Lois Kim, Executive Director: Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I read this book in one day and it affected me deeply, which is to say I definitely cried in more than one place. Saunders’ imagining of Lincoln’s desperate grief over his young son Willie’s death is a ghost story, a virtuosic subversion of novelistic structure, and a meditation on what constrains and frees us as humans. As a reader, you start it and think, “hmm this is weird, what the heck is going on,” but then Saunders pulls you completely in with characters and a story that are wild, strange, funny, and a perfect rendering of our collective humanity. Have I said human and humanity more than once? That’s because I can’t think of another writer who is better at getting at our flawed, damning, but beautiful emotional selves more than Saunders.
Julie Wernersbach, Literary Director:
Tell Me How This Ends, by Valeria Luiselli
Technically, I read this book a couple of months ago, but it needs to be shared, so I’m making it my Friday Reads all over again. This book is essential reading. An absolute punch to the gut. Luiselli worked as an interpreter for child migrants from Latin America who were working through the legal process to remain in the United States. As she completes questionnaire after questionnaire, she pieces together the stories of their lives, of their countries, and of our country. This book shoves aside over-intellectualization of border and immigration policy and reminds us of the damn hard and harrowing realities of the children who come into the US from Central America and Mexico every day, what they faced in the cities they left and what they face when they get here. Luiselli is a sharp, searing writer. She packs a lot of power. Be prepared to cry. Read it, read it, read it and then share it.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
One of the buzziest books hitting shelves this month. Our entire TBF staff has read it. If you’re into true crime, including podcasts such as Serial and S-Town, give this one a try. (Warning: the crimes in this book deal with the abuse of children and can make this a tough read at times.) The book focuses on the case of Ricky Langley, a man on death row for the murder and molestation of a young boy in the rural town of Iowa. As Lesnevich, a lawyer, learns more about the case, she delves into Ricky’s own complicated childhood. Juxtaposed against this awful crime is the story of Lesnevich’s abuse at the hands of her grandfather. What I find most fascinating about this book is the way Lesnevich turns inside the head of these criminals, seeking not just to explain the crimes, but to understand how they came to be the people who commit them, and what drives their impulses. Add to that her rich sense of detail and her ability to create fleshed-out narratives from transcripts, legal documents and newspaper clippings and you have a book that will keep you reading late into the night, considering good, evil, the death penalty, and the secrets that families keep from each other and the world.
Claire Burrows, Development Director: The Leavers, by Lisa Ko
Describing The Leavers in one sentence is as inadequate as describing New York City in one sentence. Author Lisa Ko brings a complex city to life, teeming with music and clamor, opportunity and injustice, noodle soup and greasy pizza. Through the beautiful and suffocating city, a mother and son emerge, so complicated in their relationship to each and themselves that I read without anticipating a conclusion, just wanting to know more. This is the book I’m recommending to everyone, just as I did with Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Lea Bogner, Outreach Coordinator: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
I personally cannot think of a more timely, necessary read than Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. The story follows 16-year-old Starr Carter, a basketball-playing sneakerhead who lives in a poor predominantly black neighborhood, but attends an affluent, predominantly white school. After she witnesses her childhood best friend get shot by a police officer, Starr has to confront the reality of racial injustice in America. This book is for anyone and everyone: if you consider yourself an ally, if you are grappling with the recent headlines of police brutality, or if you aren’t sure what to think about the Black Lives Matter movement. This book will stay with you and help you on your path to understanding.
Maris Finn, Administrative Assistant: The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
I am so engrossed in The Idiot by Elif Batuman. Her main character, Selin, seems to act so painfully wrong in so many social situations, yet also feels so true and relatable. I love how Batuman makes even the most mundane settings (a dorm room, for example) feel alien when seen through her character’s eyes. I’m breezing through this novel, but I also don’t want it to end!
Lydia Melby, Literary and Communications Coordinator: Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford
I’m reading and loving Ghosts of Greenglass House, the sequel to Kate Milford’s fantastic middle-grade mystery Greenglass House. Milo, a Chinese-American middle-schooler who lives with his adopted parents in their creaky old Victorian-mansion-turned-inn in the fictional city of Nagspeake, is ready for a quiet Christmas break with his family when a bunch of lively strangers (and a few friends) show up to stay at the inn. Milo, already dealing with the loss of a friend, trouble with an insensitive teacher at school, and feeling, as always, a little out of place, realizes that some of the new guests are looking for more than a room for the night. The question is what, and can he find it before they do?
Ghosts of Greenglass House builds on the first book’s locked-house mystery with smugglers, thieves, corrupt officials, folklore, and (best of all) ghosts, but it delves even deeper into questions of identity, belonging, and the true shape of a family. Perfect for fans of The Westing Game and The Secret Keepers, this delightfully twisty mystery will have you shivering, shouting in surprise, and cheering for Milo and co. all the way through.