14 thought-provoking structures

From the publisher: "A 2015 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book. When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down."
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This is one of the few nonfiction works on this list, from the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. An essential read about a slice of forgotten American history detailing the decades-long migration of almost six million black citizens from the South to the North and West between 1915 and 1970, hoping for a better life, and how their resettlement changed the face of America. Wilkerson focuses on the stories of three individuals, giving us both an intimate portrayal and Big Picture view of what they experienced and how this changed the country.
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This is one of my favorite rereads. Family stories are commonplace in fiction, but I love this one for its intricate plotting, nuanced characters, true-to-life feel, and ultimate hopefulness. This is the story of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared ... until an unexpected bit of news, twenty years old but newly discovered, threatens to unravel everything they've built together.
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This is the moving story of three generations of a struggling Mississippi family, set in the present day. Ward's evocative prose imbues even the family's most painful moments with tenderness and beauty. Previous National Book Award winner Ward has already received a slew of nominations and awards for her latest novel, among them the Bailey’s Prize longlist, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist, LA Times Award for Fiction honoree, and Aspen Words longlist.
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Science writer Lightman’s premise is as follows: in 1905, young Albert Einstein dreamed repeatedly about time as he worked on his paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” and made creeping progress on his special theory of relativity. Each dream reveals "one of the many possible natures of time.'' Lightman presents these (entirely fictional) dreams as a collection of poetic vignettes. Small enough to read in an afternoon, but easy to wander in and out of. Unusual and utterly delightful.
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From the publisher: "Bess Kalb, Emmy-nominated TV writer and New Yorker contributor, saved every voicemail her grandmother Bobby Bell ever left her. Bobby was a force—irrepressible, glamorous, unapologetically opinionated. Bobby doted on Bess; Bess adored Bobby. Then, at ninety, Bobby died. But in this debut memoir, Bobby is speaking to Bess once more, in a voice as passionate as it ever was in life. Her grandma Bobby was with her all the way—she was the light of Bess's childhood and her fiercest supporter, giving Bess unequivocal love, even if sometimes of the toughest kind. In Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bobby reminds Bess of the experiences they shared, and she delivers—in phone calls, texts, and unforgettable heart-to-hearts brought vividly to the page—her signature wisdom: If the earth is cracking behind you, you put one foot in front of the other. Never. Buy. Fake. Anything. I swear on your life every word of this is true."
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This novel traces the path of a diamond engagement ring from 1901 to 2012, and the four couples it links. The ring is lost, found, and stolen; it becomes a symbol of lasting love, and of betrayal. Woven throughout is the story of Mary Frances Gerety, the copywriter responsible for De Beer’s iconic slogan "a diamond is forever." An easy read with emotional depth.
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In her unique memoir, Broom writes about family, race, and class by noting the intersections of her family's history and the history of New Orleans. After reading about her process, this thoughtfully-structured book moved to the top of my To Be Read list. Broom says, “I knew when I started collecting evidence, so to speak, that I was trying to find the architecture of the book...I needed to know where the beams were and what was the supporting wall. I literally thought of it as a house because I knew that I was trying to put a lot in it.”
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In this biography-of-sorts, Rubin argues that the larger-than-life Churchill's portrait could be drawn in many ways, all "true." She presents 40 different angles on Churchill, as child, man, politician, leader, husband, etc. All are interesting; many contradict each other. This fascinating, multi-faceted approach appeals will appeal to some, and make others crazy. A little slow in places, but worth the time. If you like this, go on to read Forty Ways to Look at JFK, but only after you've read this one: Rubin explains the reasoning behind her "forty ways" approach in this volume and doesn't revisit them in JFK.
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This tense and tautly-written novel-in-verse takes place in the short span of sixty seconds. Fifteen-year-old Will gets on the elevator with his brother's gun tucked into his waistband. His brother Shawn is dead, and he wants revenge. The elevator stops on the sixth floor, and Buck enters. He tells Will to check the gun; one bullet is missing. Did Shawn ever use his gun? And then Will remembers: Buck is dead. Another figure from Will's past enters a few floors later, and then another, all connected to Shawn. Each one reveals pieces of Shawn's story, and Will has a decision to make as the elevator reaches the ground floor.
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I began this book knowing nothing about it, and it took me a while to get my bearings. Atkinson's creative (and sometimes, mind-bending) structure shows clearly how tiny choices in her protagonist's life (and the lives of those around her) lead to vastly different outcomes. Vastly. Ursula Todd dies before taking her first breath, while another Ursula Todd is born with a piercing wail. The rest of the book follows Ursula's unique life cycle from death to life and back again, as WWII approaches. Bonus: Atkinson's novel is packed with literary references that serious literary types will appreciate.
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Opening line: "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist." In her third novel, Jones writes about the link between two African-American half sisters, one legitimate and one secret, only one of whom knows the other exists. That is, until the secret of their father's second marriage starts to force its way into the open. Rather than writing back-and-forth between two perspectives, the reader encounters almost all of one sister's point of view in the first half, followed by the other's. The result is an absorbing coming-of-age narrative wrapped in a complicated family novel. I already loved this book, but when we discussed it with author Tayari Jones in the MMD Book Club, my appreciation and enjoyment skyrocketed, as so often happens. I love to peel back all the layers of a good book.
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There aren't many books that intimidate me anymore, but this 2004 novel is an exception: it's been called "as mysterious as a Zen koan" and that makes me nervous! It's also been called "unique," "interesting," and often, "indescribable." Several reviews on Goodreads simply say, "huh?" But the numerous rave reviews and a nudge from my local bookseller persuaded me to give this one a try.
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