Ok, so this year has been a bit…disappointing. Luckily not all around, at least when it comes to the fantastic fictions that have been released in 2020 so far. Whether you need an escape, to be inspired, to learn something, or be transported, we have some great recommendations for you. Check out just a handful of favorites below. To browse the full list, click right here.
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Abi Daré’s debut novel, The Girl with the Louding Voice, is like a blend of Etaf Rum’s A Woman Is No Man and Tara Westover’s Educated (so buckle up). In it Adunni, a fourteen-year-old Nigerian girl, endures a series of unfortunate events in her quest to get an education. The alternative is a life of servitude, something Adunni experiences firsthand when, after escaping an arranged marriage, she lands herself in an even more precarious position in the employ of a sadistic wife and her debauched husband. Buoyed by the memory of her late mother, who wanted her daughter to buck cultural confines and find her (louding) voice, and with the help of a few unlikely allies, Adunni sets about overcoming her sorry lot. The Girl with the Louding Voice is a rousing tale of courage and pluck, and unexpectedly charming. It’s also a reminder of the power of books, especially for those of us afforded the luxury of taking reading, and learning, and dreaming for granted.—Erin Kodicek
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
James McBride, author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and the beloved memoir The Color of Water, has written a propulsive and comic neighborhood epic set in the 1960s with a cast of characters that are beguiling, boozed-filled, and larger than life. When a young drug lord is shot in broad daylight by a bumbling drunk known to everyone as Sportcoat, the Brooklyn neighborhood they live in is upended. As Sportcoat comically and unknowingly dodges the police, his actions ricochet around him, igniting a web of drug wars, backdoor dealings with mobsters, and church brawls that demonstrate just how vital yet fragile communities can be. Deacon King Kong tells the fictional story of one Brooklyn project, but in so doing tells a broader story of race and religion, getting by and getting out, and how grudges and alliances become embedded in the foundations of our neighborhoods. An incredibly satisfying read. —Al Woodworth
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
At 31, Casey is still holding onto her dream of being a novelist. Most of her artist friends have given up their artist dreams for more practical, and lucrative, endeavors; but Casey writes and makes ends meet by waitressing and walking her landlord’s dog. Writers & Lovers is Lily King’s follow up to her 2014 breakthrough novel Euphoria, which was loosely based on the experiences of Margaret Mead, and one might expect King to tread a similar path in this new book. But this is a different novel altogether. That said, it’s a very enjoyable read, a breath of fresh air, with characters that leap off the page. Writers & Lovers is about the uncertainty of dating, and of pursuing the creative life, in a world that values success and stability. Life does not wait for Casey to fulfill her dream, if that dream even comes. So she works and she dates, and she tries to figure it out as she goes. Love and art require daily, often imperceptible, leaps of faith—and this book captures that perfectly. —Chris Schluep
Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
The Time Traveler’s Wife meets What Alice Forgot in this charming and cinematic novel that this reviewer devoured in 24 hours. Oona Lockhart is celebrating New Year’s Eve 1982 and the eve of her 19th birthday, but at midnight she passes out and wakes up as a 19-year-old trapped in the body of a 51-year-old. Thus begins Oona living life out of order—every January 1st going forward, at 12:01 am, she wakes up as herself in a different year of life. Each year brings its own challenges of piecing together her accomplishments, friends and lovers, and mistakes. As Oona writes to herself in a letter to be found after one “leap”: “Every leap will have its advantages and disadvantages, things you’ll gain and lose—relationships, youth, modern conveniences, etc.” Although this could be a fun romp through the adage “youth is wasted on the young” (and at times, it is), it’s also a deeper look at destiny, love, and family. The only thing I didn’t like is that I wish I could read about every year of Oona’s life. Oona Out of Order is incredibly fun and begs to be read in book clubs. —Sarah Gelman
The Mercies by Kirin Millwood Hargrave
It’s 1617 and there isn’t much that is not unforgiving when it comes to the far-flung and frigid town of Vardø, Norway, including the sea that surrounds it, which swallows the majority of its male population in an epic storm while they’re out fishing. The women are forced to fend for themselves or starve, but in a world where gender roles are prescribed and biblical patriarchy reigns, starving would be more acceptable than doing the “men’s work” necessary to survive. For the few that deem this option impractical, the fact that they are able to do so with relative ease means that witchcraft must be involved! And the pious are only too willing to bite the hands that are feeding them, and cooperate with the man recruited to restore the natural order of things. It’s a good thing Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is so beautifully written, it balances the brutality of what unfolds, but doesn’t blunt the impact of a cautionary tale that is surprisingly relevant for its historical setting. A page-turner that is infuriating, baleful, but full of stubborn hope, you won’t cry mercy before finishing it. —Erin Kodicek
Need a great summer read? Look no further than this list of our favorite fiction, published between January and June.