(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins)
A young writer listens in breath-held astonishment as his ailing grandfather, whose lifelong reticence has been vanquished by strong painkillers, tells the hidden stories of his past. By deftly infusing each spellbinding page with historical facts entertaining and tragic, effervescent imagination, exceptional emotional intricacies, striking social insights, brilliantly modulated drama, canny wit, and profound and uplifting empathy and compassion, Chabon has created a masterful and resounding novel of the dark and blazing forces that forged our tumultuous, confounding, and precious world.
(Penguin Press, Penguin Random House LLC)
The unnamed narrator in Smith’s agile and discerning bildungsroman is entranced and provoked by a Fred Astaire dance number in the movie Swing Time. “Swing time” is also a feat her narrator performs as she pivots from the disastrous present back to the past as she tries to understand her plummet by telling her story and that of her childhood best friend, Tracey. With homage to dance as a unifying force, arresting observations, exceptionally diverse and magnetizing characters, and lashing satire, Swing Time is an acidly funny, fluently global, and head-spinning novel about the quest for meaning, exaltation, and love.
The Underground Railroad
(Doubleday, Penguin Random House LLC)
In this magnetizing and wrenching saga, Whitehead tells the story of smart and resilient Cora, a young third-generation slave on a Georgia cotton plantation. Certain that the horror will only get worse, she flees with a young man who knows how to reach the Underground Railroad. Each stop Cora makes along the Underground Railroad reveals another shocking and malignant symptom of a country riven by catastrophic conflicts, a poisonous moral crisis, and diabolical violence. Hard-driving, laser-sharp, artistically superlative, and deeply compassionate, Whitehead’s unforgettable odyssey adds a clarion new facet to the literature of racial tyranny and liberation.
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice
(Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Random House LLC)
Eleanor Roosevelt, born to privilege, prosperity, and power, first crossed paths with Pauli Murray, the granddaughter of a slave struggling against racism and poverty, in 1934 when the First Lady visited an upstate New York facility for unemployed women. Four years later, Murray sent the opening salvo in what became a fervent correspondence that lasted until Roosevelt’s death. Bell-Scott meticulously chronicles their boundary-breaking friendship, telling each remarkable woman’s story within the context of the crises of the times, from ongoing racial violence to WWII and the vicious battle over school integration, creating a sharply detailed and profoundly illuminating narrative.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
(Crown, Penguin Random House LLC)
Desmond does a marvelous job exposing the harrowing stories of people who find themselves in bad situations, shining a light on how eviction sets people up to fail. He also makes the case that eviction disproportionately affects women (and, worse, their children). This is essential reading for anyone interested in social justice, poverty, and feminist issues, but its narrative nonfiction style will also draw general readers—and will hopefully spark national discussion.
Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America
(W. W. Norton)
As current political discourse addresses controversial notions regarding immigrants and race relationships, the events Phillips describes in this harrowing chronicle of racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, in the early twentieth century feels eerily contemporary and all-too relevant. Although Phillips is an award-winning poet, translator, and professor, he brings a journalist’s crisp perspective to this precise and disquieting account of a reprehensible and underreported chapter in America’s racial history.