Fiction: Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson
With the 2012 publication of The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson became recognized as a leading American writer: a New York Times bestseller, Orphan Master was named one of the best books of the year by more than a dozen major publications, chosen as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and in addition to the Pulitzer, won a host of other prizes, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Now Johnson turns his remarkable talent to a collection of stories that delve deeply into love, loss, the decisions we make for ourselves, and the decisions we make for others. In post-Katrina Louisiana, a young man and his new girlfriend search for the mother of his son. In Palo Alto, a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finds solace in a digital simulacrum of the recently assassinated President. In contemporary Berlin, a former Stasi agent ponders his past. A woman with cancer rages against the idea of her family without her. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject of North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind. Hugely inventive and endlessly energetic, this is a funny, heart wrenching, surprising collection of stories and characters that will leave readers exhilarated and will show Johnson writing at the top of his form.
Nonfiction: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
For Ta-Nehisi Coates, history has always been personal. At every stage of his life, he’s sought in his explorations of history, answers to the mysteries that surrounded him–most urgently, why he, and other black people he knew, seemed to live in fear. What were they afraid of? In “Tremble for My Country,” Coates takes readers along on his journey through America’s history of race and its contemporary resonances through a series of awakenings–moments when he discovered some new truth about our long, tangled history of race, whether through his myth-busting professors at Howard University, a trip to a Civil War battlefield with a rogue historian, a journey to Chicago’s South Side to visit aging survivors of 20th century America’s “long war on black people,” or a visit with the mother of a beloved friend who was shot down by the police. In his trademark style–a mix of lyrical personal narrative, reimagined history, essayistic argument, and reportage–Coates provides readers a thrillingly illuminating new framework for understanding race: its history, our contemporary dilemma, and where we go from here.
Poetry: Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
Robin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems meditating on the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. In the center of the collection is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” an amazing narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present–titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s own autobiographical poems, Voyage is a tender and shocking meditation on the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, juxtaposing our names for things with what we actually see and know. A new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin–five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role did art play in this ancient, often heinous story? Here we meet a poet who adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire–how they define us all, including her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race–a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.
Young People’s Literature: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
A brilliant but troubled high school student pretends to engage in sports activities and uses his artistic talents to document his voyage to the world’s most southern point while his friends observe his increasingly unbalanced behavior.