One of my favorite books of the past year: the writing is beautiful; the characters are superbly drawn; the storyline takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; and the atmospheric descriptions of nature and wildlife in the marsh, as well as Kya's interactions with them, are extraordinary.
The main character, Kya, known as "Marsh Girl" to the townspeople, is haunting and unforgettable. Her life story is relayed from age 5 through her twenties, as she grows up alone in a shack in the marsh after being abandoned by her family at age 8. Her strength, courage, intelligence, and resiliency are captivating. The mystery of the young man found dead at the bottom of a tower in the nearby town provides an additional element of intrigue.
There are several layers to this novel. It starts with the Rivera family, who moves to the U.S. to get help for their teenage daughter, Maribel; she suffered a traumatic brain injury in Mexico. They settle in Delaware, in an apartment complex that houses many other immigrant families from Latin American countries. They befriend the Toro family from Panama. Narration alternates between Alma, the mother of the Rivera family and Mayor Toro, a teenager who develops a close relationship with Maribel. This storyline is inspiring and heartbreaking, with engaging characters and plot twists.
The other layer provides an insightful exploration into the immigrant experience. Interspersed throughout the book are brief chapters narrated by other immigrants, who live in the same complex. They relate their experiences, including the reasons for leaving their home countries and the many struggles they endure after arriving in the US.
The Book of Unknown Americans is an eye-opening tale of the challenges and barriers people often face when coming to America with hopes and dreams for a better life. And there's a local connection—author Cristina Henriquez wrote part of the book at the Hinsdale Public Library.
An unforgettable, haunting, and especially inspirational memoir by Anthony "Ray" Hinton, an innocent man who spent almost 30 years in solitary confinement on death row. What makes The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row so powerful is his enduring faith, hope, and compassion while living in the depths of "hell."
His friendships, family, and capacity to forgive are on display in this compelling work. His best friend, Lester, visited him every week for 30 years! Ray adopted the other death row inmates as his new family. He brought inspiration, laughter, and faith to them, and started a book club, which encouraged many of them to read.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, eventually became Ray's lawyer and was instrumental in getting his release. I especially appreciate Stevenson's quote: "I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we've ever done." Listen to his TED Talk to get an inspiring and personal glimpse into his motivation for his life work.
There are many disturbing and heartbreaking elements to this story as well – deep-seated racism and discrimination, inhumane treatment of prisoners, and our damaged, and often corrupt, judicial system, to name a few. However, Hinton's positive inspiration definitely outweighs the negative details. I highly recommend this book, which was also one of Oprah's Book Club Picks.
Little Fires Everywhere begins with a blazing fire in the Richardson family home. Everyone suspects their troubled youngest daughter, Izzy, is responsible for starting the fire. The reader is taken back in time to before the fire to understand the events that have led up to this moment. The Richardson family lives in the affluent town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, and rent their smaller, second home out to artist Mia and her daughter, Pearl. The two families—and the town—are torn apart when a mother returns to take back her abandoned baby from its new adoptive family, beginning a divisive legal custody battle.
Told through multiple viewpoints, this angsty novel looks at the complex relationships of families and community members, and the influential roles people can play in each other’s lives. Vivid, complex characters and multi-layered story lines make this a great choice for book clubs. Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel follows her well-received debut Everything I Never Told You.
Ava decides to join a library book club after her husband of 25 years leaves her for another woman. At the end of the year, the club decides that each member will lead a discussion based on the book that mattered most to them during their life. Ava has chosen an esoteric book that is hard to find, but it was the book that helped her work through the death of her sister and, shortly after, her mother’s suicide. Meanwhile, Ava’s daughter Maggie is living in Paris, supported by an older, married man, and is lying to her mother about her life.
The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood alternates between Maggie and Ava’s perspectives and is full of well-developed characters. The best parts are the book club discussions, which the reader gets to listen in on. They can open you up to new reading options and build your TBR list. A good choice for book clubs, this is an issue-driven book with family and heart.
I especially enjoy novels based on real life events and/or people, as well as stories that alternate between the past and present. This has both! Before We Were Yours is an eye-opening look at disturbing events that took place at Tennessee Children's Home during the 1930s and ‘40s. This orphanage kidnapped children from poor families so that wealthy families, willing to pay high fees, could adopt them. The children were gravely mistreated while living in the orphanage, many of them dying before being adopted.
The story focuses on a set of five siblings who were kidnapped from their river houseboat in 1939. The oldest child does everything in her power to try to keep them together. It alternates between their journey in the past and present day, where we meet Avery, who discovers that her grandmother has something in her past that she’s never shared with her family. Avery’s mission is to uncover this mystery. The chapters that focused on the past were emotionally intense with authentic, complex characters. This is the first book I’ve read by Lisa Wingate, but it won’t be the last.
I experienced a whole range of emotions: sympathy for Sam’s childhood struggles, anger and heartbreak at the bullying, admiration for his mother’s undying faith and encouragement, revulsion at the acts of a particularly vile character, and hopefulness due to his relationships with Ernie and Mickie. Highly recommend this Robert Dugoni novel for anyone who loves books with a great cast of interesting characters that are part of an emotional journey.
I loved the main character, Starr, a teenage girl who witnesses her friend being killed by a cop. The rest of the story revolves around the effects of this tragedy on Starr and her family (who are all wonderful characters), friends, and community. At times I felt angry, at other times I felt sad, and then there were times I was laughing. All in all, it was a very emotional read, and one I highly recommend!
A powerful and unforgettable account of a young man's experience of the war, his first love, and his relationship with a cast of fascinating characters, based on many interviews with Pino Lella. Highly recommend!
Want more WWII fiction? Check out our lists of WWII novels and WWII fiction featuring women in the resistance.
This book is the third in the J.B. Collins series, although I didn’t know that, so had not read the first two. That certainly didn’t take any enjoyment away from this book (but if you prefer to start at the beginning of a series, book one is The Third Target).
The characters were believable, although not always likable. Ruth was intelligent, sympathetic, and strong. You can’t help but get incensed by the injustices she has faced. It was difficult to read at times, especially the chapters told from Turk’s perspective. The following two quotes summarize the messages in this book:
Benjamin Franklin: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
The title refers to a quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things that are great.”
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is an excellent debut novel that would make a good book club selection.