Finding yourself with some extra time and mental energy this summer? Want to “discover” a book no one seems to be talking about? Take a look at these eight novels, all guaranteed to get your brain in gear and inspire discussion. These books might not be the ones on everyone’s bedside tables yet, but they certainly should be—and will be—once the book community gets ahold of them. With atmospherically rich and fully realized settings, unforgettably complex characters, and unimaginable moral and philosophical dilemmas, these stories have the potential to become modern classics. Plus, they all take on subject matter that resonates with our own moment in unexpected ways and shed light on new perspectives and under-discussed issues. Make sure—after you dig in—to tell a friend, to get the conversation started!
8 Powerful Novels More People Should Be Talking About
Lucy and Mickey had both given up on finding functional long-term relationships: Mickey, because of his bipolar diagnosis, and Lucy, because of her intense family history of breast cancer. But when they find each other, they can’t deny the bond they share. After years of making their marriage work—and making the tough decision not to have children—one routine doctor’s appointment changes everything. DANCING ON BROKEN GLASS is a poignant portrait of a marriage.
A powerfully written novel offering an intimate look at a beautiful marriage and how bipolar disorder and cancer affect it, Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock perfectly illustrates the enduring power of love.
Lucy Houston and Mickey Chandler probably shouldn’t have fallen in love, let alone gotten married. They’re both plagued with faulty genes—he has bipolar disorder, and she has a ravaging family history of breast cancer. But when their paths cross on the night of Lucy’s twenty-first birthday, sparks fly, and there’s no denying their chemistry.
Cautious every step of the way, they are determined to make their relationship work—and they put it all in writing. Mickey promises to take his medication. Lucy promises not to blame him for what is beyond his control. He promises honesty. She promises patience. Like any marriage, they have good days and bad days—and some very bad days. In dealing with their unique challenges, they make the heartbreaking decision not to have children. But when Lucy shows up for a routine physical just shy of their eleventh anniversary, she gets an impossible surprise that changes everything. Everything. Suddenly, all their rules are thrown out the window, and the two of them must redefine what love really is.
An unvarnished portrait of a marriage that is both ordinary and extraordinary, Dancing on Broken Glass takes readers on an unforgettable journey of the heart.
At Placid Hall, a plantation in the nineteenth-century American South, a group of enslaved strivers face unimaginable circumstances every day: from the physical harm of toiling to their unpredictable captor’s tendency to sell their loved ones without warning. When a mysterious new minister begins to fill their heads with ideas of freedom, Cato—whose first love was taken from him and who now finds himself drawn to the beautiful Pandora—and William—who is falling for self-possessed Margaret—must decide what they are willing to risk for love in this monumental classic in the making.
The Water Dancer meets The Prophets in this spare, gripping, and beautifully rendered novel exploring love and friendship among a group of enslaved Black strivers in the mid-19th century.
They call themselves the Stolen. Their owners call them captives. They are taught their captors’ tongues and their beliefs but they have a language and rituals all their own.
In a world that would be allegorical if it weren’t saturated in harsh truths, Cato and William meet at Placid Hall, a plantation in an unspecified part of the American South. Subject to the whims of their tyrannical and eccentric captor, Cannonball Greene, they never know what harm may befall them: inhumane physical toil in the plantation’s quarry by day, a beating by night, or the sale of a loved one at any moment. It’s that cruel practice—the wanton destruction of love, the belief that Black people aren’t even capable of loving—that hurts the most.
It hurts the reserved and stubborn William, who finds himself falling for Margaret, a small but mighty woman with self-possession beyond her years. And it hurts Cato, whose first love, Iris, was sold off with no forewarning. He now finds solace in his hearty band of friends, including William, who is like a brother; Margaret; Little Zander; and Milton, a gifted artist. There is also Pandora, with thick braids and long limbs, whose beauty calls to him.
Their relationships begin to fray when a visiting minister with a mysterious past starts to fill their heads with ideas about independence. He tells them that with freedom comes the right to choose the small things—when to dine, when to begin and end work—as well as the big things, such as whom and how to love. Do they follow the preacher and pursue the unknown? Confined in a landscape marked by deceit and uncertainty, who can they trust?
In an elegant work of monumental imagination that will reorient how we think of the legacy of America’s shameful past, Jabari Asim presents a beautiful, powerful, and elegiac novel that examines intimacy and longing in the quarters while asking a vital question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love?
In Berlin, in 1999, siblings Rune and Lotte live with their father, with blurred memories of what happened ten years ago to their mother, who had tried to run away from their abusive father with them in tow. When they discover a notebook written by their mother, destroyed by their father, Lotte wants to take the book to the Puzzle Women, a group who work to reconstruct the documents shredded by the secret police. As threats from Papa escalate, Rune and Lotte must decide how far they are willing to go to piece together the history of what happened to their mother.
In this stunning novel, an ambitious psychiatrist finds himself in the center of a chaotic love triangle within his own institution in Montana in the 1970s. Ed’s life is everything he could have wanted: he is the superintendent of a mental institution he’s worked to save, and his wife, Laura, may soon become pregnant. But when a beautiful, intelligent epileptic patient, sixteen-year-old Penelope, is wrongfully assigned to his institution, Ed finds himself falling for her, and she for him. As Laura begins working in the hospital, and learns what has Ed distracted, a volatile situation soon becomes untenable.
An incredibly compulsive, poignant exploration of marriage, lust, and ambition from one of America's great young literary talents, the Man-Booker Prize longlisted author of Work Like Any Other.
