How I Became a North Korean by Krys Lee
Krys Lee’s debut novel How I Became a North Korean unites an unlikely trio: Danny, a Chinese American teenager; Yongju, a member of North Korea’s elite; and Jangmi, an impoverished, pregnant North Korean woman, smuggling her way into China. In a small town just across the border, Danny, Yongju, and Jangmi come together under the overzealous watch of a Christian minister, who offers their only hope for salvation after all of their lives have become unraveled: Yongju’s father was assassinated by the emperor, his mother and sister violently torn away. Danny was left destitute and adrift after he abandoned a reunion with his own mother following the revelation of an immense secret. And, in the wake of a collapsed marriage, Jangmi has fallen into unspeakably dark and brutal circumstances. In chapters alternating between their perspectives, How I Became a North Korean follows these characters' individual and collective journeys toward redemption. By turns harrowing and heartfelt, it’s at root an immersive exploration of how people heal in the face of immense hardship.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Nicole Dennis-Benn's Here Comes the Sun follows a family of three Jamaican women — Delores and her two daughters, Margot and Thandi — who are all struggling to not just survive but thrive in a home shaped by colonialism, and overrun by tourism. Each woman negotiates a certain level of sacrifice: Delores sells souvenirs in overwhelming heat to foreigners so that she can support her daughters; Margot is in love with a woman but sells sex to wealthy guests at a luxury resort so that her younger sister can go to a prominent school; Thandi denies her interests, romantic and artistic, because she knows she is her family's ticket out of poverty — and suffers through painful attempts at lightening her skin to help her achieve those dreams. The story is a moving exploration of sacrifice, race, class, and sexuality, and Dennis-Benn tells it in visceral, resplendent prose.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Maria Semple's Today Will Be Different takes place over the course of a single day — the "today" of the titular mantra, proclaimed by a middle-aged woman determined to be better: as a wife, as a mother, as a human being on Earth in general. In other hands this framing might feel gimmicky, but Semple skillfully folds years' worth of lesson-learning and everyday poignancy into a number of hours. Her characters, as ever, are compassionately drawn; when Eleanor Flood says or thinks something awful (which happens not infrequently), you understand why, even if you're not always especially inclined to take her side. Fans of Semple's bestseller Where'd You Go, Bernadette will welcome the protagonist's propensity toward quirky hobbies and semi-vicious one-liners; Eleanor Flood isn't exactly nice, but she is very real.
Update: Oops — this book won't be released until the beginning of October! In the meantime, make sure to read Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette instead. Sorry for the mix-up!
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Another Brooklyn marks yet another incredible triumph for National Book Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson — this is the kind of novel you could finish in one sitting but instead want to go on savoring for so much longer. Layered with characters, language, and life that will stick with you like glue, Another Brooklyn tells the story of August and her three childhood friends “growing up Girl in Brooklyn” in the 1970s. August has just moved north from Sweet Grove, Tennessee with her father and brother, haunted by the memory of the mother they left behind. She seeks solace in Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela, who each come from their own imperfect pasts, variously broken, violent, and beautiful, too. Together the girls come of age, learning that the weight of the world is made lighter when borne among friends. But only when she returns home 20 years later for her father’s funeral does August begin to reckon with the truth and trauma of her adolescence. Her recollections come in waves, delivered through powerful poetic vignettes that take your breath away. All told, Another Brooklyn will leave you reeling — Woodson’s words are art, and this book is a masterpiece.