If you were entranced by the temporal puzzle box Kate Atkinson constructed around World War II in Life After Life, in which a young woman lives her life again and again, experiencing different aspects of wartime London, Connie Willis’s much-admired two-part time travel novel Blackout/All Clear (rare dual winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards) will almost certainly satisfy. Willis spends a bit more time building the speculative elements (the books are part of a loosely connected series about historians from the future who travel to the past but aren’t supposed to be able to change it), but the true focus, as with Atkinson’s novel, is examining the lives of everyday people struggling to survive day to day during a time of great uncertainty.
In Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell perfectly captures the giddy intensity of teenage romance from both sides, with an alternating narrative that gives both troubled, overweight Eleanor and awkward outsider Park equal say. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn, also switches back and forth between the title characters, and though these teens are a bit more worldly than Rowell’s, their awkward attempts to navigate almost-adulthood ring equally true.
Michael Lewis explained the madness that led to the financial crisis in The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, and recently checked in on a group of insiders who have figured out a way to profit from a still-broken system in Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. If you’ve already devoured both of those books but have yet to meet your rage quota, check out Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, in which McKenzie Funk exposes the network of powerful people who see the possibility of global disaster as the next opportunity to cash in big.
If you were pulled in by John Green’s ability to meld YA relationship drama with compelling mystery in Paper Towns, Printz Award–winner Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley (author of the just-released Noggin, which we recently called a must-read), pulls off a similar feat. In a small town in nowhere, Alabama, frustrated teenager Cullen Witter’s emotional angst is overshadowed by tragedy when his precocious younger brother vanishes without a trace. In the course of resolving the mystery at the heart of the novel, Whaley pulls in everything from a religious mission to Ethiopia to the reappearance of a strange species of bird thought long extinct.
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, is a collection of deeply personal short stories that has become one of the defining narratives of the Vietnam War. Almost immediately upon its publication in 2010, Karl Malantes’ Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War earned similar acclaim. Both books offer slightly fictionalized accounts of the writers’ experiences of the conflict, and are a tribute to the men with whom they served.
What books are you recommending to people these days?