The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore – Kim Fu

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore - Kim FuPreviously, Ms. Fu wrote the very fine For Today I Am A Boy, and this new book is even better. Five young girls (ages 9-11) are stranded in the woods after an overnight kayaking trip, producing some “Lord Of The Flies” crises. This narrative is interspersed with the subsequent lives of the survivors: how are lives shaped by an early traumatic event? How are friendships tested by cruelties and betrayals? This is evocative writing and is highly recommended.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

Tin Man - Sarah WinmanMs. Winman has written two fabulous books: the hilarious When God Was A Rabbit, and the poignant A Year Of Marvellous Ways. Her latest book is entirely different but also brilliant in an understated and quiet fashion. Ellis and Michael have been best friends since they were twelve years old. Eventually Ellis meets and marries Annie which produces an interesting and dynamic 3-way friendship. The story unfolds in non-linear time and because the writing is spare, some attention is required to appreciate the vibrant storytelling. Some key things are left without explanation or detail, which is perfect for a book about love and loss.

The Virgins – Pamela Erens

The Virgins - Pamela ErensDonna Tartt wrote the really excellent The Secret History about college students in the 1980s. Erens has written equally wonderful story of high school students in 1979, capturing their youthful innocence that transitions to sexual awakenings and complicated physical and psychological feelings. The book features really excellent writing.

Swimming to Elba – Silvia Avallone

Swimming to Elba - Silvia Avallone.jpgThis is an excellent book for two reasons. The first is context: Italy in 2001, specifically a town on the west coast across from Elba, dominated by soul crushing work in a steel factory. The description of drug-fuelled workers in the paralyzing heat of summer is incredible. And the second reason is the author’s description of emotion, particularly in family and friendships. There are breathtakingly horrible husbands/fathers but the key relationship is between two young girls, best friends forever who undertake a remarkable coming -of-age transition at the age of 14. Their actions are both risqué and innocent while navigating the emotional pitfalls of adolescence. Overall, a powerful, gritty and captivating story.

The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

The Burning girl - Claire MessudMessud wrote the very excellent The Woman Upstairs, about the relationships of a mature woman. In this new novel, Messud has turned her perceptive gaze to a coming-of-age story of two girls, best friends since nursery school whose lives begin to diverge in middle school. What does friendship entail? What stories do we create for others and for ourselves? This is a beautifully poignant book.

Hunger – Roxane Gay

Hunger - Roxane GayPreviously, I used the words “brutally honest and uncomfortably candid” to describe Camilla Gibbs’s memoir This Is Happy, and the same descriptors can be applied emphatically to this memoir by Roxane Gay. Gay is subjected to a brutal sexual assault at age 12; she discusses being both a survivor and a victim. There are two dramatic aspects to the aftermath: her silence and her reaction to eating, to become fat and undesirable in order to be safe. Gay vividly describes living in a wildly undisciplined body as she becomes categorized as morbidly obese. The cruelty of public opinion of her appearance (i.e. fat shaming) is tragic. Her own analysis of her psychology is self-loathing. This is a deeply personal memoir that is often disturbing but occasionally comic as she describes how much she hates exercise. An amazing story.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

Nutshell - Ian McEwanFirst, a confession – my opinion on McEwan books runs hot and cold: there are great books (Atonement, Amsterdam, On Chesil Beach) but many are not so great, in my opinion. This new novel belongs firmly in the great category. First, there is a unique point-of-view; the narrator is an 8-month fetus. The description of his acquisition of consciousness is fantastic, and sage commentaries on placenta-filtered wines are provided. And then there is the great prose: “Long ago, many weeks ago, my neural groove closed upon itself to become my spine and my many million young neutrons, busy as silkworms, spun and wove from their trailing axons the gorgeous golden fabric of my first idea, a notion so simple that it partly eludes me now”. Exquisite writing.