Families Are Complicated

Tension drives a good plot forward, and these families have plenty of it

In this work of historical fiction, Shoemaker imagines a backstory for Brontë's timeless hero, and it is not what I expected. She begins in his youth, with his education and increasingly complicated family history, then moves onto his troubled coming of age in Jamaica, his father's shady business dealings, and how he became entangled with Bertha Mason. This feels a little like Brontë, but even more like Dickens. Publication date: May 9.
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When they were 17, Harper and Tabitha's parents divorced. Tabitha went with her mom to Nantucket; Harper went with her dad to Martha's Vineyard. Now 39, the twins haven't spoken in years, and each has heaps of her own troubles—love, family, work, you name it. For reasons that are easy to read but hard to explain, the twins end up trading islands to work through the latest crisis. Imagine a grown-up take on The Parent Trap, with a lot more twin troubles and a lot fewer tween giggles. They call Nantucket native Elin Hilderbrand queen of the summer novel for a reason; the islands themselves have so much personality in these pages that it feels like very realistic escapist fiction. Publication date: June 13.
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This modern-day version of The Parent Trap is fun for the whole family. This collaboration between two highly successful authors—one who primarily writes for kids, the other for grown-ups—features two twelve-year old girls living on opposite coasts who strike up an unwanted correspondence after they discover their single fathers fell in love at a building conference and are now dating. This relationship is not good news to either of them, as they make clear in the ensuing emails that comprise the book. Their situation goes from bad to worse when their fathers force them to attend the same summer camp, hoping they’ll become friends. Things go horribly wrong in more ways than one, but there's not a single page here that doesn’t feel fresh, funny, charming, and real. A big-hearted story for readers of all ages. For fans of C.C. Payne’s The Thing About Leftovers and Rebecca Stead’s The List of Things That Will Not Change.
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To millions of Americans, Abbi Hope Goldstein is known as simply "Baby Hope"—the subject of an iconic 9/11 photograph that shows her being carried to safety while Tower 1 collapses in the background. Abbi is 17 now, and her face remains instantly recognizable. For her own painful reasons, Abbi wants to enjoy one final carefree summer while she can, as an anonymous camp counselor, not as a 9/11 icon. But then she meets Noah, a teen with his own devastating 9/11 history, who knows exactly who she is, and wants her help finding answers that have long eluded him about that tragic day. Her subject matter may be heavy, but Buxbaum's light touch makes this both emotionally resonant and surprisingly funny. A great story, well told, for teen and adult readers.
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Early tragedy forged a strong bond between the four Skinner siblings, but it also broke them in ways that don’t become apparent for many years, when another unfolding tragedy makes them question everything they know about their family. A sweeping family saga.
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If you love dysfunctional family novels, this is one doozy of a story—and a must-read. When two rookie cops who meet at the NYC Police Academy strike up a friendship, it sets in motion a tragic chain of events that echo through the decades, through the lives of their children and their children’s children. I found this book exceptionally difficult to read—it’s depressing and dark and triggers abound—yet I was eager to find out what would happen next to these doomed families, and the astonishing developments of the last 75 pages vaulted this to my best-of-the-year list. A poignant story of grace, forgiveness, and redemption, for fans of Atonement and Little Fires Everywhere.
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When their mother dies, three British-born Punjabi sisters are tasked with fulfilling her dying wish: returning to Punjab to make the pilgrimage she never could. The sisters were never terribly close, and now that they’re older, don’t get along at all—but how can they refuse their mother’s last wish to scatter her ashes in her homeland? They’re all dreading the trip, but once they’re together, they find it’s not as bad as they feared, and they begin to understand one another once again. But each sister is keeping a serious secret, and it’s unclear if when revealed, those secrets will cement the sisters’ relationship, or destroy it. This novel deals in serious issues—love, sisterhood, grief, immigration—but the high zany factor keeps the mood light.
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This much-anticipated novel from the author of Girl in Translation is part suspenseful mystery, part family drama, and inspired by a real-life tragedy in Kwok’s past. The story begins when her family discovers Sylvie—the beautiful, confident golden child of her family—visits the Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother, and then vanishes. As her family searches for her, we learn about the family’s complicated past and Sylvie’s own upbringing as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, first in Netherlands, then in New York. Her sister’s pursuit reveals a series of increasingly startlingly secrets, but no easy answers. Compulsively readable, with an ending I didn’t see coming. For fans of Everything Here is Beautiful and Everything I Never Told You.
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This YA crossover is absorbing and strange and hard to put down. Meredith and Lisa, both 8th graders, have the misfortune to be in The Deli Barn during an armed robbery. Lisa is kidnapped; Meredith is left behind, which makes her incredibly lucky—but also unraveled and guilt-ridden and, weirdly, jealous. Why did the kidnapper choose the popular Lisa over her? What follows is a believable and utterly readable portrait of a suburban family's attempt to work through the near-miss, which, in addition to the situation at hand, also brings long-buried emotions involving marriage, baseball, and junior high drama to the surface. The teens are especially well-written. This book is weird; be prepared. Publication date: March 14.
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In the ten years she’s known her, Lucy has never felt her mother-in-law Diana approved of her—an especial disappointment because she’d hoped Diana would finally be the mother she’d never had. Yet she’s distraught when the police show up to announce that Diana has died by apparent suicide—and even more so when they reveal that the evidence points to possible murder. As we get to know the family members, we discover each of them had a motive to harm Diana, and stood to benefit from her death. The story is told alternately from Lucy and Diana’s points of view, so we get to understand what’s going on in their minds, and how badly they misunderstand each other through the years. But is it badly enough to lead to murder? A wholly satisfying domestic mystery, perfect for Liane Moriarty fans, that kept me guessing till the end. I devoured this on audio.
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Like many readers, I found My Name Is Lucy Barton a delightful surprise—I didn't expect to love it, but I absolutely did. Yet when I heard Elizabeth Strout's next novel was a short story collection set in Lucy Barton's world, involving characters from her family and hometown, I wasn't sure it was a good idea. I was wrong. If you enjoyed Lucy Barton, put this at the top of your summer list. (The books are wonderful companions but don't need to be read in order.) Publication date: April 25.
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The night before Abi turned 16, her brother vanished. That same year, she begins to receive strange packages in the mail: chapters from an odd little self-help book called The Guidebook. Those chapters provided hope when she needed it, and have always felt intimately connected to her brother’s unsolved disappearance. When, at age 35, she’s invited to a retreat on a remote Australian island to learn the truth about The Guidebook, she can’t say no. The truth is bewildering, but for the first time in years, hope does begin to glimmer again. The style is quirky and playful, the sense of humor wry. Gravity is sad but heartwarming, tender and funny, a little familiar yet wholly original. For fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Nine Perfect Strangers.
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I can't do better than my bookstore-owning friend Holland to sum this one up: Imagine The Help meets Comic Con, and you've got this story about right. Talented graphic novelist Leia finds herself unexpectedly pregnant after a drunken one-night-stand at a comic book convention. She doesn't know the father's name, but he looked awfully cute in his Batman suit. As Leia absorbs the knowledge that she'll soon be a mother to a biracial baby, she is summoned home to Alabama to do what she can for her struggling family—her stepsister's unraveling marriage, her grandmother's worsening dementia, and a shocking secret hidden in the family attic. This is a fast-reading, big-hearted novel that tackles Serious Issues really, really well—while spinning a terrific story.
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