Literary Fiction

THE TELLER OF SECRETS by Bisi Adjapon

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Esi’s first experience with sex is the uncomfortable night she spent as a child in the same hotel bed with her father and his mistress. But when not long afterward, she is punished for being sexually assaulted, she figures out that the same rules do not apply to men and women. The disparity is further accentuated when her stepsisters experience brutal consequences for their own sexual choices. As Esi grows older, her sense of wrongness at this inequality grows with her, and she is determined to find a way to break out of the restrictions placed on her gender and take control of her own life.

With a powerful literary style, this novel explores heavy feminist topics through the historical context of 1960s Ghana. The voice, style, and thematic importance of the work set it in the same category as any of the great literature that might be studied in a college English department. This book is for the adult or mature teen reader who is looking for a book to savor and ponder.

DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN by Carolyn Ferrell

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In 2008, the BOSS MAN kidnapped three Black girls and spent the next ten years raping, torturing, aborting, and brainwashing them. Though two of them (and the infant daughter of the third) eventually break free, the trauma of captivity winds its way into their pasts and futures, coloring all of the smaller traumas of their childhoods with abusive or controlling parents and the blossoming possibilities in their future relationships with siblings, counselors, and friends. And as they sort through their memories and emotions to find the truth of what they experienced and who they are, the two survivors are always searching for the truth of what happened to Jesenia, the one who always gave them hope but who didn’t walk out of the house with them on the day of their freedom.

This novel is heavy, both in its subject matter and its experimental literary style. The poetic vignettes, often stream-of-consciousness, appear out of chronological order which creates a unique atmosphere. On the one hand, the jumbled puzzle pieces of the story and the constant effort of picking apart poetry and fantasy from reality prevented me from being fully immersed in the story. On the other hand, the disjointed confusion was an immersion of its own, a sharing in the main characters’ experience of their trauma, unsure of what happened when, what was real and what was imaginary. And the use of fantastical imagery for rape and torture somehow made those moments more graphic and disturbing than a more grounded account would have. Though a thread of mystery runs throughout the novel, this story is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a poetic exploration of trauma that will not be for everyone. But for readers who are looking for something to sink into, a story that will challenge them mentally and emotionally and stay with them long after they put the book down, I would recommend DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN.

THE SURVIVORS by Alex Shulman

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The police officer finds the three brothers on the front porch of their childhood home. Two of them are battered and bleeding. One of them is clutching an urn. It was Benjamin who made the emergency call, afraid that his two brothers were finally going to kill one another, the culmination of a lifetime of disagreements and tension. But as Benjamin remembers both the immediate past–the earlier hours that led to the police call–and the more distant past of a childhood with his alcoholic parents, he is forced to confront the complexities of their dysfunctional family life and the truth about a long-gone summer day that changed their lives forever.

Told by alternating the past and the present, THE SURVIVORS is a slow boil suspense-driven novel with a literary feel. Though suspense fans may grow frustrated with the novel’s gradual, relationship-centric start, readers who love stories of dysfunctional families will be hooked from the first chapter. Ultimately, the story is one of adults coming-of-age, reconciling with the consequences of their pasts on their futures. I’d recommend it to adult readers (and book clubs) who enjoy literary fiction about family dysfunction.

THE VIXEN by Francine Prose

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Simon was thrilled to be offered an editor position at a prestigious New York publishing house right out of Harvard, but he’s not off to an auspicious start. First, he had a confrontation with his disgruntled predecessor, who’d been fired for the “indiscretion” of becoming pregnant without being married. And then, his boss assigned him the manuscript: The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic, a terribly-written bodice ripper that makes a mockery of Ethel Rosenberg.

