The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Kelly Link used to say that the thing she liked about zombies was that you could tell a ton of different zombie stories, depending on how many zombies you use. Like if you’ve got one zombie in a town, that’s one story. And if you’ve got a town surrounded by a worldful of zombies, that’s another story. This is a YA novel that has all the virtues of the zombie genre: the claustrophobia, the hopelessness, the sense that your primary enemy is your own weakness. It’s about a town that’s surrounded by a big iron fence. And on the other side of that fence are HELLLA zombies. And the town has reverted to a weird theocracy that’s reminiscent of Puritan New England. The protagonist is a woman who’s reached her nineteenth birthday without receiving a proposal of marriage (oh no!) and is now doomed to become a nun.
Every Day by David Levithan – This YA novel is the most ridiculously high-concept book I’ve ever read. It’s about a being who wakes up every morning in the body of a new person (temporarily displacing its usual inhabitant). And each day he hops into a body that’s one day older than the last one. Thus, the being’s bodies age as it does. And right now it’s sixteen years old! It’s content to hop through bodies, experiencing a hundred high schools and a hundred ephemeral lives, mostly going with the flow so that people don’t find their lives too disrupted once it leaves. But then it falls in love! And it starts going to greater and greater efforts to spend each day with one particular girl….now if that doesn’t make you want to read it, then I don’t know what will. Also, it’s a ridiculously queer book. Way more than 4% of the characters in this book are some variety of queer.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart – A fifteen year old tries to infiltrate her boarding school’s (normally all-male) secret society. A very angry book. Angry in a way that you don’t often see. It’s a bracing anger. Also, a very feminist novel. Notable for the interesting way its romance plot braces and reinforces the themes of the surrounding plot.
The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford – This is the saddest story I have ever heard. An early modernist work about four couples, one American and one British, that meet while they’re making a lazy tour of the continent’s spas and vacation spots. They’re all idle, feckless, wealthy, do-nothing people. They gravitate towards each other and spend years together and it’s only towards the very end of their association that one of them realizes the huge number of secrets they’ve all been concealing. A structurally amazing novel: the telling loops inward and outwards and back on itself and your opinions of each character are constantly being revised.
Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope – Not exactly sure why I am writing about this, since I doubt that anyone who reads this blog is going to go and read through the whole six book Barsetshire series (of which this is the final volume). But if you are thinking about it and if you need some reason to keep reading past Framley Parsonage and Doctor Thorne, then rest assured that there is an amazing book at the end of the journey. This novel just goes all up in there and wraps up all the loose ends. All the characters come back and intermingle, and you see what’s going on. And people die! And it’s always very sad, even when you don’t like the people. And the actual plot of the book is unusually fresh, for Trollope. It’s about a clergyman who’s accused of stealing a check. And no one, not even the clergyman himself, knows if the accusation is true or not! Very few series have ever had a more satisfying ending.
Lucky by Alice Sebold – Not sure why I read Sebold’s memoir instead of her vastly more popular novel The Lovely Bones, but I was glad that I did. This book is brutal! The author was raped, by a stranger, in some kind of tunnel, while an undergrad at Syracuse. Later, she actually finds the guy and he stands trial! Rape is deployed pretty casually as a device in fiction, but I’ve never read a book that just went at it, in a factual way.
Lucky Girls: Stories by Nell Freudenberger – I believe that four of these five stories are about white women and their travails while travelling in South Asia. Sounds like a recipe for an awful and racist book. But it’s not! Very much avoid the Lost In Translation problem of using a foreign country purely as scenery. There’s much more to these stories. Also, there’s lots of having sex with Asian men. That by itself is revolutionary. You won’t read many stories (especially one written by white people) where white women have sex with Asian men.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Not sure why this book got so much hate. Yes, it is primarily about the problems of upper-class and upper-middle-class professional women…but those are the problems that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg knows about. And yes, it is primarily a manifest for personal, not political, change. But it certainly doesn’t discount the need for political change. I mostly read it so that I could have a good laugh at Sandberg’s expense, but I actually found it to be a very fascinating look at the problems that women have in managing both a worklife and a family life. The book contains many shout outs to The Feminine Mystique, which is a comparison that people have tended to be pretty dismissive of, but actually it’s very much in conversation with Friedan’s book. The Feminine Mystique was also more of a call for personal than political change. And Friedan was, basically, saying that women need to go out and find meaningful work—that homemaking is not enough to satisfy a person’s emotional needs. And now Sheryl Sandberg is trying to deal with the fallout from Friedan’s all-too-successful efforts.
Embers by Sandor Marai – An old, retired Hungarian general is visited by a long-lost friend from his military academy. In their youths, they were very close, even though the general was considerably wealthier than their friends. But then, one day, they had a mysterious falling out. Now, before he dies, the General wants some answers about what happened on that long-ago day. Structurally, this is a thriller. The nature of their falling-out is pretty obvious: the thriller part is “What is the general going to do? Why has the friend come back?” The story is told in a very fast-paced, but circuitous way, you’re always looping back on yourself. And it’s all shot through with the atmosphere of the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire. Man, why is all Austro-Hungarian literature about the decay of the empire? Isn’t there any literature about the glory and power of the empire?