The City We Became – NK Jemisin

A very imaginative example of speculative fiction about the soul of cities, specifically New York which is protected by five avatars in the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The personalities of the avatars reflect the borough characteristics. But there is conflict, a city takeover by malevolent forces! Highly entertaining with extraordinary visual scenes. Thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

A graphic and powerful story of five indigernous children who have experienced Residential Schools, especially the aftermath on their post-school lives. Some tragic endings, some examples of resilience. This book should be assigned reading for those who dismiss the Residential School tragedy and for those who acknowledge hardship but then suggest that “survivors” should just get over it.

The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

This is the first book of White’s magnificent 4-book collection entitled the Once And Future King, an epic retelling of King Arthur legends. In this first book, the young Arthur (nicknamed Wart) is tutored by Merlyn so much magic is involved. Lessons frequently involve Wart’s transformation into different animals: fish, birds, a badger, etc. There are also some gut-busting hilarious illustrations of the difficulties of jousting. Imaginative writing is coupled with impressive knowledge of natural history (how to fly, how to swim) makes this an enchanting read.

 

Amy adds: still laughing at the jousting descriptions!

The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Academy was a notorious reform school in Florida; young African-American boys could be assigned for months-years for trivial reasons. And they were subjected to horrible abuse: beatings, sexual assault, etc. The story focusses on two boys in the early 60s, Elwood and Turner, who have remarkably different viewpoints. Elwood has ideals based on the words of Martin Luther King; Turner is a cynical schemer. Which boy is more likely to survive the Nickel nightmare? The Jim Crow era in the South in the 1960s has evils that are perpetuated in the current #BLM times.  Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous book The Underground Railroad: both are highly recommended.

Greenwood – Michael Christie

A sweeping saga of four generations of the Greenwood family, told more or less backwards from 2038 to 1908. What is most interesting in the story-telling is that the Greenwood family is a construct. Two orphans are raised as “brothers’ but have no biological ties; a “daughter” is rescued and adopted into the family under mysterious conditions. Even the name Greenwood is an artificial construct, a name arbitrarily applied to the two (unrelated) orphans. The story has a strong ecological focus, from the dirty-thirties to a global ecological disaster called the withering in 2028. Very strong character, a vivid description of place – highly recommended.

Chasing Painted Horses – Drew Hayden Taylor

This short book by an Indigenous author is amazing for many reasons. First there is a mystical element for sure. But mostly the story is notable for describing an emotional state: the moment when 10- and 12-year-old children realize that life can be cruel and unfair; their abrupt loss of innocence is coupled with the realization that their parents and people in authority are powerless to circumvent an injustice. This story will produce tears and at times a heartbreaking sadness so be warned but endure and read this remarkable book.

Educated – Tara Westover

This is a remarkable memoir where reality is stranger than fiction. The author was raised in the mountains of Utah. Her parents were survivalists and totally suspicious of government so she had no birth certificate and does not go to school. To say that she was home-schooled is rather generous; her learning is self-directed and spotty. Tara is the youngest of 5 children. Her life is complicated by a controlling father and a brother who bullies her both psychologically and physically. The second half of the book details her escape to university, first to Brigham Young University and then to Cambridge England. This is a compelling story of remarkable resilience but at great cost. The contradictions of memory are also a feature of a memoir that is so deeply emotional. Final comment: Westover’s parents make the parents in Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle seem wonderful by comparison! Thanks Erin and Amy, for this recommendation.

Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

This is an emotional book, a coming-of-age story with an inevitable loss of innocence. Kya is progressively abandoned by her family, so by age 10 she lives alone in a North Carolina marsh. Really this is about the psychology of solitude. Her affinity for the natural environment, the sea, sand and marsh life (birds, insects, animals), is remarkable. But her eventual need for human companionship and love produces a tragic outcome that leads to a murder trial. This book is both a fierce and hauntingly beautiful story of challenges and resilience. Highly recommended.

Normal People – Sally Rooney

This is a superbly-written relationship book. The story covers four years in the lives of Connell and Marianne, one year at high school in the west of Ireland followed by University at Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney’s writing illustrates perfectly that relationships are complicated even between two people with undeniable chemistry, complications by miscommunication and misperception of feelings. There is also emotional paralysis by expectations of inadequacy and not belonging. Connell and Marianne are very different people from different backgrounds, resulting in feelings of isolation and disconnection. This is a great book, better than her first book Conversations With Friends.