It has been a year since Ethel was executed for a crime she claimed not to commit. It didn’t matter what she claimed. McCarthyism had the country in its grip, and no one would dare suggest that the country’s most notorious Commie traitors were innocent–especially not Simon, who closely guards the secret that his mother used to live in the same tenement as Ethel. But he can’t shake his disgust at the way the deceased mother of two is portrayed in the novel. Against his better judgment, he decides to seek out the reclusive author, Anya Partridge, who is an inmate at a mental hospital, hoping to convince her to soften her portrayal of Mrs. Rosenberg. Instead, he gets drawn into a torrid affair with the enigmatic author. And when Anya disappears, the mystery she leaves in her wake is full of as much political intrigue as the Rosenberg case itself.

This literary historical novel has an immersive, noir feel that kept me turning pages throughout the slow-boil mystery. Rich characters and difficult moral questions propel a story that lingers long after the final pages. This novel has a classic feel that will appeal to intellectually-minded adult book groups and lovers of literary fiction.

Amazon.com: The Vixen: A Novel: 9780063012141: Prose, Francine: Books

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride

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Since the car accident that took the lives of Moth’s parents and brother, she has been living with her aunt in a Virginia suburb where all the other kids (most of them white) do their best to ignore her. Moth doesn’t mind. She has been doing her best to make herself invisible. If she hadn’t lived so exuberantly before, maybe there would have been enough life available in that hospital for the rest of her family to walk out, too.

When a Navajo teen starts at her school just before summer break, Moth finds herself connecting with another person for the first time since her family’s death. Sani is a musician, always drumming on his desk, reminding Moth of her life before the accident, when she danced as easily as she breathed. And when Sani flees his abusive stepfather at the same time that Moth’s aunt vanishes, it seems like fate that the two should go on an adventure together, in search of healing and their history. On a roadtrip across the South toward Sani’s father in New Mexico, a romance blossoms as they each connect with their ancestors’ experiences and grapple with the magic and miracle of first love and their place in the universe.

This beautiful YA novel-in-verse explores the ways that our ancestral history and romantic love can both root us in the world and set us free. Poignant and surprising, the story brims with complex emotions and exquisite yet authentic poetry. Fans of Elizabeth Acevado and anyone looking for a thought-provoking, immersive literary novel will not want to miss this gorgeous debut!

SWITCH by A.S. King

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Time stopped on June 23, 2020. The world never stopped. The sun still rises and sets. People still wake up, go to school, come home. But the clocks and stopwatches and oven timers don’t move. Time no longer exists.

For two hours at the start of each school day, teenagers are tasked with brainstorming solutions to this problem. Tru is pretty sure she knows the cause. As with most global crises, it’s people who caused it–people who didn’t care enough about each other. Tru is an expert in the evils of humanity because she spent most of her life living with a bomb, the sister she hasn’t spoken to since she moved out. Sister left Tru’s family in tatters, her mom gone, her brother on edge, her father at the brink of insanity, turning their whole house into a series of plywood boxes, shutting off from one another and covering up the mysterious switch in the wall that no one’s allowed to touch. But just as her father spends his days pounding nails in, Tru spends her nights pulling nails out. And when Javelin throwing on the track team gives her an outlet for the incredible, almost superhuman energy that’s been building inside her, Tru realizes the solution. If a lack of human empathy cause the problem, only a swell of human emotion can break them out. And Tru is going to be the one to flip the switch.

Another stunning, powerful literary novel from A.S. King. Though the novel is slim, it is dense with poetry and heavy thematic content. This is one to savor. The sci-fi of this poetic book is unveiled symbolism for the brokenness of Tru’s family as they resist healing and connection, and I would therefore recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction and literary fiction–both teens and adults.

Switch by A.S. King: 9780525555513 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

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Hwani hasn’t returned to the island of Jeju in years—not since the Forest Incident, when she and her sister were found near the body of a murdered young woman, an incident which Hwani cannot remember.

