacist uprising that overthrew the municipal government of Wilmington, N.C. The victors buried their crimes by recasting the coup as a “race riot” sparked by African Americans. Zucchino’s harrowing account restores a vital chapter to the history of racial violence in America.

  • Likes

    Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    A hint of magic pervades Bynum’s sparkling collection, each story full of exuberance and insight, and each as good as the last. Whether capturing a young girl’s spellbound consciousness at a King Arthur–themed party or the adult challenges of parenting and married life, Bynum takes the reader through surprising turns and into the sublime.

  • Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country

    Sierra Crane Murdoch (Random House)

    Lissa Yellow Bird, a tribal court advocate with a history of substance abuse, contributed to the arrest and conviction of a man in the case of a missing trucker who worked for a company based on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. Murdoch does a masterly job portraying a complex woman and the social problems on Native American lands.

  • Mansour’s Eyes

    Ryan Girod, trans. from the French by Chris Clarke (Transit)

    A square in Saudi Arabia fills with spectators shortly after the Arab Spring, their chant of “Gassouh! Gassouh!” (Cut it off!) becoming a layered, increasingly complex refrain in the narrator’s flashbacks of his friend Mansour, condemned to die for heresy. Girod’s slim, meditative volume packs a heavy punch, and is dense with reflections on colonialism, art and science, and spiritual transformation.

  • The Mirror and the Light

    Hilary Mantel (Holt)

    No one writes historical fiction quite like Mantel. Her Cromwell trilogy is both bingeworthy and prizeworthy, doorstoppers worth savoring sentence by sentence. The conclusion picks up with Cromwell at the height of his power, reflecting on a widening pool of blood in his wake, as Mantel uncompromisingly builds on her themes of wreckage and the recursive nature of time.

  • Monogamy

    Sue Miller (Harper)

    Miller’s tour de force of domestic turmoil shows a master of her craft running on all cylinders. After the death of photographer Annie’s husband, Graham, Annie learns more about Graham’s Rabelaisian life while navigating the entwined relationships of their Boston social circle. Her intoxicating narration swells from painful recovered memories to newfound exuberance, making this an overwhelmingly powerful accomplishment.

  • Out of Mesopotamia

    Salar Abdoh (Akashic)

    Iranian journalist Saleh is drawn from Tehran to Syria and Iraq, where he embeds with coalition soldiers fighting in the war on ISIS. Abdoh’s superb meditation on art and war exploits and subverts the tropes of popular Western war novels for a thrilling, sometimes comical ride through a horrific series of battles.

  • Pew

    Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    A teenage stranger comes to town offering no name or answers to questions about their gender, race, or origin in Lacey’s ambitious fable, in which notes of classic Southern gothic are remixed with trenchant commentary on Jim Crow–era violence and religious hypocrisy, all amplified by the ambiguous outsider. Lacey’s silent protagonist speaks volumes to the reader, making them unforgettable.

  • Ways to Make Sunshine

    Renée Watson, illus. by Nina Mata (Bloomsbury)

    In this series opener, a loose reimagining of Ramona Quimby’s exploits, Watson adroitly captures the uncertainty of growing up amid change through the eyes of an irrepressible Black girl named Ryan Hart. Through vignette-style chapters, Watson weaves together slice-of-life moments that capture youthful doubt alongside moments of loss and joy, showing a tight-knit family navigating difficulties with plenty of courage and plenty of love.

  • Raybearer

    Jordan Ifueko (Amulet)

    In Ifueko’s stunning fantasy debut, a nefarious woman commands a djinn to impregnate her with a child who must someday grant her a wish. Years later, she sends the child, Tarisai, to compete for inclusion on the crown prince’s council, and Tarisai must decide where her loyalty lies. By crafting a world plagued by imperialism, poverty, and institutionalized misogyny, Ifueko illustrates the need for social change and inspires readers to fight for it.

