The author of the best-selling novel, The Mothers, returns with a thought-provoking yarn in the vein of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, an incautious comment on a Facebook page has catastrophic consequences for three Indians trying to climb the social ladder in an engrossing debut, and a literary thriller takes a deep dive into grief, loss, and guilt.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett's debut novel, The Mothers—about motherhood, female friendship, and finding love with a broken heart—was one of the most talked-about books of 2016. Four years later, Bennett introduces a new cast of characters, and like her debut, The Vanishing Half examines sisterhood, black identity, and parenthood with compassion and conviction. The Vignes twins grew up inseparable in the ’60s in Mallard, Louisiana, a small town reserved for black residents with light skin. Stella and Desiree Vignes are tall and beautiful, and they dream of lives beyond the lynching of their father and housekeeping for white people, like their mother does. When they flee to New Orleans as teenagers, Stella discovers that she can pass as white, and so begins the fracture that will forever separate the twins. Stella disappears in California and continues to play the part of a white woman, keeping her past a secret from her husband and daughter. After leaving her abusive marriage, Desiree returns to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, who is “black as tar.” Jude, desperate to find a place where she fits in, goes to college in California and discovers she was searching not just for herself but for her mother’s sister. Told in flashbacks and alternating points of view, this novel asks what is personal identity, if not your past. A riveting and sympathetic story about the bonds of sisterhood and just how strong they are, even at their weakest. —Al Woodworth
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
A Burning by Megha Majumdar is a thoughtful and thought provoking debut set in present day India. The novel starts off with a young Muslim woman named Jindar leaving a message on Facebook that criticizes the government. The problem is she does so in reference to a train station bombing; as a result, her almost castaway comment will come back to find her. The story is told from three different points of view, which the author masterfully choreographs. There is Jindar. There is Lovely, a Hijra who wants to be a movie star. And there is PT Sir, a gym teacher who finds himself drawn to a local populist movement. Their stories snake around each other to establish a captivating storyline, and while there is ripe space for political and social exploration in this book, Megha Majumbar never sacrifices the inner lives of her characters to explore those broader themes. She delivers on both levels, and that is a truly exceptional achievement.—Chris Schluep
The House on Fripp Island by Rebecca Kauffman
The House on Fripp Island sets the reader up for one story, but then slyly delivers a different, even better story. A prologue lets us know that twenty years ago, someone died on a trip but we aren’t told who or why or by whose hand. We are introduced to two very different families traveling to a tiny, lush island off the coast of South Carolina for an all-expenses paid vacation. Apart from the moms, Poppy Ford and Lisa Daly, who were childhood friends in West Virginia, the two families barely know each other. But as it becomes apparent that both families are weathering some changes, alliances form, and secrets shaped by class, loyalty, ambition, fidelity, and desire bubble to the surface. Readers will be drawn into a smart, keenly-observed look at family dynamics as they try to figure out which of the eight characters was speaking from the grave in this atmospheric beach read.—Vannessa Cronin
Summer reading season is in full swing with a novel reminiscent of a modern classic from Toni Morrison, a provocative debut, and a literary thriller.