When Fly and Stela meet in 21st Century New York City, it seems like fate. He’s a Black American musician from a mixed-religious background who knows all about heartbreak. She’s a Catholic science teacher from the Caribbean, looking for lasting love. But are they meant to be? The answer goes back decades—all the way to their parents’ earliest loves. Vibrant and emotionally riveting, Monster in the Middle moves across decades, from the U.S. to the Virgin Islands to Ghana and back again, to show how one couple’s romance is intrinsically influenced by the family lore and love stories that preceded their own pairing. What challenges and traumas must this new couple inherit, what hopes and ambitions will keep them moving forward? Exploring desire and identity, religion and class, passion and obligation, the novel posits that in order to answer the question “who are we meant to be with?” we must first understand who we are and how we came to be.
If she’s being honest, Sammie Lucas is scared of her son. Working from home in the close quarters of their Florida house, she lives with one wary eye peeled on Samson, a sullen, unknowable boy who resists her every attempt to bond with him. Uncertain in her own feelings about motherhood, she tries her best—driving, cleaning, cooking, prodding him to finish projects for school—while growing increasingly resentful of Monika, her confident but absent wife. As Samson grows from feral toddler to surly teenager, Sammie’s life begins to deteriorate into a mess of unruly behavior, and her struggle to create a picture-perfect queer family unravels. When her son’s hostility finally spills over into physical aggression, Sammie must confront her role in the mess—and the possibility that it will never be clean again.
It is a perfect July morning, and Elle, a fifty-year-old happily married mother of three, awakens at “The Paper Palace”—the family summer place which she has visited every summer of her life. But this morning is different: last night Elle and her oldest friend Jonas crept out the back door into the darkness and had sex with each other for the first time, all while their spouses chatted away inside. Now, over the next twenty-four hours, Elle will have to decide between the life she has made with her genuinely beloved husband, Peter, and the life she always imagined she would have had with her childhood love, Jonas, if a tragic event hadn’t forever changed the course of their lives. As Heller colors in the experiences that have led Elle to this day, we arrive at her ultimate decision with all its complexity. Tender yet devastating, The Paper Palace considers the tensions between desire and dignity, the legacies of abuse, and the crimes and misdemeanors of families.
Chrissie is eight years old and she has a secret: she has just killed a boy. The feeling of it made her belly fizz like soda pop. Across her neighborhood, Chrissie’s playmates and their parents are tearful and terrified. Twenty years later, adult Chrissie is living in hiding under a changed name. A single mother now, she cares deeply for her own young daughter, which is why she’s so terrified when it appears that people are looking for them. The past is coming to catch up with Chrissie and she fears losing her child, the only thing she cares about.
Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years — good years — but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. There’s the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other. But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it. Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end. Memorial is a funny and profound story about family in all its strange forms, joyful and hard-won vulnerability, becoming who you’re supposed to be, and the limits of love.
Danielle Evans is widely acclaimed for her blisteringly smart voice and x-ray insights into complex human relationships. With The Office of Historical Corrections, Evans zooms in on particular moments and relationships in her characters’ lives in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture, and history. She introduces us to Black and multi-racial characters who are experiencing the universal confusions of lust and love, and getting walloped by grief—all while exploring how history haunts us, personally and collectively. Ultimately, she provokes us to think about the truths of American history—about who gets to tell them, and the cost of setting the record straight.
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?
A dramatic and deeply moving novel of three generations coping with secrets, violence, and grief, against a backdrop of political and social unrest.
They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.
One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover the lifeless body of her son wrapped in fabric on the welcome mat. The story of that child, Vivek Oji, is the story of two families from disparate cultures who came together in a time of upheaval, and of Vivek’s struggle to be true to a self whose spirit and longings defy conventional expectations. Raised by a privileged, distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, fugue states that disrupt all connection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women resettled in the area. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand his friend’s escalating crisis—the mystery of Vivek’s behavior gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of transcendent freedom.
Propulsively readable, teeming with vivid and unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a story of family and friendship that challenges expectations at every turn. It is a major step forward from a writer of rare insight into the porous barriers between body and identity, spirit, and self.
A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the postwar American West.
Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. The air is rich with the tang of salt and citrus, but the limits of her new life seem to be closing in: She misses her freethinking mother, dead before Muriel’s nineteenth birthday, and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof, and falling in love with Henry, a young card cheat. When Henry is eventually discovered and run out of town, Julius takes off to search for him in the plazas and dives of Tijuana, trading one city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions for another.
On Swift Horses is a debut of astonishing power: a story of love and luck, of two people trying to find their place in a country that is coming apart even as it promises them everything.
Set against the opioid crisis in Philadelphia and a string of mysterious murders, this gripping suspense novel is also an unflinching, moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties between place, history, family, and fate.
In a city rocked by the opioid crisis, one family strikes a particularly poignant profile. One sister, Kacey, has been living on the streets for years in the vise of a fierce heroin addiction. The other sister, Mickey, is the police officer whose beat includes Kacey’s regular haunts. The two don’t speak anymore, and the police department has no idea of their connection, but Mickey never stops worrying and watching over her sibling. Mickey understands what Kacey is contending with. Mickey just has different demons.
Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins within Mickey’s precinct, and Mickey panics over her sister’s safety. The victims, it seems, fit Kacey’s profile precisely. Risking her job, and maybe even the welfare of her four-year-old son, Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding out what happened to her sister and the other missing women.
Alternating this present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, and with Mickey’s adult attempts to balance work and single-motherhood, Long Bright River is a rich and cinematic novel that is so riveting, surprising, heart-pounding and heart-wrenching, that it is impossible to look away.