Favorite Books of 2018: Fiction

From the publisher: "'From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them… ' The events of that cataclysmic summer permanently alter twelve-year-old David's understanding of his family: his father, a small-town sheriff; his remarkably strong mother; David's uncle Frank, a war hero and respected doctor; and the Haydens' Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, whose revelations turn the family's life upside down as she relates how Frank has been molesting his female Indian patients. As their story unravels around David, he learns that truth is not what one believes it to be, that power is abused, and that sometimes one has to choose between family loyalty and justice."
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From the publisher: "One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn't wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster. Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?"
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This slow-burning debut about an Indian-American Muslim family skillfully probes themes of identity, culture, family, and generational change. "I am to see to it that I do not lose you," reads the epigraph (Whitman), and the story wonders if, despite our best intentions, one might nevertheless wound someone they love deeply enough to lose them forever. The story opens with the oldest daughter’s wedding: the bride scans the crowd for her beloved yet rebellious brother, hoping he'll appear despite being estranged from the family for years. Through a series of flashbacks, and in rotating points of view, Mirza examines the series of small betrayals that splintered the family, skillfully imbuing quotidian events—a chance meeting at a party, a dinner conversation about a spelling test—with deep significance, showing how despite their smallness, they irrevocably alter the course of the family’s life. The last section is a stunner, but grab the tissues first. For fans of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.
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An emotionally resonant debut about class, culture, regret, and the road not taken. After twenty years abroad, the Zhens return to their native China to take up residence among Shanghai’s nouveau riche. But deep unease lies behind the façade of their pampered lifestyle, and the reappearance of a long-lost brother stirs up a host of long-buried emotions, and forces the family to revisit complicated (and secret) past choices. The backdrop of contemporary Shanghai and a national festival highlights how the family embodies China's current conflicts and complexities: rich vs poor, urban vs rural, old vs new values. This book deserves more attention than it’s received. For fans of Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us and Lisa See’s The Island of Sea Women.
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Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day.
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A MINIMALIST SUMMER PICK. Marisa de los Santos returns to the characters she introduced in Love Walked In. The day before her wedding, Clare has cold feet. Enter Edith, an elderly stranger Clare connects with instantly, who nudges Clare to cancel her wedding to a man who scares her. Not long after, Clare receives notice that Edith has died, and bequeathed her a strange gift—her house. Clare seeks refuge there after her nonwedding, and soon learns hints of the past role the house—and Edith—played in a “relocation system” that served women fleeing domestic violence in the 1950s. The story flips back and forth in time between Clare’s current dilemma and the 1950s mystery. This is the sequel I didn’t know I wanted, easy to read while covering serious emotional territory, packed with literary references that will warm book lovers’ hearts.
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A grown-up sort of fairy tale about grief, redemption, forgiveness, and joy, set amidst the beautiful Pennsylvania forest. Have you ever read a book that makes the world around you feeI just a little bit magical, even after you’ve turned the last page? Author Jon Cohen insists there’s no real magic in this story, because there’s nothing in these pages that couldn’t actually happen. And yet a whimsical air of magic permeates this vivid portrayal of characters brought together by grief but ultimately united by joy. Likely-to-delight features include an unlikely friendship, a book within the book, a battle to save the local library, and a mysterious good Samaritan known as the Susquehanna Santa. A strong sense of humor prevents this tale from verging too far into sentimental territory. Content warnings apply. For fans of Monica Wood’s The One-in-a-Million Boy and Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus.
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