Jonathan Evison’s new novel This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! introduces our heroine Harriet on the day she is born, and through shifting narration and flashbacks, tells us of her life story. Using the format of the popular 1950s game show This Is Your Life, we meet all the characters and memories that have shaped Harriet’s existence. By all appearances, she has played it safe: a husband, housework, children and a couple of close friends. So when she discovers that her late husband bid on and won an Alaskan cruise at a silent auction, she decides to go ahead and have the adventure on her own at age 78.
On the cruise, she gets much more than she bargained for: the reappearing ghost of her husband, her estranged daughter showing up to share her cabin and a letter that reveals that so many parts of her life were never what they seemed to be.
The lighthearted and shifting narration isn’t just a fun ride of a novel (at parts, it really is), it is a complex and deeply moving look at a flawed, earnest character finally trying to come to terms with what has been her life. Even though one chapter is set in present day and the next may be set in 1954, Harriet is very much a product of her age. She gives up on her dream of being a lawyer to settle down with her husband, Bernard. She spends all her time and energy on the house and their children. She becomes Bernard’s sole caregiver as he battles Alzheimer’s at the end of his life. She makes many mistakes in the process. Through the replay of the good times (which are few) and the not-so-good times (which are many), it is impressive that Harriet is still searching for a positive outcome.
At its heart, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is a novel about relationships and the choices we make to keep those relationships going, especially our relationship with ourselves. A great choice for book clubs, this novel will resonate with fans of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.
Two best friends fall for the same guy in Kris Dinnison’s new teen fiction novel You and Me and Him, but it’s not the same old story you may have heard.
Meet Maggie: she’s funny. She’s snarky. She’s smart. She’s a social outcast because of her weight. Meet Nash: he’s funny. He’s snarky. He’s smart. He’s also a social outcast, but because he’s gay. Because of their social statuses, Maggie and Nash have been inseparable since elementary school, helping each other weather the pains of childhood and adolescence. They crush on the same boys and shake off the same bullies in their tiny town near Seattle.
Enter Tom: the new boy. Charming, friendly and good-looking, Tom gravitated towards Maggie and Nash from the day he entered their school. As he hangs out at the record store where Maggie works (and where Nash gets all the gossip), Tom’s presence starts to peck away at the deep bond between these two BFFs when it is apparent that he may have feelings for only one of them. It doesn’t help matters that Kayla, the mean girl who ruined Maggie’s middle school years, seems determined to suddenly become friends again. It’s a lot of emotional upheaval to deal with. Add in the pressure from the adults in their lives to conform to what their standards of being “perfect” might be, and Maggie and Nash see what they thought was their unshakable friendship start to unravel.
The beauty of this novel lies in the character of Maggie: relatable and realistic, she’s not one of the cookie cutter heroines that typically populate the teen fiction genre. As she gains confidence throughout the story, it’s easy to root for her to not just have a happily-ever-after, but actually stand on her own.
Fans of novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower will enjoy this story of teenage friendship and all its ups and downs.
Amanda Panitch’s new psychological thriller Damage Done is being heralded by many as a Gone Girl read-alike for teen readers.
Julia Vann doesn’t remember anything that happened in the high school band room. She emerged the sole survivor of a shooting spree that left her boyfriend, best friend and nine other people dead. The shooter? Her twin brother Ryan.
Desperate to start a new life and leave the pain of the past behind them, her family changes names, moves south, and thus Julia is now Lucy Black. At her new school, Lucy has a best friend, a lunch table and a mild flirtation with a boy on the swim team who sits next to her in Spanish class. Life is attempting to get back to some semblance of normal. But then someone connected to that awful day starts appearing in unexpected places. Lucy knows that it is only a matter of time before the past will catch up with her; in order to stop the threat to her new life, she knows she must act quickly.
With danger at every turn, Panitch’s twisted novel does a lot to engage the reader from the first page. The author uses flashbacks from before the shooting to develop the codependent, unsettling relationship between Julia and Ryan. As the plot develops, readers are drawn to construct what really happened when Ryan entered the band room with the gun and what Julia swears she doesn’t remember. Damage Done is a great read for older teens who prefer something darker and more sinister than typical teen romantic fare.
The lush setting of Barbados — its rich history and tenacious people — is the backdrop of Naomi Jackson’s elegantly-written debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill.
Sixteen-year-old Dionne and her 10-year-old sister Phaedra are shipped to live with their tough grandmother Hyacinth in Barbados to lessen the burden on their ill mother. The culture shock of living in a world apart from their beloved Brooklyn and navigating the tumultuous waters of adolescence in a place foreign to them is starting to wear on their own sense of self and their relationship with each other.
Dionne’s desire to be a true American teenager — with parties, dates and taking risks — contrasts sharply with the Bird Hill neighborhood of close-knit women. Whispers of her own mother’s difficult teenage years follow her around, and she wants desperately to be both similar to and separate from that legacy.
Phaedra observes how the entire community leans on her grandmother for support, both in this world and beyond. Hyacinth’s practice of obeah, an ancient mysticism of the West Indies, lures Phaedra into learning as much as she can from her grandmother. As the festival time of Kadooment Day draws near, Dionne and Phaedra will have to reconcile their past selves with their new lives, and make a difficult decision about where they want to be.
Richly constructed and heartbreakingly honest, this beautiful novel should be at the top of the summer reading list for fans of Zadie Smith and Alice McDermott. Those looking for a new, bold literary voice will find one in Naomi Jackson.
Eight Hundred Grapes is what it takes to make a single bottle of wine, and one family’s secrets can’t be contained in a bottle in Laura Dave’s excellent new summer read.
Georgia Ford walks out of her wedding dress fitting and shows up at her childhood home on her family's vineyard, still wearing her dress, grappling with a major question about her future life with her fiancé, Ben. Looking for the comfort of her parents and her two brothers, not to mention her mother’s famous lasagna, she finds not everything at their once idyllic Last Straw Vineyard is the way it is supposed to be.
Her mother seems distracted and far away, her brothers are barely speaking and her father, well, he’s the workaholic he’s always been, but there’s a difference she can’t quite put her finger on. Then, there’s the grapes: Will this year’s harvest be their best but their last? As Georgia stays in her old bedroom and ignores Ben’s frantic phone calls, she finds herself taking on the responsibility of keeping everything and everyone together: The family she thought nothing could ever break apart, the relationship she thought was invincible and the family business, the one constant beauty they have all revolved around for their lives.
If you devoured two of the most popular books of last summer, Rainbow Rowell’s Landline and Emma Straub’s The Vacationers, you’ll love Eight Hundred Grapes. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine!