Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan (Knopf) Green Island is a moving, multi-generational novel encompassing several deeply absorbing narratives. Whether illumining the little-known history of the 2/28 massacre, or Taiwan’s fight for independence and autonomy from Japan and China, Ryan deftly reveals the devastation and paranoia that ran rampant through communities, families and friendships in the wake of revolution, death, and the numerous Taiwanese citizens who simply disappeared in the night. History buffs and fans of historical fiction will love the way Ryan mixes the nuances of father-daughter relationships, and families operating in a crisis with a political intrigue whose implications for the present day seem to be far from over.
Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman (Knopf) Award-winning writer Claire Harman brings her considerable talent to bear upon this engrossing dive into the life and loves of Charlotte Bronte. Drawing on a wealth of previously unavailable letters, Harman’s biography is brimming with historical and personal details, but still manages to read like a page-turner. Readers will marvel at just how much Bronte mined her own upbringing and experiences in the creation of her classic novels, and at how fiercely she grapples with issues that have yet to be mastered by women two hundred years after her birth.
Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard (William Morrow) In Joyce Maynard’s Under the Influence Helen is a recovering alcoholic who has lost custody of her beloved son, and falls into a friendship with a charismatic couple who take her under their wing and offer her support at a very lonely time in her life. But will Helen wake up to the fact that they may not be who they seem, and what will she sacrifice before it’s too late? Maynard’s excellent novel is taut and tense, and she has created deeply flawed but utterly compelling and sympathetic characters. Under the Influence is compulsively readable and highly recommended for people who enjoy books about parenthood and friendship.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Katie Greenidge (Algonquin Books) We Love You, Charlie Freeman tells the story of the Freemans, an African-American family who move to rural Massachusetts where they work and act as a surrogate family to the titular chimpanzee, Charlie Freeman. Ostensibly they are there to further important scientific research by teaching Charlie sign language and the meaning of belonging to a family, but what follows is the dissolution of their own family—from the inside out—as they attempt to integrate themselves into an already insular (and white) community handicapped by their peculiar baggage. Greenidge’s stunning debut bravely treks into the loaded and uncomfortable territories of race, sexuality, and the terrible history of maltreatment of black people in the United States, particularly under the guise of scientific inquiry. Greenidge’s writing is marvelous to behold and not to be missed, given that her warm, thoughtful and engaging storytelling belies the novels particularly dark themes.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead) Helen Oyeymi’s first foray into the short story format doesn’t disappoint. These loosely connected stories have the feel of a novel, while exploring a variety of genres and emotional landscapes. Oyeyemi continues to combine realism, magic and whimsy with her own signature spellbinding command of language that fully tempts readers into the worlds inhabited by her rich characters. Keys, both literal and allegorical, are heavily featured in this collection and complement her inquiry into the way we navigate our own characters and the depths of our hearts.
Tender by Belinda McKeon (Lee Boudreaux Books) McKeon’s stirring contribution to the coming-of-age novel centers on the lives of Catherine, a college freshman and naïve small-town girl away from home for the first time, and James, the charming and exuberant young photographer who quickly opens her world, becoming her best friend in the process. Set over the course of a year in the intolerant Dublin of the 1990s, McKeon’s keenly observed portrait of college life, intense friendships and unrequited love between friends (one of whom is gay) masterfully examines the dramas and obsessions of youth.