Herewith, Dear Readers, a gathering of books I recommend and have been meaning to write about for months, in no particular order.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Perfect for: Almost anyone who has experienced or is currently experiencing adolescence.
I wish my high school’s sophomore English class had included this book in the curriculum instead of The Catcher in the Rye, but I suppose there are about ten reason that would never have happened (including the fact that The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out the same year that I started the tenth grade, so not a lot of vetting time there . . .). Charlie is far and away more interesting and less self-centered than Holden Caulfield; he’s a gifted, introverted teenager who befriends some of his high school’s gloriously interesting misfits during his freshman year. Life lessons ensue, as they tend to do in bildungsroman. I loved the book’s emphasis on compassion; it’s the kind of YA novel I’m going to leave on the shelf in the hope that my son will pick it up someday and find it useful. Bonus: It’s an epistolary novel.
Barracuda*, by Christos Tsiolkas
Perfect for: Anyone who needs to get out of a reading rut.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel. It might sound strange, but it’s incredibly refreshing to read a book that’s about rage, which seems to be Danny Kelly’s primary emotion. Danny is an teenage Australian swimmer who dreams of making it to the Olympics; thankfully, there’s no swelling inspirational music in this tightly-plotted, intricately structured novel. Danny is almost totally unlikable, but so utterly fascinating that it doesn’t matter. Rage isn’t a primary emotion; it’s a symptom of the mess of feelings roiling beneath the surface. Mr. Tsiolkas brings those feelings to brilliant life. I’m not Australian, and the look into modern Australian culture in this novel was a real eye-opener. No koalas, no kangaroos.
Em and the Big Hoom**, by Jerry Pinto
Perfect for: Anyone looking for a novel off the beaten path.
Published in the U.S. this year, Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom is a moving, raw, funny, and tender portrait of a family in crisis, set in modern Bombay. Mr. Pinto uses dialogue, interviews, stories, and anecdotes to create a collage-like portrait of Em, who suffers from bipolar disorder, her husband the Big Hoom, and their children. Em’s shifting moods and crippling depressions leave the family on edge, and the novel is framed as her son’s attempt to understand his mother’s mind. The dialogue is absolutely brilliant, and I kept marking passages to return to later– at least fifty in a very slim volume. Jerry Pinto isn’t as well known here as he should be, and I hope that changes soon.
Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, by Margaret Atwood
Perfect for: Anyone.***
Margaret Atwood. Short stories almost entirely about older people. Killer last lines. Need I say more?
*I received this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, which did not affect the content of my review.
** I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.
*** Okay, not kids.