Push, by Sapphire- This tragic story is about Precious, a young girl born into an unimaginably horrific family. She realizes that the only hope of escaping the horror of that family lies in a single goal: to learn to read. This is an unbelievably sad story, but one that so accurately portrays the essential role that literacy plays in every human being's life. Even though I liked the movie better than the book, the movie spent more time on the horror of the family; the book emphasized the importance of reading. For that reason, read the book first if this plot interests you.
Blame, by Michelle Huneven - Oh, how I adore this one. A recent winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Blame is the story of a brilliant and accomplished woman who is convicted of killing a mother and daughter while driving drunk. The novel chronicles her time in prison and how she copes with living life as a killer of two innocent people. I thought this book had to have the longest denouement ever, until I realized that I hadn't reached it's climax yet. The high point of the novel is stunning. This is, by far, my favorite so far in 2010.
Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips - Another National Book Critics Circle Award winner, this one is also outstanding. It is the story of a girl, Lark, and her mentally disabled brother, Termite. Lark and Termite are sent to live in West Virginia with their aunt, who raises them. The best part of this novel is that several of the chapters are written from the perspective of Termite. The author wrote those chapters in such a way that the reader gets a glimpse into the mind of a mentally disabled individual. These chapters were remarkable. A very worthwhile read.
Little Bee, by Chris Cleave - Breathtaking. The setting is England, and the author writes like the Brit that he is. This voice gave a refreshing tone to the novel, one that I haven't found in a while. The story is about Little Bee, a young woman who escapes her war-torn Nigeria for England. When she arrives, she is immediately imprisoned in a detention center for two years. She is then accidentally released without papers and flees to the only people in England she knows. Those people happen to be the husband and wife who inadvertently met her while vacationing in her war torn land. This one is powerful and will get the wheels of your brain turning on the currently hot topic of immigration reform.
Davita's Harp, by Chaim Potok - Potok is one of my favorites. He writes about the Jewish community in Brooklyn with such intensity. Davita's Harp is no exception. This is a coming of age story in which Davita grows up in the midst of the 1930's and 1940's with a Christian father and a Jewish mother, both of whom have renounced their faith. Davita finds great comfort in the study of the Jewish religion and yet grapples with what she sees as its inconsistencies. This book is remarkable in that the voice of Davita changes throughout the book because Potok constructed it so that the writing parallels her maturation process. Brilliantly done. I love this one. If you are unfamiliar with Potok, familiarize yourself, pronto. Everything he writes is wonderful. Davita's Harp was written in the mid 1980's; I found it at the used bookstore for $2.99. Or, get yourself to the library and read Potok for free.
Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls - Oh, mercy. This is QUITE a story. It is a true story of the author's life with parents who decided to raise their children in a most unconventional way. You will constantly be wondering whether or not these parents were creative, smart, neglectful, narcissistic, or all of the above. The shock of the book is in the story itself. It is an easy read, and I guarantee that you will not be able to put it down. I liked it better than Half Broke Horses, which I read at the beginning of the year and is Walls' prequel, if you will, to Glass Castle.
Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, by Elif Batuman - I seem to have accidentally fallen into an intense love with Russian novels and, for the life of me, I can't tell you why. Elif Batuman would tell me that my love is rooted in the fact that Russian authors articulate life better than any other ethnicity of authors on the planet. Possessed is a hilarious account of Batuman's experiences with studying Russian literature. If you are drawn to the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, this is a must read for you. However, save it for a quiet, rainy day. This one is not for easy, summer beach reading.
There you have it. Feel free to ask me plot questions if you need more information about whether or not to read one of these. I'm off to do some reading on the beach. Hopefully some longer summaries will return with me.