Best literature and fiction of May

Erin Kodicek on May 12, 2020

Best literature and fiction of May

The smart, summer read you've been waiting for; a unique and propulsive debut about a gay teenager who can bring plants and animals back to life; a young Korean boy with a mental disorder that leaves him unable to understand or express emotions finds connection in the most unlikely of places; and a heartwarming tale of villagers banding together to save the house that Jane Austen once lived in.

See all of our literature and fiction picks, or browse the rest of the Best Books of the Month

All Adults Here by Emma Straub

Astrid Strick is about to get her hair done when she witnesses an acquaintance being hit by a bus, an event that frees a repressed memory from the time when she was raising her three children. Said children are now all grown up, at least in age: her youngest son, a former teen star and current pothead, has just shipped his 13-year-old daughter to live with Astrid after an incident at her New York school. Astrid’s oldest is working on real estate development deals in town—but he seems to be seeking validation and is only sure of the fact that he wants to escape his children. And her only girl is working on a goat farm and about to become a single mother who just can’t quit her (married) high school boyfriend. Straub perfectly captures the warmth and messiness of families, and the truth that no matter how old we get, our family always reduces us to childhood patterns. While Straub takes on some big topics—sexuality, abortion, gender identity—we’ll all see our own families reflected back to us through the Stricks. All Adults Here is a fresh and not unhopeful take on family dysfunction. It’s the perfect smart summer read. —Sarah Gelman

Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson

When Max’s parents move the family from Germany to Alabama for a job in the auto industry, shy, gay Max embraces the South wholly: the breath-stealing heat, the intimacy of group prayer, the larger-than-life personalities, and the effortless friendship of the football team he joins. As Max’s relationship deepens with a femme boy named Pan, so does his fascination with a dangerous and charismatic local strain of Christianity. The adults are harboring as many secrets as the teenagers, and the book explores how emotional vulnerability and physical brutality carry equal power to hurt. Simple sentences, subtly shifted diction, and the suppleness of point of view that comes from not using quotation marks make this story difficult to put down and genuinely unique. A beautifully inscribed invitation to see masculinity, the American South, and even God through fresh eyes, suggesting that what most defines us is what we celebrate and mourn. —Katy Ball

Almond by Won-pyung Sohn

I’m just going to say it: This novel made me laugh, wince, hold my breath with anticipation, and cry. I couldn’t put it down. When Yunjae sees another kid getting beat up in an alley, he just stares. He doesn’t intervene, he doesn’t run away. Pages later, we learn this Korean boy’s inability to express or understand emotion (including anger, which he has plenty reason to feel) is due to a mental disorder. The reality of Yunjae’s condition is pushed to the limits in this brilliantly fresh novel. As he comes of age, an unimaginable tragedy strikes his family, and Yunjae must navigate the world on his own—high school, running his mother’s bookstore, teenage brawls, and an emotion he has never understood: love. Violence threatens him at every turn, but it is precisely his disability that allows him to survive. Filled with heart-aching sentences and stunning moments of resilience and care (when you learn why he eats almonds, I defy you not to feel a pang), Won-pyung Sohn’s debut novel examines a world in which connection trumps emotion and loyalty becomes more than a feeling.—Al Woodworth

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Fans of novels such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Lilac Girls, or The Chilbury Ladies' Choir should make sure to add The Jane Austen Society to their library. Set in the tiny village of Chawton, during and after World War II, it’s a story about eight people from very different backgrounds—from a farm laborer to a movie starlet—who, in saving the house Jane Austen last lived in from developers, unexpectedly save themselves from loneliness, grief, and loss. Author Natalie Jenner does a marvelous job of showing how a disparate group of villagers could go from enduring their disappointments in quiet solitude, to being united, both by their love of Jane Austen and their determination to preserve her home. With a humorous mix of characters from both upstairs and downstairs that would do Julian Fellowes proud, and with affectionate, pitch-perfect character studies of each, The Jane Austen Society pays tribute to the power of literature to heal and bring people together. But best of all, it will charm readers and make them feel as though they share the sorrows and the triumphs of their new friends: Adam, Adeline, Andrew, Evie, Frances, Dr. Gray, Mimi, and Yardley. —Vannessa Cronin

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