1. Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
Lindsay Hunter’s debut novel tells the heartbreaking story of an unraveling friendship between two young women, Baby Girl and Perry, as they careen through a world troubled by suburban poverty, alcoholic parents, and the attentions of a sinister internet stalker. As unnerving and irresistible as the baddest of bad influences, Ugly Girls is not to be missed.
2. Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
Preparation for the Next Life is a powerful love story, both tender and brutal, about a troubled Iraq War veteran and a Chinese Muslim immigrant who meet in New York. Atticus Lish writes with beauty, striking attention to detail, and painful honesty about life on the margins of America — about the people we don’t see, the places we don’t go.
3. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay pulls no punches in her brutal debut novel. Mireille Duval Jameson, daughter to one of the richest men in Haiti, is kidnapped and held for 13 terrifying days while her father refuses to pay her kidnappers. Violent and visceral, An Untamed State dares you to look away, knowing that you won’t be able to put it down.
4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Emily St. John Mandel’s time-hopping tale of a worldwide epidemic, post-apocalyptic Shakespearian thespians, the problematic nature of fame, and the importance of art, love, and companionship when it comes to survival is an incredible feat of a novel. Station Eleven deftly brings numerous character threads together to create a tapestry of storytelling that is a wonder to behold.
5. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
In Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill describes the rise and fall and (difficult, halting) rise again of a marriage, complicated by a child, infidelity, and the fact that people are weird and unknowable creatures. Yet the novel also makes ample room for the joys of family life, and Offill’s sly and funny prose is pure pleasure to read.
6. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Starting with the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, Marlon James uses numerous characters and multiple voices to launch this epic study of violence and Kingston, Jamaica into the literary stratosphere. An unsettling critique of power and corruption that isn’t afraid of dark humor, A Brief History of Seven Killings will hit you in the gut so hard that it will leave you wondering if it’s possible for a book to have fists.
7. Redeployment by Phil Klay
Winner of this year’s National Book Award for Fiction, Redeployment tells the stories of various Americans either fighting in the Iraq War or dealing with the strangeness of being back home. Devastating, unflinching, raw, and sometimes even hilarious, Phil Klay brilliantly captures the many facets of war and the experiences of being a solider.
Bonus: Read the BuzzFeed Books interview with Phil Klay here.
8. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
A complex and imaginative dystopian tale, On Such a Full Sea is about Fan, a fish-tank diver who lives in B-Mor, a work colony formerly known as Baltimore. When the man she loves disappears, Fan leaves the safety of B-Mor to find him. You’ll be drawn into Chang-rae Lee’s depiction of a ruined America, and its systems of class and power that feel alien yet all too recognizable.
9. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Canadian author Miriam Toews introduces us to two sisters, Elf and Yoli, in All My Puny Sorrows. Elf suffers from depression and desperately wants to die, while Yoli is desperate to keep her alive. Despite the tough subject matter, All My Puny Sorrows is funny and irresistibly warm, while still grappling honestly with the reality of mental illness and exploring the strength of the sisters’ bond.
Bonus: Read Miriam Toews’ BuzzFeed Books essay about death and childhood, “The Day I Stopped Believing in God.”
10. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Beginning with Boy, a young woman who escapes her abusive father and moves to 1950s small-town Massachusetts, Boy, Snow, Bird is a dazzling novel that weaves fairy tales (Snow White in particular), race, and class together into a continually surprising and intriguing story. You’ll be so stunned by Helen Oyeyemi’s imagination and her daring plot twists that it’ll be hard to keep the spoilers to yourself.
Bonus: Read the BuzzFeed Books interview with Helen Oyeyemi here.
11. Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
Catherine Lacey’s debut novel follows Elyria as she escapes her suffocating life in New York City with a one-way ticket to New Zealand, hitchhiking her way around the country while sleeping in parks and fields, her inner turmoil invisible to those around her. Beautiful in its slowness, Nobody Is Ever Missing will worm its way into your consciousness, staying there long after the book is finished.
Bonus: Read Catherine Lacey’s BuzzFeed Books essay about how how writers both are and are not their characters, “A Need To Disappear.”
12. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez brings together the stories of many Spanish-speaking immigrants, all living in one Delaware apartment complex. At the center of the novel is a heartbreaking and moving love story between Mayor, who came from Panama when he was young, and Maribel, whose family moved from Mexico for her education after she suffered a brain injury. Henriquez masterfully evokes many different aspects of the immigrant experience, creating voices that you must hear.
Bonus: Read an excerpt of The Book of Unknown Americans here at BuzzFeed Books.
13. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman’s final book in his Magicians trilogy does not disappoint, as Quentin Coldwater fights to find his way back into Fillory and grapples with maturity as much as he does with magic. A stellar conclusion to a fantastic series, beloved by both fantasy fans and literary lovers alike.