Doctor Ed Malinowski believes he has realized most of his dreams. A passionate, ambitious behavioral psychiatrist, he is now the superintendent of a mental institution and finally turning the previously crumbling hospital around. He also has a home he can be proud of, and a fiercely independent, artistic wife Laura, whom he hopes will soon be pregnant.
But into this perfect vision of his life comes Penelope, a beautiful, young epileptic who should never have been placed in his institution and whose only chance at getting out is Ed. She is intelligent, charming, and slowly falling in love with her charismatic, compassionate doctor. As their relationship grows more complicated, and Laura stubbornly starts working at his hospital, Ed must weigh his professional responsibilities against his personal ones, and find a way to save both his job and his family.
A love triangle set in one of the most chaotic, combustible settings imaginable, The Behavior of Love is wise, riveting, and deeply resonant.
Single mother Claire will do anything to protect Ethan, her gifted twelve-year-old, even if that means keeping the devastating secrets of his past from him. As a physics and astronomy prodigy, Ethan may be brilliant, but he is also vulnerable. When Ethan finds a letter to Claire from his long-absent father, Mark, he begins to put together the pieces of what happened years earlier and sets his family on a trajectory that will bring them back together again in this tender and heartbreaking novel set in Australia.
A “beautifully written, heartbreaking” (S. J. Watson) debut novel about a gifted boy who discovers the truth about his past, his overprotective single mother who tries desperately to shield him from it, and the father he has never met who has unexpectedly returned.
“Original, compassionate, cleverly plotted, and genuinely difficult to put down.” –Graeme Simsion, New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project
Twelve-year-old Ethan Forsythe, an exceptionally talented boy obsessed with physics and astronomy, has been raised alone by his mother in Sydney, Australia. Claire, a former professional ballerina, has been a wonderful parent to Ethan, but he’s becoming increasingly curious about his father’s absence in his life. Claire is fiercely protective of her talented, vulnerable son—and of her own feelings. But when Ethan falls ill, tied to a tragic event that occurred during his infancy, her tightly-held world is split open.
Thousands of miles away on the western coast of Australia, Mark is trying to forget about the events that tore his family apart, but an unexpected call forces him to confront his past and return home. When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that—like gravity—pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.
Told from the alternating points of view of Ethan and each of his parents, Relativity is a poetic and soul-searing exploration of unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, the limits of science, and the magnitude of love.
In this ambitious debut novel, a community of Indian immigrants struggle to find their way in the American West. In 1914, Ram Singh, who has left India to earn money for his family in the United States, accepts an offer from his friend to work a small cantaloupe farm in California on the Mexican border, despite longing to return to his wife and son in Punjab. Once there, he meets other immigrant settlers—including an alluring woman who fought in the Mexican revolution—determined to build a home in the desert. As anti-immigration sentiments rise, Ram and his new community find themselves at the center of an explosive situation.
In 1981, in Britain, eight-year-old Leon and his little brother, Jake, have gone to live in a new home with a foster mom. Wild and redheaded, Maureen may be doing her best, but she isn’t the boys’ mother, and Leon is struggling to put together the pieces of what happened when he was younger, and why people keep wanting to separate his family. For instance, who is the couple who keeps secretly visiting Jake? Amid street violence, racial politics, and impromptu parties, Leon is determined to figure it all out and reunite his family in this bighearted, fierce, and powerful novel.
“Taut, emotionally intense, and wholly believable, this beautiful and uplifting debut” (Kirkus Reviews) about a young black boy’s quest to reunite with his beloved white half-brother after they are separated in foster care is a sparkling novel perfect for fans of The Language of Flowers.
Leon loves chocolate bars, Saturday morning cartoons, and his beautiful, golden-haired baby brother. When Jake is born, Leon pokes his head in the crib and says, “I’m your brother. Big brother. My. Name. Is. Leon. I am eight and three quarters. I am a boy.” Jake will play with no one but Leon, and Leon is determined to save him from any pain and earn that sparkling baby laugh every chance he can.
But Leon isn’t in control of this world where adults say one thing and mean another. When their mother falls victim to her inner demons, strangers suddenly take Jake away; after all, a white baby is easy to adopt, while a half-black, nine-year-old faces a less certain fate. Vowing to get Jake back by any means necessary, Leon’s own journey will carry him through the lives of a doting but ailing foster mother, Maureen; Maureen’s cranky and hilarious sister, Sylvia; a social worker Leon knows only as “The Zebra”; and a colorful community of local gardeners and West Indian political activists.
Told through the perspective of young Leon, too innocent to entirely understand what has happened to him and baby Jake, but determined to do what he can to make things right. In the end, this is an uplifting story about the power of love, the unbreakable bond between brothers, and the truth about what ultimately makes a family. My Name Is Leon will capture your imagination and steal your heart with its “moving exploration of race and the foster-care system that offers precious insight into the mind of a child forced to grow up well before his time” (Booklist).
In this vibrant love story, Soo-Ja Choi makes the impossible decision, on the eve of her marriage, to turn down the passionate medical student she loves in order to go through with a marriage to a man she believes will help her pursue her career. Years later, in 1960s Korea, she has seen her life reduced to fighting for her daughter’s rights, where her own are bound to her husband’s traditional beliefs. As she works to protect her daughter’s future—against the background of South Korea emerging into its own modern country—she finds her path crossing, again and again, with that of the man she truly loves.
Photo credit: iStock / DmitriiSimakov