Great Group Reads 2017

We at Booklist 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. 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 following titles cover timely and provocative topics and include under-represented gems from independent presses and lesser-known mid-list releases from larger houses. The 2017 list is below, with links to their Booklist reviews when available.

 

The Best of Us: A Memoir, by Joyce Maynard

In Erich Segal’s indelible novel Love Story, cancer tragically ends a great romance. Maynard could have used the same title for her latest memoir. This haunting story, penned by a master wordsmith, is a reminder to savor every loved one and every day.

 

The Clay Girl, by Heather Tucker

When her father shoots himself, eight-year-old Harriet is sent to Toronto live with her Aunt Mary. And thus Ari, as Harriet is known, is launched into the tumultuous 60s, where the smart, spirited girl grapples with darkness, loss, and family drama—with the help of an imaginary seahorse she calls Jasper.

 

The Heart’s Invisible Furiesby John Boyne

Boyne, author of the internationally best-selling children’s book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006), here turns to adult fiction to deliver the epic story of Cyril Avery, who—after being born out of wedlock in Dublin in 1945—is adopted as a baby by a dissolute banker and a chain-smoking author of literary novels.

 

The Hearts of Men, by Nickolas Butler

Butler’s best-selling debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs (2012), garnered widespread praise for its poignant depiction of small-town life in a Wisconsin farming community. Using the backdrop of his home state once again, this time centering on a Boy Scout campground in Wisconsin’s north woods, Butler’s latest work follows the erratic fortunes of Nelson Doughty, an aspiring Eagle Scout and virtually friendless outcast.

 

Kinship of Cloverby Ellen Meeropol

Jeremy Beaujolais, a student of botany at the University of Massachusetts, is so committed to botanical preservation that just listing the names of all the flora species going extinct on a campus radio program gives him a panic attack so serious that the school authorities insist that he take an academic break.

 

Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of Loss and Loveby Marissa Moss

Moss, famous for the children’s series Amelia’s Notebook, here turns to decidedly adult matters. Readers are invited into her home during one of the most intimate and turbulent times in her family’s history, her husband’s quick decline and untimely death from ALS.

 

The Life She Was Givenby Ellen Marie Wiseman

Lilly Blackwood has spent all of her nine years locked in an attic room at Blackwood Manor Horse Farm because, as her mother tells her, she is an abomination. When the traveling Barlow Brothers’ Circus pitches its tents nearby, Momma marches her over and sells her.

 

Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran

Contrary to what the title suggests, this remarkably empathetic story is about two women, mothers separated by ethnicity and class, whose orbits of longing intersect around one “lucky boy,” Ignacio.

 

Mothers and Other Strangersby Gina Sorell

Sorell’s debut novel may at first appear to be literary suspense, but it’s much more the tale of a fractured mother-daughter relationship and its fallout. Elsie’s mother, Rachel, has succumbed to cancer Elsie was unaware of. Elsie inherits her mother’s apartment and discovers more secrets.

 

News of the Worldby Paulette Jiles

In the winter of 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels from town to town reading current news of ratified amendments and polar expeditions to (mostly) attentive audiences. When he’s asked to deliver a 10-year-old German girl back to her relatives in San Antonio in exchange for $50 in gold, he agrees.

 

One Good Mama Boneby Bren McClain

As a child, Sarah Creamer was told by her mother that “you ain’t got you one good mama bone in you, child.” As a widow, Sarah is still haunted by those words as she struggles to make ends meet for herself and seven-year-old Emerson Bridge, the illegitimate son of her husband and her best friend.

 

Pachinkoby Min Jin Lee

A decade after her international best-selling debut, Lee delivers an exquisite, haunting epic that crosses almost a century, four generations, and three countries while depicting an ethnic Korean family that cannot even claim a single shared name because, as the opening line attests: “History has failed us.”

 

The Redemption of Galen Pike: Short Stories, by Carys Davies

In her second short story collection, Davies (Some New Ambush, 2007) takes readers on a globe-spanning journey from the American Southwest to Siberia. Deep, layered, and darkly funny, her prose won Davies the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award.

 

Salt Housesby Hala Alyan

The war may have only lasted six days, but its impact echoes through generations of a Palestinian family in this ambitious debut novel. Each chapter offers a crystalline glimpse into a different character’s life, their stories jarringly redirected by the conflicts in the Middle East.

 

Smokeby Dan Vyleta

Historical-novelist Vyleta imagines an alternative turn-of-the-century England where the proletariat and aristocratic classes are further divided by the relationship to Smoke, the manifestation of sin that flows from the body as blackened breath or ashen sweat whenever someone thinks or acts immorally.

 

So Much Blueby Percival Everett

Kevin Pace, an artist living in New England, is working obsessively on a painting in his barn. It is a massive canvas, the object of daily struggles and inner turmoil. No one is allowed to see it, to the vexation of his family and closest friend, Richard, who all worry that he’s drinking again.

 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Laneby Lisa See

See, herself partly of Chinese ancestry, creates a complex narrative that ambitiously includes China’s political and economic transformation, little-known cultural history, the intricate challenges of transracial adoption, and an insightful overview of the global implications of specialized teas.

 

The Velveteen Daughterby Laurel Davis Huber

Debut novelist Huber brings psychological acuity and tender empathy to her portraits of Margery Williams, the English American author of the children’s literature classic The Velveteen Rabbit, and her artist daughter, Pamela Bianco—lives so intertwined that it would be difficult to tell their stories separately.

 

We Were the Lucky Onesby Georgia Hunter

Hunter’s novel about what happens to the family after the Germans invade in 1939 is based on her own family’s experiences.  Amid the many accounts of Jews who did not survive the Holocaust, this novel stands out in its depiction of one lucky family who, miraculously, did.

 

The Woman Next Doorby Yewande Omotoso

Omotoso’s U.S. debut is an intimate, frequently hilarious look at the lives of two extraordinary women set in postapartheid South Africa. Hortensia James and Marion Agostino have been neighbors and enemies for more than 20 years.As the chapters unfold, readers learn the origins of their deliberate antagonism.