But Hwani’s father never forgot. The woman’s murder was the one case Detective Min never solved, and the continued disappearance of young girls from the forest caused him to return to Jeju over the past five years. Until the day he disappeared. Disguised as a boy and clutching her father’s journal, Hwani returns to the village of her birth, determined to find her father and solve the mystery of the stolen girls. But when the mystery brings her to the door of her estranged sister, Hwani discovers that the forest isn’t the only source of secrets, and she begins to wonder if finding the truth of her past will be worth the cost.

Set in 15th century Korea, this historical mystery is suspenseful, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. It gripped me from start to end. Though it is YA, adult historical fiction readers will find lots to love here, too. My favorite book of the year so far, and a must-read for YA mystery or historical fiction fans!

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune

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Linus takes his job as a case worker investigating orphanages for magical youth very seriously. He does his work thoroughly, accurately, and impersonally. And it’s precisely his thorough, accurate, and impersonal track record that prompts Extremely Upper Management to offer him a temporary, top secret assignment: to spend a month evaluating an exclusive seaside orphanage for extraordinary magical youth (including, among others, the Antichrist). Although initially overwhelmed by the unusual assignment, Linus finds that the magical youth–and their exceptional caretaker, Arthur–are working their way into his heart and threatening his objectivity as a caseworker. And as his impersonal lens cracks, he must question the truths he’s been taught, the morality of his own work, and how far he is personally willing to go for love.

A well-deserved award-winner, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a quirky, funny, sweet, thought-provoking social-commentary with equal parts humor and heart. Highly recommend for adults and older teens–anyone who likes stories that are a little weird and a little magical with a healthy dose of undermined social norms and queer romance.

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THE PERFECT COUPLE by Elin Hilderbrand

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The maid of honor’s body washed up on the Nantucket beach the morning of the wedding.  It was the bride who found her.  Needless to say, the wedding was canceled.  Now it is up to the chief and his lead detective to interview the shell-shocked bridal party and figure out what happened.  The simplest explanation, of course, would be that it was an accident.  Girl has too much to drink, goes for a late night swim, washes up on the beach the next morning.  But what about the abandoned kayak that belongs to the father of the groom?  Why does the other bridesmaid seem so reluctant to discuss the MOH’s love life?  Why was the bride on the beach so early in the morning carrying a suitcase?  And where is the best man?  As the investigation unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone has at least one secret and no one is as perfect as they seem.

A character-driven mystery, this novel will appeal to some mystery fans, but also realistic fiction fans who like some good old-fashioned family dysfunction.  In the end, exactly what happened is less important than the complex web of relationships between the characters.  A fast and enjoyable summer read!

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri

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In a Pulitzer prize-winning collection of short stories, Lahiri explores themes of relationship and cultural identity through a variety of compelling characters.  A power outage seems to offer an opportunity for Shoba and Shukumar to reconnect after the stillbirth of their child disfigured their marriage.  A young girl forms a friendship with her family’s Pakistani houseguest as he waits for word of his own family, still in Dacca during a violent civil war.  A tour guide and interpreter observes the idiosyncrasies of the marriage of two Indian-American tourists and finds himself drawn to the seemingly disaffected wife.  An elderly, ailing refugee serves as the unofficial doorwoman for a Calcutta apartment building until the unexpected promotion of one of the residents leads the others to reconsider question their own social standing.  After conversations with her coworker, Miranda begins to see her affair with a handsome, married Bengali man in a different light.  Eliot experiences a fascinating new culture under the care of his new nanny, Mrs. Sen.  Sanjeev cannot understand his new wife’s delighted obsession with the Christian paraphernalia left hidden throughout their house by the previous occupants.  An ailing woman knows that a marriage would cure her strange illness, but her stingy cousin refuses to arrange one for her.  A young immigrant to America forms a friendship with his centenarian landlady as he struggles to connect with the wife his family chose for him.

The stories are beautifully told glimpses into Indian culture in America and abroad.  While the majority of them are somewhat contemplative with realistic, but not particularly uplifting endings, there are a couple of exceptions.  Pick up this book if you enjoy thought-provoking literary fiction.