David Ebershoff, “The 19th Wife”
This novel is about two wives in polygamous marriages: the real historical figure Ann Eliza Young, who was much younger than her husband, Brigham, the founder of Salt Lake City; and BeckyLyn, a fictional contemporary woman accused of shooting her husband dead. Ebershoff’s book sets out to give a history and critique of polygamy, shedding light on the dynamics it creates and how the practice has evolved.
Donna Tartt, “The Secret History”
In Tartt’s gripping debut, a handful of students at Hampden — an idyllic but isolated liberal arts college in Vermont — form intense bonds with one another and with their classics professor, “who nurtures both their sense of moral elevation and an insularity from conventional college life that ultimately proves fatal,” our reviewer said. “The writing throughout ‘The Secret History’ is at once lush and precise, and it keeps the more preposterous aspects of the plot in check. Ms. Tartt is especially adept at showing how Hampden’s ‘hermetic, overheated atmosphere’ leads to a melodramatic inflation of emotions that in turn results in acts of violence.”
Katherine Paterson, “Bridge to Terabithia”
You might have read this one in fifth grade, but this Newbery Medal winner is always worth a revisit (and no, we’re not talking about the movie). Two friends conjure an enchanted land in the woods behind their houses. It’s a place to escape the real world — until the day one of them doesn’t come home. Paterson writes: “She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there — like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”
David Guterson, “Snow Falling on Cedars”
On an island in Puget Sound in 1954, the body of a fisherman is pulled out of the sea, trapped in his own net. A Japanese-American man is charged with his murder, and the ensuing trial leads the town’s newspaper editor to reflect on his long repressed love for the accused man’s wife. The novel, which became a best seller and was adapted into a 1999 feature film, explores the sometimes porous line between unrequited love and resentment, and how deep-seated animosity and fear can erode a community.
Jayne Anne Phillips, “Lark and Termite”
Phillips’s fourth book unfolds in the 1950s in Korea and West Virginia, where a teenage girl named Lark cares for her half brother, Termite, who can’t walk or speak, after their mother abandons them and their father dies while serving in Korea. Told in alternating points of view, the novel explores the ferociously protective love that can grow between siblings, as Lark worries that Social Services might take her brother away.
“Repeated images and leitmotifs link these people’s stories together, lending the novel a haunting musical quality, even as they suggest the unconscious, almost magical bonds shared by people who are connected by blood or love or memory,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in a review for The Times.
Chad Harbach, “The Art of Fielding”
“If it seems a stretch for a baseball novel to hold truth and beauty and the entire human condition in its mitt, well, ‘The Art of Fielding’ isn’t really a baseball novel at all, or not only,” Gregory Cowles wrote in these pages in 2011. “It’s also a campus novel and a bromance (and for that matter a full-fledged gay romance), a comedy of manners and a tragicomedy of errors — the baseball kind as well as the other kind.”