Reading season has begun! (Ann Patchett and Jodi Picoult fans rejoice!) This powerhouse list of fall 2016 fiction is for women, by women.
Yes, men are still writing books—and plenty of them are good, sometimes even great. (I’m smiling even as I type that.) However, plenty of other critics and sites will tell you about those books. I’d like to give you a big, beautiful list of fall 2016 fiction reads for women, by women.
You’re not getting shortchanged in the slightest: all of these are really good, and a few are truly great. There are novels here for every taste, from meditations on being young and single to meditations on being older and single; immigrants to the United States, and citizens of other countries; stark reality, and near-fable. Bring this list to your next book group meeting and see what develops.
The titles are listed alphabetically by author. Please share your thoughts and any additional recommendations in the comments—we’d love to know what you’re excited to read as the leaves turn!
1. Nine Island
by Jane Alison
What happens when a woman in middle age who lives in a creepy Miami Beach condo tower considers “retiring from love?” J., an Ovid scholar, starts to see things metamorphose—and realizes that there’s much more to her life than being seen as sexual. That’s an important, and sadly unusual, lesson for women around the world—that we have purpose and service to others that doesn’t revolve around how we look. ($10)
2. The Mothers
by Brit Bennett
If you read just one book this year, make it Bennett’s astonishing take on how a youthful mistake affects an entire community. Gorgeous, talented (and African-American) Nadia takes up with handsome, gifted (and Anglo-American) Luke. Sounds familiar? Not in Bennett’s prose. Her novel reminds us that people should judge less and love more; look for common humanity rather than differences. ($20)
by Jade Chang
As a once-rich Chinese immigrant named Charlie Wang takes his family on a road trip, readers will learn about ties that bind, ties that chafe, and ties that eventually get unknotted so that first-generation children can move on and assimilate. Hilarious and heartfelt debut. Although several characters seem obsessed with the superficial, when it gets right down to brass tacks, they come together in a way that demonstrates why what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
by Fiona Davis
Long past the 1950s heyday of Manhattan’s Barbizon Hotel for Women, its elderly resident Darby McLaughlin slowly reveals a sad and complicated story to Rose, a younger woman there for the once-chic residence’s end. A mystery focused on people we often overlook: The aged, the tattered, the minorities, and the dead. As Rose discovers, even the latter can speak and tell us important truths if we keep our hearts open and willing.
5. The Wonder
by Emma Donoghue
The author of Room (you read it, maybe even saw the movie) is back with another story about a child in unusual circumstances. Anna O’Donnell is a farmer’s daughter in 19th-century Ireland who seems to be living on water and air. A miracle, a fraud, or outright abuse? You won’t put it down. I promise. Donoghue wants to show readers why it’s vital to listen and to pay attention to facts instead of anyone’s personally formed beliefs.
6. Shining Sea
by Anne Korkeakivi
If you’re looking for a big, beautiful family saga, look no further. But Korkeakivi (An Unexpected Guest) also examines how war and trauma are passed down and seen (or not seen, as the case may be) in generations of an American family. You’ll be surprised at the origin of the title. We need to talk about war and how it affects combatants—but as the Gannon family might tell you, sometimes talking about war isn’t the thing veterans want or need.
by Caroline Leavitt
Oh, the 1960s. To those of us too young to have experienced them, sometimes they sound so heightened and alive. For Leavitt (Pictures of You), a teenaged protagonist and her older sister are the fodder for an intense look at what happened when someone fell from those 1960s heights. It’s an honest look, too, at what happens when a person becomes responsible for someone else that will have caregivers of all types nodding in familiarity.
by Imbolo Mbue
You will never look at a chauffeur/hired-car driver in the same way again after you read Mbue’s fantastic debut about Jende Jonga and his wife Neni, an ultrasound technician. Their struggles to cement new lives in America intersect with a hedge-fund trader’s struggles to stay afloat. At one time, everyone’s family members were immigrants. Mbue’s lively writing will remind readers that the American Dream involves a lot of people from other countries who worked very hard to make that dream come true for their progeny.
by Carolyn Parkhurst
Alexandra Hammond has two daughters: Tilly and Iris. Tilly has an undiagnosable learning/personality disorder that drives their family to Camp Harmony, in the hopes that Tilly might benefit from its founder’s philosophy. As Alexandra and Iris relate, that’s anything but true. Whether you’re a parent or not, Harmony will make you weep with its incisive view of how we fall for false prophets.
by Ann Patchett
Who gets to tell a story? Who gets to tell your story? Patchett’s latest book seems quiet, until the disparate chapters about members of a blended family coalesce into a story that never got told. In a way, Commonwealth is our commonweal, a history of modern America and its orphans. Despite the central tragedy, it’s also a story of how members of a blended family take very good and long, deep care of one another.
by Jodi Picoult
Picoult always takes on the issues of the day, and in her latest book she focuses on white privilege and how its exercise can be disastrous. The “small” in the title refers first to a baby and the “great” first to a brave nurse, but as the story unfolds, readers come to understand so much more. As our country faces racial tensions and schism, this novel is a step towards recognizing our own views on racism and “other people.”
by Maria Semple
We all read and loved and laughed uproariously at Semple’s 2012 Where’d You Go, Bernadette? The author’s second novel beats the sophomore slump, managing to be wholly different yet just as funny as her first. Eleanor Flood thinks that “today will be different,” and unfortunately? She’s right. There’s a real lesson in this book, amidst its amazing humor, which is that instead of expecting today to be different, we should see about changing ourselves.
13. Little Nothing
by Marisa Silver
Pavla, born strangely disfigured, is the “little nothing” of the title; Danilo is the young local who loves her. All very conventional—and the only conventional things in this strange, glorious tale of transfiguration and wild nature. Trust me: you’ll have to read it to understand, but you’ll be transfixed. Silver, once a movie director, uses her trained eye to talk about the remarkable thing that is the female body—and how Western society misunderstands it.
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