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1. Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
In this reimagining of American history, the Underground Railroad is a literal one. After Cora, a slave on a Georgia plantation, is beaten and raped by her master, she flees north, encountering more peril along the way.
2. Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson
Four young women growing up in 1970s Brooklyn deal with racism, sexual assault, poverty, grief and other traumas. Some overcome these obstacles; some don’t.
3. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
An encounter at a christening party breaks up two marriages and drastically alters the lives of the children of both families. Years later, when the child from the baptism grows up, she confesses her family’s secrets to a lover — who later uses them in a novel, inciting turmoil once again.
4. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
This debut novel alternates between two sides of a family tree, each chapter focusing on a different descendant from two half-sisters in 18th century Ghana. While one remains in Africa, the other is sold into slavery, bound for America.
5. All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders
As the world threatens to crumble, two friends who haven’t seen each other since childhood realize the fate of humanity depends on them both. While one is part of a community with magical powers, the other has accomplished incredible feats of engineering — both will be necessary to save the world.
6. Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett
After a son inherits his father’s severe depression and anxiety, his family spends years searching for a way to ease his pain. Even as a solution grows closer, Michael’s mental illness ripples through his siblings’ personal relationships.
7. Swing Time, Zadie Smith
Two girls growing up in public housing in London both have a love for dance; only one has the talent to make a career of it. In adulthood, the narrator trades the poverty of London for the poverty of Muslim West Africa — until events send her back to her domineering mother and larger-than-life friend.
8. The Trespasser, Tana French
In the latest installment of the Dublin Murder Squad series, a gritty detective who doesn’t fit in with her all-male squad tries to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman in her own home—encountering suspicious resistance from her own colleagues along the way.
9. My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
A visit from the narrator’s estranged mother while she’s in the hospital for a severe infection leads to ruminations on a life of alienation — from her childhood rooted in rural poverty to an urban adulthood marked by loneliness.