  • The Golden Cage

    Camilla Läckberg (Knopf)

    Devoted wife and mother Faye thinks she has it all, until she catches her husband cheating on her and vows her revenge. Läckberg, already a leading author of Scandinavian thrillers, achieves a new height with this sexy, glitzy tale of a smart, talented woman who has sacrificed everything for a man who betrays her.

  • Sisters

    Daisy Johnson (Riverhead)

    Horror motifs set the stage for a beguiling psychological nightmare in a North York Moors cottage, where a mother deals with depression and a teenage girl struggles to put the pieces back together after being bullied. Phenomenal prose and unforgettable images immerse the reader completely in the idyllic-turned-fearsome setting, and a staggering twist makes this worth reading a second time.

  • The Regrets

    Amy Bonnaffons (Little, Brown)

    Bonnaffons’s witty love story soars on the strength of her humor and surreal imagery. Rachel, a librarian ever unlucky in love, meets a man named Thomas who’s died and been returned to Earth by the afterlife’s administrators for 90 days. The couple’s transient love elicits genuine emotion as they reach their last days, and Bonnaffons makes profound observations on dying and regret.

  • When Stars Are Scattered

    Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial)

    Based on coauthor Mohamed’s childhood after fleeing Somalia on foot with his younger brother, this personal and poignant graphic novel follows the brothers’ life in a Kenyan refugee camp. Jamieson and Mohamed together craft a cohesive, winding story that balances daily life and boredom, past traumas, and unforeseen outcomes alongside camp denizens’ ingenuity and community.

  • Red Hood

    Elana K. Arnold (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

    Arnold artfully spins a dark, magic-tinged “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling. Attacked after homecoming by a vicious wolf, Bisou Martel, 16, slays her pursuer. The next day, a boy who behaved forcefully with Bisou is found in the woods—dead from the same wounds as the wolf that Bisou killed. The Printz Honoree delivers a sharp critique of male entitlement and a celebration of feminine power.

  • A Saint from Texas

    Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

    The spiritual and the profane get equal airtime in White’s wickedly funny tale of a Texas oil heiress who trades on her wealth to become a French baroness while her sister devotes herself to a convent in Colombia, as each explores her own sexuality. Manners of the French aristocracy and American nouveau riche are wonderfully, lovingly skewered by White’s perfect touch.

  • Seven Lies

    Elizabeth Kay (Viking/Dorman) (Viking/Dorman)

    Jane Baxter, the unreliable narrator of Kay’s excellent debut, tells an unknown listener how an unlikely friendship she made at 11 evolves over two decades into a lifeline she can’t give up. The devastating reveal of the listener’s identity makes this a standout among the crowded psychological thriller field.

  • Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

    Claudio Saunt (Norton)

    Historian Saunt argues that the Trail of Tears was not an inescapable American tragedy but a deliberate political choice in this meticulous account. Detailing the links between Indian removal and slavery, and the brutal oppression of Native American resisters by law enforcement, Saunt’s gut-wrenching history speaks powerfully to today’s moment of reckoning over racial injustice.

  • When You Trap a Tiger

    Tae Keller (Random House)

    Making deals with talking tigers was the one thing that biracial Lily’s glamorous Korean grandmother, Halmoni, warned her never to do. Yet when Halmoni falls ill, a magical tiger offers Lily an ultimatum: recover the stories that Halmoni stole years ago, or lose her forever. The result, Keller’s #OwnVoices journey through Korean mythology, is a story that seamlessly transitions from the mundane to the magical.

  • The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh

    Candace Fleming (Random House/Schwartz & Wade)

    Fleming skillfully crafts a layered, well-paced portrait of Charles Lindbergh’s soaring popularity and plunging fall. In riveting detail, Fleming relates Lindbergh’s planning and execution of the solo transatlantic flight that made him the most famous man in the world, the tragic kidnapping of his firstborn child, and his fall from grace after he became fascinated with eugenics and isolationist politics. A compelling biography of a flawed, larger-than-life man.