Bonus: Read Lev Grossman’s heartbreaking and humorous BuzzFeed Books essay about his early attempts to become a writer, “How Not To Write Your First Novel.”
14. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You follows the Lee family in 1970s Ohio, who are forced to confront their own fault lines and fractures after a tragedy — the sudden death of Lydia, their eldest, most beloved child. The family is mixed-race (white and Chinese), which separates them from the rest of the town, and each member — the mother, father, brother, and sister — has a secret that haunts them as they search for Lydia’s killer. In this literary mystery and family drama, Celeste Ng introduces you to unforgettable characters that will also have you turning pages all night.
15. Young God by Katherine Faw Morris
Fast, razor-sharp, and brutally beautiful, Young God is the best kick to the head you’ll ever get. It is the story of Nikki, a young North Carolina girl who attempts to get into the family drug trade after the death of her mother. Katherine Faw Morris’s stripped-down, just-the-essentials prose renders this gritty tale into something like poetry — the kind that leaves you gasping and holding on tight.
Bonus: Read Katherine Faw Morris’s BuzzFeed Books essay about returning to her impoverished home in North Carolina, “Try To Leave Me If You Can.”
16. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks is the story of Holly Sykes, and her life lived against the backdrop of a devastating centuries-long war between immortal psychics who fight for the very souls of the human race. Being a David Mitchell novel though, it is also about fame and devastation in the literary world, growing up impoverished in 19th-century Russia, familial love, and the coming dark ages brought on by global warming. Fascinating characters and time-hopping plots make this one of Mitchell’s best novels to date.
17. All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu
In All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu tells the story of two students caught up in a revolution in their homeland, an unnamed African country. One becomes more deeply involved, while the other leaves for America, attempting to let go of his past. You’ll be drawn deeply into this complex exploration of identity, both its mutability and its persistence.
18. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
In A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, language is chopped and screwed and reformed until it is powerful enough to reach right into our hearts and minds. Eimear McBride tells the story of a young woman — her life and coming of age, as well as her close relationship with her brother, shadowed by his childhood operation to remove a brain tumor. A challenging but utterly rewarding read, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange.
19. Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy is an impressive accomplishment from Jeff Vandermeer, composed of three novels all published in 2014 (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). Together, they tell the story of Area X, a disturbing and surreal land zone that has been reclaimed by nature (and something…else), and the Southern Reach, the secret agency investigating Area X. Like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy is addictive and will give you weird dreams if consumed too close to bedtime.
Bonus: Read the BuzzFeed Books interview with Jeff Vandermeer here.
20. Song of the Shank by Jeffery Renard Allen
Song of the Shank is the story of Thomas Greene Wiggins, a real-life historical figure who was born a slave and rose to fame as a piano prodigy, performing under the name Blind Tom. Jeffery Renard Allen’s depiction of Wiggins’ life is thorough, fascinating, and totally inventive — a wide-ranging and brilliant narrative rendered in gorgeously intricate language.
Bonus: Read Jeffery Renard Allen’s BuzzFeed Books essay about Thomas Greene Wiggins, “Discovering ‘Blind Tom,’ The Slave Turned Civil War-Era Pop Star.”
21. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
In A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, Stanford water polo player Owen Burr suffers a career-ending injury and disappears on a wild adventure in search of a new identity. His father, a distinguished classics professor who hasn’t had the best relationship with Owen, sets off to find him. Will Chancellor makes a stunning literary debut in A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall, chock full of ideas, energy, and indelible characters, that will have you eager for his next.
Bonus: Read Will Chancellor’s BuzzFeed Books essay about politics in his childhood home of Hawaii, “The Surfer Turned MMA Fighter Running For Mayor Of Kaua’i.”
22. The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour
Inspired by a Persian myth, The Last Illusion centers around Zal, a feral boy who has been raised in a birdcage by his mother in rural Iran. When Zal is freed and taken to New York, he undertakes an arduous journey toward becoming human, encountering characters such as a famous illusionist and a visionary artist along the way. Porochista Khakpour has written a gorgeous story for and about outsiders, full of magic and grit — one that is also a splendid novel about New York itself, and its myriad joys and tragedies.
23. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Musician John Darnielle (best known for his work in The Mountain Goats) has knocked it out of the park with his fiction debut. Wolf in White Van tells the story of Sean, a recluse who runs a role-playing game out of his apartment and is shrouded in various kinds of mystery, whether it be his deformed face, his difficult past, or his utter solitude. Wolf in White Van is a novel that creeps up on you, grasping you in a dark and claustrophobic embrace that you’ll weirdly love.
24. The Wilds, by Julia Elliott
The Wilds is a story collection that lives up to its name, with its gothic and genre-bending tales of feral dogs, caveman fitness camps, and freaky slumber parties. Julia Elliott’s vision of the world is gorgeous and gross, delectable and discomforting — from story to story, you won’t be able to predict where you’ll go next, but you’ll trust Elliott to take you there.
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