Troubling Love, by Elena Ferrante. Like many others, I read all four of the Napoli novels by Elena Ferrante. Like Troubling Love, they troubled and entranced me simultaneously. Ferrante’s depiction of a lifelong friendship between two women in the Napoli novels–if friendship is the right word– a friendship that covered five decades of life and love and hate and hardship, will be with me always. People talk about the beauty of Ferrante’s writing, but I don’t find it beautiful. I do find it mesmerizing, though, to the extent that I stood outside the door of Magers & Quinn on the day the fourth and final novel came out, waiting to buy it and devour it. She is an unsparing writer who writes with a kind of calm brutality. Nothing slips by her. Such is the case with Troubling Love. It’s a slender novel about a daughter trying to unravel the mystery of her mother’s death, and by extension, the mystery of her own childhood. This novel reads like a dream/nightmare, and I couldn’t put it down.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. Damn. This is a hell of a novel. I was instantly absorbed into the lives of this Shaker Heights community and its denizens. Ng writes with such clarity about every one of her people, no matter who they are, weaving issues of class and race into the powerful themes of the book in such a way that I empathized with everyone. That’s not an easy task. You know what else is an inordinately difficult task? To write in the third person omniscient (in which you’re inside the heads of everyone) and pull it off, the way Ng does, seemingly without effort. And her portrayal of Mia, the photographer artist at the core of every scene, was astonishing in its powerful take on what drives an artist and her art. I loved this book.
Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds. Jason Reynolds can do no wrong in my eyes. He’s changing the world, one book and one speech at a time, and Long Way Down is no exception. The structure of the book is cool –it takes place in a single elevator ride from the 13th floor to the lobby of the building in which the main character lives–and it’s told in near-verse. Few words, huge power. This novel shook me up and made me want to reach into its world and wrap my arms around everyone, living and dead, who is given a voice here.
What I Leave Behind, by Alison McGhee. Yup, this is my own book. While on book tour for this new novel, about a sixteen year old boy named Will who works in a dollar store and is trying to figure his way through some tough times, I’ve had to re-read it. Much to my surprise and relief, this hasn’t been a soul-damaging experience. Maybe because it’s such a brief, poem-like book, and maybe because readers are responding to it straight from the heart, which is how I wrote it. Here are a few of the things they’ve said on Goodreads. 1. I can’t believe a book this small managed to touch my heart so completely. 2. Will’s compassion and kindness ripped my heart out. 3. . . . a beautiful look at trauma, what to do when you feel powerless in the world, and how to do more than just move forward. 4. One of the most profound, poignant books I’ve read in a while. Very few books make life feel so real and precious.
Looking for Alaska, by John Green. This is my third John Greene novel, and when I finished it I decided to read everything else he’s written. The man deserves his bestselling and critically acclaimed status. The way he gets straight to the heart of the matter, the matter being life and its big questions in the face of tough situations, especially in his brilliant dialogue, is the way I wish we all were, all the time, in real life. His people are so real and so lovable, and they care so much about each other. Hilarious, painful, heart-opening.