When Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reese Withersoon’s book club, it became an instant must-read. Equal parts coming-of-age story, mystery, legal drama and love story, I can see why! I came by it through my first HealthTea Book Crate, in which I received a signed copy, and I was excited that it was selected as one of my recent book club reads.
Kya Clark lives in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, and has watched her family leave her one-by-one, until — at the age of 10 — she is left quite alone. As she grows up, Kya chooses to stay close to home, preferring to get her supplies from a small store on the docks, where she can also fill up her boat with gas, rather than venturing into town. This fierce independence earns her the nickname Marsh Girl.
Fatima Farheen Mirza’s novel A Place for Us put me at a loss for words (a tough position when I need to write a review…). It was beautifully written, the story woven together so expertly. It’s hard to believe this is a debut.
The story of an Indian-American Muslim family opens at the California wedding of Hadia, the eldest daughter. She and the rest of the family anxiously await the arrival of her younger brother Amar, who they haven’t spoken to in years. From there, we are pulled into the family ourselves, where the dynamics are complicated. The siblings struggle with their loyalty to their parents’ way of life and carving out their own place in society, while still seeking to please them. The parents try to raise their children wisely, but sometimes doing what they think is best leads to unexpected outcomes.
Tommy Orange’s novel There There tells a multigenerational story of Native Americans as they are today, living not on reservations but in cities throughout America. It’s a perspective many of us have never seen or read about, that of the Urban Native.
It’s a complex and epic story, told through vignettes involving twelve different characters. There are characters who embrace their Indianness, those who are just fully discovering it, and those who use it as a means to an end. Though in the beginning they are seemingly disconnected, their convergence at the Big Oakland Powwow gives each of them purpose.
Let’s be real, the cover of Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ latest novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is gorgeous. Like the “drunken tree” in the title, the flower’s brightness and beauty draws your attention from the darkness that lingers behind.
The coming-of-age story follows two Colombian girls in the 1990s. Seven-year-old Chula Santiago and her older sister are aware of the violence in their city but are, for the most part, protected from it within their gated community. Petrona, on the other hand, lives in a guerilla-occupied slum before she becomes the Santiago family’s live-in maid. Their lives are very different but become intertwined throughout the course of the novel.
My book club recently selected Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, a book that was selected in one of my other book clubs last year. It’s a book that’s gotten a lot of attention and praise since its release, and though it has an appealing premise, I’ve not felt compelled to read it — until now. I didn’t read it last time, but I knew I couldn’t neglect it again. I dove right in and didn’t look back.
Gyasi’s sweeping novel is about two half-sisters separated at birth and their descendants. Effia and Esi are born in different villages in eighteenth century Ghana. They share the same mother but have different fathers and very different upbringings. Effia marries an Englishman and lives her life in a castle on the African country’s coast. Esi, however, is sold into slavery, passing through the castle’s dungeons on her way to America. Each chapter following their own focuses on an immediate descendent for generation after generation.
Lisa See’s historical fiction novel The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a family saga that begins in a remote mountain village in China in the late 1980s. Life there revolves around tradition and tea farming, until a stranger arrives, bringing a glimpse into the modern world — and a proposal that will transform all of their lives.
Interspersed with Li-Yan’s story, as she struggles against the traditions of her village and family but fully embraces the rituals and importance of tea in their culture, is the story of a young girl growing up in Los Angeles, searching for a key to her past. The story is full of heart, and the plot full of coincidence. Some of the village’s traditions were a bit hard to stomach, but I think Li-Yan’s personal rebellion against them made her more relatable, at least to me.
Kevin Kwan’s novel Crazy Rich Asians has been buzzed about since its debut five years ago, and that buzz has only continued to grow now that it’s becoming a movie (out on August 15 this year). The title is pretty self-explanatory – the novel is about the wealthiest of the wealthy families in Singapore, including the Youngs. But, when Rachel Chu’s boyfriend, Nick Young, invites her to attend his best friend’s wedding back at home, she has no idea what’s in store.
Together in New York, they work regular jobs, go out to eat occasionally and live in an average apartment. Her first hint that Nick’s life may be different than he let on is on their extravagant first class journey to Asia. Rachel realizes it’s going to be even harder to impress his parents than she expected, once she learns he is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the country (and likely, the continent).
I remember being excited about Shoba Narayan’s memoir when I first heard about it because I added it to my list of most anticipated books for the year. I got re-excited when Liberty Hardy recommended The Milk Lady of Bangalore on the All the Books podcast, and at that point, I was already on the library waiting list. Funnily enough, I hate milk, so I’m not sure where all the excitement came from.
In her memoir, Shoba shares her experience moving back to India with her husband and two daughters after twenty years in the United States. Upon moving into their new apartment building, they encounter a cow in the elevator. It’s destined for a neighbor’s housewarming ceremony, and thus begins Shoba’s cow-centric journey in modern-day India. She befriends the local milk lady, visiting her every morning for fresh milk and learning more and more about cows as the days go on.
I love being a part of the Book of the Month Club for many reasons, including that I love getting mail and I love when that mail is books. I love BOTM even more when it introduces me to a wonderful novel I haven’t heard of before. (Some of my recent favorites from BOTM have been The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and The Heart’s Invisible Furies.) Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel Rainbirds caught my eye because of the beautiful cover, and I ultimate chose it for the description.
It takes place in a small town in Japan, where Ren Ishida goes to get his older sister’s affairs in order after her murder. They shared a special bond, taking care of each other when their parents were otherwise occupied. He struggles to make sense of her sudden death, wondering if he could’ve done anything differently. Ren seeks solace in answers and soon finds himself slipping into her life, accepting her teaching job and moving into her old rented bedroom.
In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henríquez gives a voice to the millions of immigrants in the United States – how they got here and why, where they come from and what they’re searching for. While her story focuses primarily on the Riveras and the Toros, many of the chapters are told from the perspective of other immigrants in their apartment complex in Delaware. Each hailing from a different Spanish-speaking homeland, each giving us a glimpse into their lives today.
When their teenage daughter Maribel suffered a near-fatal accident, the Riveras did everything in their power to help her heal and come back to herself. Her father, Arturo, secured a job in Delaware and with it, visas for all of them to come to America, where Maribel would be able to enroll in specialized classes and receive a better education. She eventually meets Mayor, a fifteen-year-old whose family came from Panama; he has lived here nearly his whole life. He and the other residents help the Riveras navigate the language and cultural obstacles they face.