Plimpton Prize-winning author Isabella Hammad has penned an impressive debut; Tracy Garvis Graves gives us an unusual rom-com read; Lydia Fitzpatrick has written a brutal but beautifully told story of love, loyalty, and home, and more.
See all of our literature and fiction picks, or browse the rest of the Best Books of the Month.
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
You could label The Parisian as historical fiction, but it seems silly to limit it that way. This is just a great novel, and Isabella Hammad is an ambitions, sensitive, and abundantly talented writer. The Parisian is the story of Midhat Kamal. We first meet him in 1914 Marseilles, while he is on his way to Montpelier to attend medical school. He is also about to fall in love for the first time. Within a year, he is studying in Paris, absorbing the culture; but as a Palestinian living in France, he is always an outsider. Eventually, Midhat returns to his hometown of Nablus, where his father, a wealthy textile merchant, rules his days, and where Britain now rules the land. Midhat must answer to his father’s expectations at the same time that he is trying to make his way in a changing Palestine—and still there are tendrils that reach back to France. The Parisian is, almost unbelievably, a debut novel—a moving personal story set against a sweeping historical backdrop—and Isabella Hammad is an exciting new voice in literature. –-Chris Schluep
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves
Annika and Jonathan are each other’s person (in Grey’s Anatomy parlance). So when the quirky librarian and handsome financier reunite in the frozen foods section of a grocery after a ten year separation, you wonder how their relationship could have gone off the rails. In Tracey Garvis Graves’s unconventional rom-com read, The Girl He Used to Know , they try to find their way back to each other again. But first they’ll have to confront a painful episode from their past, and Jonathan will come to realize that Annika is no longer the girl he used to know (and that’s not such a bad thing). –Erin Kodicek
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Set in a depressed suburb of Brisbane, Boy Swallows Universe is the unforgettable story of 12-year-old Eli (and his wise, mute older brother, August) gleaning what it means to be a good man from the parental figures in his life: septuagenarian Slim Halliday, Australia’s most infamous prison escapee and the boys’ babysitter; his drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold stepdad, Lyle; his actual father, an anxiety-ridden alcoholic; and the mother he reveres. It’s also the story of a young boy opposing a genuinely terrifying foe: local businessman Tytus Boz is rumored to reuse the body parts of murdered enemies in his artificial limb company, and he’s a heroin kingpin. Life as usual for Eli is a funny, heartbreaking mix of the mundane and the profane, rendered riveting by Eli’s pragmatism and lack of cynicism. He corresponds with inmates, dreams of a career as a crime journalist, and falls in love. When circumstances force August and Eli to move in with their father, Eli must summon all he’s learned to try to save his mother from crippling depression and, later, himself. Throughout it all, the two brothers slowly piece together a dreamlike childhood trauma. Poignant, hilarious, and endlessly imaginative, this is a love letter to clear-eyed male tenderness set against a series of bloody amputations and bricks of Golden Triangle smack. Recommended for anyone who can appreciate laughing and crying at the same time. –Katy Ball
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
The Yoo family are Korean immigrants plying an unusual trade, running a pressurized oxygen chamber participants use in the hopes of improving conditions ranging from autism to infertility. When a horrific explosion at the facility leaves two dead, the case against the alleged culprit is not as open and shut as it first appears…Angie Kim’s intricately-plotted courtroom thriller, Miracle Creek, isn’t a conventional whodunit where the bad guy is eventually unmasked and the reader closes the book with righteous satisfaction. Kim has weaved a more complicated web than that, one that ensnares characters many readers will empathize with–well-meaning but flawed, doing foolish things for noble reasons–and that only adds to the suspense. There were many times I thought I had Miracle Creek all figured out, only to realize I’d been hoodwinked by another red herring. Kim was a former trial lawyer and that experience shows, but if this debut is any indication, she made the right career change. –Erin Kodicek
Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick
In a decrepit mining town in northern Russia, Ilya discovers his gift for language while watching Die Hard with his charming, indolent older brother, Vladmir. As they get older, Vladmir’s gusto for the seedier things in life (prostitutes, partying) grows dangerous when a powerful new, opiate-like drug called krokodil comes to town. Just before 15-year-old Ilya leaves for an exchange program in America, Vladmir is accused of murder. The reader is then thrown into a raucous, Christian family in Louisiana where the oldest daughter has a secret with an unexpected connection to Ilya’s personal mission to exonerate his brother. Watching each relationship in the book unfold – parent/child, student/teacher, siblings, lovers – was like being held in a strange, thrilling embrace by a boa constrictor. From the ice-locked kommunalkas to the hot showers and cold Pepsi of suburban America, the author charts the ferocity and carelessness of family loyalty, and the terrible resilience of love. A brutal, beautifully told story of teenagers and adults doing the best they can, and that often not being enough. This book will look you in the eyes as it languorously bootheels your heart, all the more painful for the author having only written this one book so far. –Katy Ball
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