Our favorite book in the literature and fiction category happens to be by the same author who wrote our pick for the best book of 2014 (Everything I Never Told You), Celeste Ng. The TV show “Desperate Housewives” made entertaining hay dramatizing the bad things that befell the denizens of a certain cookie cutter neighborhood, and that concept takes a darker turn in Little Fires Everywhere. The Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights is known for its prescribed and placid character, but a new arrival shakes things up, and the community will never be the same. Senior Editor Chris Schluep said that this sophomore effort establishes Ng "as a writer of rare sensitivity and talent" (I wholeheartedly agree!). Rounding out this year’s list is a who’s who of literary luminaries–Fredrik Backman, George Saunders, Arundhati Roy, Paul Auster, Jennifer Egan…We couldn’t wait to dig into their books and they did not disappoint. But we were especially blown away by the under-the-radar reads that surprised and delighted us with each turned page. We hope you find some gems too.
Learn more about our favorite fiction of 2017, or browse all of our picks for the best books of the year.
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
Ginny Moon quite emphatically does. Told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old Ginny, this absorbing debut sets at its heart Ginny’s obsession with “Baby Doll,” whom she unwillingly abandoned four years ago when she was taken away from her drug-addicted and abusive birth mother. Ginny fears Baby Doll is still in a suitcase, where she left her when the police separated Ginny from her mother, and Ginny has been testing and breaking the patience of various foster parents in her attempts to reunite with her mother so that Ginny can again take care of Baby Doll. Ginny is not stupid—she finds her birth mother on Facebook, steals another student’s phone to contact her, and concocts various plans to get back to her Baby Doll with a single-mindedness that is as daring as it is alarming, for Ginny is fully aware that her birth mother will likely again physically abuse her. Ginny’s unpredictability keeps the pressure high, and I wondered throughout how this novel could possibly deliver a satisfying conclusion. But Benjamin Ludwig, himself the foster parent of an autistic teen, pulls together the action into a tear-provoking finale that will have you cheering for the stubborn, brave, impulsive, and ultimately heroic Ginny Moon. (Heck, I’m getting teary just writing this review.) —Adrian Liang
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Spoonbenders spins a genial family saga into a story of adventure, soviet intrigue and shady cover-ups. –Al Woodworth
The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
The Weight of Ink hooked me so deeply that at no point did I want to wiggle free of this story of two historians investigating 300-year-old letters written in plague-ridden London by a young Jewish woman with a white-hot intellect and no acceptable outlet for it. British history professor Helen Watt immediately recognizes the historical value of a bundle of rabbi’s letters and books discovered behind the wall of an old house, and she recruits American graduate student Aaron Levy to help her with translations. Months from retirement, Helen hides her Parkinson’s disease, while Aaron struggles with his Shakespeare-focused thesis that’s going nowhere fast and with Helen’s curmudgeonly ways. But when Helen and Aaron realize that the rabbi’s letters were penned for him by a woman, not the typical male scribe, their historical significance skyrockets. As Helen and Aaron’s investigation accelerates, author Rachel Kadish plunges the reader into the smoggy, socially circumscribed world of Ester Velasquez in 17th-century London. A Jewish woman living in a community that doesn’t support thinking in females or speculation beyond the accepted dogma, Ester has survived much tragedy in her young life and now quietly but steadfastly refuses to be squashed further. As plague stalks London, Ester finds ways to let her intellectual passion free despite pressures to marry and be domesticated in mind and soul. Gorgeous writing that might, in isolation of the story, risk coming off as overwrought instead perfectly renders the strong emotions that run through Ester, Helen, and Aaron as they face down opponents and seize opportunities. Kadish, with storytelling genius, mirrors events and eureka moments across the centuries, binding the characters to one another. And an enormously satisfying ending wraps everything up while leaving enough rough edges to mimic the loose ends of real life. –Adrian Liang
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