We at The Booklist Reader are proud to once again partner with the Women’s National Book Association for National Reading Group Month. Every October, the WNBA supplies a list of Great Group Reads—and my colleagues inform me that this list comes at the perfect time of year for book-group leaders. This is a time when many of them are beginning to plot out the reading for their book groups in the coming year, and the Great Group Reads list makes an excellent place to start.
The 20 titles on this year’s list have been chosen for their appeal to reading groups by a selection committee of writers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, publicists, and committed readers. The titles cover timely and provocative topics and include under-represented gems from independent presses and lesser-known mid-list releases from larger houses. The 2015 list is below, with annotations provided by the WNBA and links to Booklist reviews when available.
All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
This novel is an honest, compassionate story about sisters and what it feels like to love someone who is determined to take her own life. This book takes a clear-eyed look at devotion, jealousy, and depression, examining right-to-die issues and what it means to be family.
All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir, by Shulem Deen
A courageous memoir about faith, doubt, freedom, and hope from the author, raised in one of the most restrictive Hasidic Jewish communities. From his arranged marriage at 18 and subsequent parenthood, to his transgressions which led to his questioning of the faith, he details his painful pathway to integrity.
The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
Peter is a Christian pastor who goes to proselytize a community of earthlings and another race on a distant planet. The inventive story is an elegant device for a meditation on faith, the profundity of life, the communication of love, and a multitude of contemplative concepts. The work is intelligent, genre-bending, and full of provocative questions.
Call Me Home, by Megan Kruse
Three distinct voices are woven together with depth and compassion in a story about family, individual decisions, and what it means to be home. Kruse explores love, betrayal, family bonds, domestic violence, and hope, even false hope, asking us all to consider how we love, and why we make the choices we do.
Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham
A story about addiction and human trafficking that is told with unforgettable beauty through three distinct characters: a mother, her son, and the actual drug, crack, that threatens to overpower them and their love for one another. Disturbing and timely, this is a novel that is unforgettable.
Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg
Clegg explores the effects of terrible loss in this wrenching debut novel told from multiple viewpoints. From its opening lines to the final ones, this lyrical novel is brutally direct yet ultimately optimistic—a tour de force of empathy and healing, with unforgettable characters.
Dietland, by Sarai Walker
This witty, subversive story follows Plum, the 300-pound main character, as she struggles with her weight, joins a cult-like group aimed at helping her lose weight, and comes to an understanding of herself and her body. This is a multi-layered send-up of the diet industry and a close look at society’s obsession with appearance.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper
One morning, eight-three-year-old Etta starts walking the 3,232 kilometers from her rural western Canada home to the Atlantic Ocean. Husband Otto and neighbor Russell have their own journeys as Etta continues eastward with the coyote James by her side. Flashbacks fill out this heartfelt story of longings and memories.
Henna House, by Nomi Eve
A sensuous and intimate tale of a Yemenite Jewish woman’s coming of age and the ancient art of henna painting, evocatively told from the 1920’s in a village in the mountains of Yemen, through the devastation of the Holocaust to the 1948 birth of Israel. Eve’s beguiling story covers love, loss, betrayal, and forgiveness, threaded throughout with the powerful ritual of henna.
Landfall, by Ellen Urbani
The stories and destinies of two teenagers—one black, one white—converge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In her debut novel, Urbani shows us the resiliency of the human spirit through the voices of these women as they alternately narrate their enthralling stories.
Make Your Home Among Strangers, by Jennine Capó Crucet
Cuban American Lizet is caught between two worlds, as the first of her family to go to college. This debut novel adroitly, humorously, and heartbreakingly describes the “double vision” of being a part of an immigrant community, aspiring for more but without the support of your calamitous family, and finding yourself out of your element in both worlds.
Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man, by Thomas Page Mcbee
What does it takes to be a man? Here, we meet one person who is preparing to transition from female to male and deal with his abusive father. A tender novel about manhood and imperfection, violence and self-possession, this book is a timely example of one man’s experience of masculinity, personal identity, and change.
Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League, by Jonathan Odell
A rich white woman and her black maid despise each other in 1950’s Mississippi, but their painful losses and the powerful currents of social change around them challenge them to reconsider each other. Themes of racial patterns, family and marriage, and friendship are gracefully explored.
No. 4 Imperial Lane, by Jonathan Weisman
In this beautifully written debut novel, a young American signs on as a caregiver to a quadriplegic to extend his year abroad in Britain. As David gets to know the Bromwells, he learns about their tragic connection with war-torn Angola, and his own life is changed.
Orphan #8, by Kim van Alkemade
A tale inspired by true events, the Jewish orphanage in early 20th century New York City comes to life through 4-year-old Rachel, who suffers disfigurement from medical experimentation there, becomes a nurse, and later finds herself caring for the doctor that experimented on her. Beautifully atmospheric, each character provides thought-provoking dilemmas and decisions.
A Perfect Crime, by A Yi
A stunning psychological story from the People’s Republic of China centered on a motiveless murder. The author, a former policeman in China, subtly and chillingly examines the social isolation and morality issues of a country trying to rapidly adjust to immense upheaval in its social fabric and culture.
The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, by Christopher Scotton
A man reflects on the revelatory summer he spent in a remote Appalachian coal town. This debut novel, full of richly drawn characters and lovingly portraying the beauty of the mountains, powerfully delves into issues of prejudice, environmental and economic conflicts, love, loss, and redemption.
A Sister to Honor, by Lucy Ferriss
Afia Satar and her brother Shahid leave their devout Islamic home in Pakistan to study in the U.S. Shahid promises his parents he will protect his sister, but when a Facebook photo shows Afia holding hands with an American boy, the consequences spiral out of Shahid’s control—a riveting and very relevant novel.
Kim’s memoir of her six months teaching English in North Korea to the son’s of North Korea’s elite is fascinating and troubling, a rare look into a closed society where contact with the world outside is strictly forbidden.
The Wonder Garden, by Lauren Acampora
A serene suburban location, Old Cranberry, is the setting for thirteen interconnected stories of oddities, revelations, and dichotomies that are sharply imaginative and highly original. Frequently compared to Cheever, Wharton, and O’Connor, Acampora’s debut offers a stylish and new interpretation of contemporary residential American life.