  • Sisters

    Daisy Johnson (Riverhead)

    Horror motifs set the stage for a beguiling psychological nightmare in a North York Moors cottage, where a mother deals with depression and a teenage girl struggles to put the pieces back together after being bullied. Phenomenal prose and unforgettable images immerse the reader completely in the idyllic-turned-fearsome setting, and a staggering twist makes this worth reading a second time.

  • The Wicked Sister

    Karen Dionne (Putnam)

    Rachel Cunningham voluntarily committed herself to a mental institution after a family tragedy that occurred 15 years earlier at her family’s estate. Some new information about the tragedy prompts Rachel’s return to the estate to unearth the truth. Psychological suspense doesn’t get any better than this unforgettable thriller.

  • Temporary

    Hilary Leichter (Coffee House/Emily)

    A temp worker’s bailiwick expands from office admin duties to sailing on a pirate ship and performing absurd tasks such as subbing for a barnacle on a rock. The flights from one assignment to another transition seamlessly through captivating dream logic and magical, inventive imagery, leading to staggering insights about the nature of existence.

  • Winter Counts

    David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Ecco)

    In this outstanding debut, Virgil Wounded Horse acts as an unofficial lawman on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. After Virgil’s nephew overdoses on heroin, he goes after those who brought heroin to the reservation. Weiden matches strong prose with equally strong characterizations as he takes an extraordinarily revealing dive into contemporary Native American life.

  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning ‘Stamped from the Beginning’

    Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (Little, Brown)

    Reynolds lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi’s award-winning Stamped from the Beginning into a powerful “not a history book” primer on the historical roots and present-day manifestations of anti-Black racism in America. Told economically, loaded with historical details that connect to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening, Kendi and Reynolds’s volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading.

  • Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

    Claudio Saunt (Norton)

    Historian Saunt argues that the Trail of Tears was not an inescapable American tragedy but a deliberate political choice in this meticulous account. Detailing the links between Indian removal and slavery, and the brutal oppression of Native American resisters by law enforcement, Saunt’s gut-wrenching history speaks powerfully to today’s moment of reckoning over racial injustice.

  • Tokyo Ueno Station

    Yu Miri, trans. from the Japanese by Morgan Giles (Riverhead)

    Yu’s lyrical ghost story reads like a Jim Jarmusch film. The dead protagonist, Kazu, a homeless man who spent his last years in Ueno Park, still lingers there, observing the changes in Tokyo society and reflecting on the city’s history. Kazu’s loneliness and longing are delivered through devastating lines that shake the reader to the core.

  • The Way Back

    Gavriel Savit (Knopf)

    At once historical and tenderly intimate in scope, Savit’s ambitious novel begins in an Eastern European shtetl, where the arrival of the Messenger of Death sets two Jewish youths on intersecting paths. Both travel into a graveyard-adjacent realm, attracting the attention of powerful, corrupt demon nobles. Savit creates a narrative tangle of chases and bargains, presenting a bewitching allegorical adventure.

  • The Vanishing Half

    Brit Bennett (Riverhead)

    This deeply felt multigenerational story of a Black family from Louisiana surpasses Bennett’s benchmark debut. Twin sisters Desiree and Stella, 16, flee their hometown in the 1950s, then take very different paths. As each embarks on a series of surprising turns, Bennett makes this a powerful novel of Black women’s will toward self-determination.

  • We Are Not Free

    Traci Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    Spanning three years, from 1942 to 1945, Chee’s accomplished novel about America’s treatment of Japanese Americans traces the trajectories of 14 Nisei teens deported from San Francisco. Ambitious in scope and complexity, this is an essential contribution to the understanding of the wide-ranging experiences impacting people of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. during WWII.

  • You Should See Me in a Crown

    Leah Johnson (Scholastic Press)

    When the music scholarship she’s counting on falls through, Liz Lighty’s brother persuades her to run for prom queen as one of the only Black girls at her wealthy, majority-white high school—and try to win the $10,000 scholarship that accompanies the crown. With wit and grounded optimism, debut author Johnson creates a heartfelt and laugh-out-loud funny YA rom-com.

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