6550370The Thing Around Your Neck
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2009, Knopf

This brilliant short story collection moves back and forth between Nigeria and the United States, to investigate the tensions that exist between the privileged and less-privileged citizens of both countries. Each story informs the next, and presents slices of a still-evolving narrative of Nigeria, where cultural history and memory have been affected by European colonization. The stories take in a range of characters: wealthy (and westernized) Nigerian families; expat wives living in all-white suburban U.S. neighborhoods and missing home; and a woman who refuses to commodify her suffering for political asylum. One particularly chilling story takes us back in time to watch a mother lose her son to the European Christians who first colonized Nigeria. Read The Thing Around Your Neck for new ways to think about immigration, and the relationships we have to culture and status. But also read it because it’s a really, really good book. Adichie’s prose is flawless, and once you enter the world of her stories everything else stops existing. —Tova

A_wrinkle_in_time_digest_2007A Wrinkle In Time
Madeleine L’Engle
1962, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

I’m going to get #haters for this, but I honestly hate science fiction novels. At least, I did until I read this book. Meg Murry, a 13-year-old girl with a temper and strong instincts, discovers that her absent father worked on a government science experiment in space and time travel, called a tesseract—essentially a wrinkle in the fabric of space-time. Accompanied by a group of supernatural beings, Meg and her brother, Charles Wallace, are spirited across the universe and through this tesseract to combat the essential evil which is taking hold of the people of planet Earth. The plot is complicated and fascinating, but this novel is also beautiful. L’Engle uses a medium as alien as space to illustrate basic truths about human feeling, and trust, and death, in a way that had me bawling by the time I finished reading. OK, OK, I guess I am a sci-fi fan! —Lucy

Suma_WallsAroundUs_jkt_rgb_2MB_HR2The Walls Around Us
Nova Ren Suma
2015, Algonquin Young Readers

In The Walls Around Us, we hear from two girls: Amber, who has been locked up at Aurora Hills juvenile detention center since she was 13, and Violet, a ballerina, who is on the cusp of achieving her greatest dream—attending Juilliard School. As well as their own stories, the girls tell a story that connects them, that of Orianna, Violet’s former best friend. Orianna was convicted of a crime, which landed her in Aurora Hills where she becomes Amber’s cellmate just as strange things start to happen there. Their interwoven tale is gorgeously twisty—it’s a thriller with multiple mysteries overlaid by magical realism. This is a powerful portrayal of how teenage girls can be caged—by society, by the criminal justice system, and by each other. The Walls Around Us isn’t just the best thing I’ve read this year, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. —Stephanie

greatexpectationsGreat Expectations
Charles Dickens
1860; 2010, Penguin

I loved Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, so when the writer Jane Smiley compared Smith’s vivid characterization and dialog to Charles Dickens’ writing, it trashed my assumption that Dickens was a creaky bore. Pip, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, reminds me of myself as a kid: lovably earnest but a complete shithead. After leaving his stifling home in Kent, England, he constantly complains that he misses Joe, the uncle who raised him and who he describes as a “fellow sufferer.” Yet, when Pip returns to Kent, he avoids visiting Joe. Pip fritters away the money a mysterious benefactor sends him, and when he finally meets the man, he’s initially disgusted by him, before eventually growing to love him. As Pip grows up, he changes his mind over and over; he turns over his experiences as if they are prisms which emanate different light from each side. Great Expectations holds contradiction close, and intertwines the threads of present and past to examine doubt and regret. —Annie

22557272The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
2013, Penguin Group

Awake and asleep. Involved and removed. Drunk and sober. Victim and predator. These are just a handful of the states that the author Paula Hawkins examines in The Girl On the Train, a novel about a young alcoholic called Rachel who finds herself on all sides of a murder-mystery—including smack dab in the middle. After the death of a young woman whose life she’d begun to romanticize from afar, Rachel begins piecing together a narrative she’d chosen to see only one part of. Through flashbacks and Rachel’s own “detective” work, Hawkins delivers a story told from various points of view. We get the perspective of the murder victim, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, and we’re also privy to how Rachel begins to see herself as she confronts her own demons, and the truth that is at the source of them. The movie adaptation cannot come soon enough. —Anne

the-magus-1The Magus
John Fowles
1965, Jonathan Cape

The Magus is terrrrifying—it inspires the kind of fear that forces you to question your own reality. The story begins innocently enough: Nicholas is a teacher in the Greek islands, who is lonely and disaffected despite his scenic surroundings. His quiet life is interrupted when he meets a benefactor, who engages him in horrifying mind games and manipulation. There is no transition between the book’s calm opening and the nightmarish “godgames” that follow; it lulls you into a false sense of security before ripping it away. As I read this book for the first time I was like, “OKAY WOW THIS IS SO MESSED UP,” but The Magus is a fascinating rabbit hole you’ll want to follow through to the end. Full of unlikeable characters and deeply unnerving imagery, the book provides a glimpse into the depravity that exists in our world, but which we’d much rather ignore. —Meagan

22750162The Lost Marble Notebook of Forgotten Girl & Random Boy
Marie Jaskulka
2015, Sky Pony Press

On the night that her dad leaves her mom, 15-year-old Forgotten Girl meets a boy. He’s gorgeous, and like her, a lonely outcast who writes poetry. She lets him read and write in her notebook, and together they tell the story of their relationship—from the first kiss through that intense burning spark of first love, and as it becomes abusive. The Lost Marble Notebook deals with the murky complexities of abusive relationships from both sides, and with heart-wrenching honesty. The poetry—through which the story is narrated—is compelling and raw, and like the best writing, it provides both the reader and Forgotten Girl with solace and strength. —Stephanie

41-z8kaSYfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Beloved
Toni Morrison
1987, Knopf

I’ve never read a book that took the breath out of my chest the way this one did. My 10th grade English teacher—an intersectional feminist who introduced me to Donnie Darko and Illmatic—was constantly singing Toni Morrison’s praises, and with good reason. This book will change you. The heroine, Sethe, is a freedwoman who lives in the shadow of her past experiences of slavery, and the infanticide of her child, Beloved. This is a ghost story and a disturbing account of slavery told from varying perspectives. Morrison’s tale isn’t simple, but it’s complex with good reason—it tackles rape, emasculation, betrayal, devotion and much more. Above all, Beloved is a personal account of African American experience with broad resonances. It’ll leave its imprint on you long after you’ve finished it. —Lucy

10956The Virgin Suicides
Jeffrey Eugenides
1993, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Virgin Suicides is the story of the five Lisbon sisters, and the group of neighborhood boys who fetishize them. As told from the sisters’ and boys’ perspectives, Eugenides unfolds the tragedy of the girls’ lives and the stain they leave on the boys’ consciences. Witnessing death, lust, and idolatry through the eyes of the young men captures how it feels to admire another person so intensely that their very existence becomes mythological. Most of us need our idols and heroes—they can symbolize hope and just the idea of them can help to pull us out of bed each morning. But idols are fragile things, after all, they are people like us. Eugenides explores the fantasies we create, and the consequences of trying to unmask our heroes. For me, the novel’s commentary on sisterhood and girlhood, combined with third-person details about the sisters’ lives and thoughts, make this book something akin to sacred. —Alyson ♦