Four people answer an ominous summons from human resources only to be deliberately trapped in an elevator in Goldin’s debut thriller.
In the highflying world of finance, Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie used to be superstars, but recently they’ve failed to close too many lucrative deals, and they know their jobs are hanging by a thread. Called to a Friday evening meeting at an office building under construction, they become trapped in the steel elevator, which has been rigged to emulate an escape room. If they solve the clues, perhaps they can find their way out. At first, they assume it’s just the worst team-building exercise ever—but the clues point them toward a much darker possibility. How much do they know about the deaths of two young associates? Will they be able to solve the mystery and escape—or is the whole system rigged against them? There’s a Spanish proverb used by Tana French in The Likeness: “ 'Take what you want and pay for it,’ says God.” The main characters in Goldin’s novel should probably have paid more attention to the second half of that saying. Powerful, attractive, and unbelievably wealthy, they truly believe that their security and success are worth protecting at any cost. Despite the unsavory characters—or perhaps even because of them—this novel is pure entertainment. Offering a modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, Goldin strings the reader along by alternating chapters set in the past and in the present and by peppering the present chapters with riddles and word games. This is a commentary on the cutthroat, hypocritical world of finance, where one must sacrifice everything to stay on top. It provides us with antagonists we love to hate as well as a sympathetic heroine who pays the ultimate price for survival: her own sense of goodness and fair play.
Cancel all your plans and call in sick; once you start reading, you’ll be caught in your own escape room—the only key to freedom is turning the last page!
When does the line between utopia and dystopia begin to merge? When you owe your soul to the company store.
Hart (Take Out, 2019, etc.) is best known for his private eye novels about Ash McKenna and a novella co-written with James Patterson (Scott Free, 2017), but he’s tapped a real vein of the zeitgeist with this stand-alone thriller about the future of work that reads like a combination of Dave Eggers’ tech nightmare, The Circle (2013), the public’s basic impression of an Amazon fulfillment center, and Parzival’s infiltration of IOI in Ready Player One (2011). In the near future, following a series of mass murders at retail outlets, traditional commerce is dead. Every need has been ported over to Cloud, a worldwide fulfillment facility where anyone who wants to survive works—those who don't either give in eventually or are a customer—in something of a feudal society where algorithms decide your role. Cloud is the brainchild of Gibson Wells, a mad genius who is dying of pancreatic cancer but whose role in the story is assured by his broadcasts to his millions of employees. Our two leads are Paxton, a former prison guard whose entrepreneurial invention was co-opted by Cloud and who has reluctantly taken a security job with his enemy’s empire, and Zinnia, a secretive operative with deadly skills whose role on the product-picking floor is only a means to an end. While touching on income inequality, drug addiction, and corporate espionage, Hart creates a compelling and intriguing thriller that holds up a black mirror to our own frightening state of affairs. Hart dedicates the book to a real victim, Maria Fernandes, who worked part time at three different jobs and accidentally suffocated on gas fumes while sleeping in her car in 2014. That’s a profound inspiration, and Hart has written a hell of a prosecution of modern commerce and the nature of work, all contained in the matrix of a Cory Doctorow–esque postmodern thriller that might not turn out the way you hoped.
Part video game, part Sinclair Lewis, part Michael Crichton; it adds up to a terrific puzzle.
In her first collection of short stories in more than a decade, Danticat tackles the complexities of diaspora with lyrical grace.
Danticat (The Art of Death, 2017, etc.) is a master of economy; she has always possessed the remarkable ability to build singular fictional worlds in a matter of sentences. This collection draws on Danticat's exceptional strengths as a storyteller to examine how migration to and from the Caribbean shapes her characters, whether they're scrounging up savings to pay ransom for a kidnapping, navigating youthful idealism and the pull of international aid work, or trying to erase the horrors of immigrating to the United States by sea. In "Dosas," Elsie, a home health care worker in Miami Shores, is shocked by a panicked phone call from her ex-husband about his new girlfriend's kidnapping in Port-au-Prince. What becomes increasingly clear, however, is that Elsie's ex-husband is a two-timing scammer who has derailed Elsie's life in more ways than one. With great care, Danticat demonstrates the razor's edge on which Elsie's own financial and emotional security is balanced: from the sacrifices she makes to send Blaise money to her fears about the safety of her own family. "Maybe there was something about her that wasn't enough," Elsie thinks, as she reconsiders her marriage. "Or something about him that wasn't enough....Some people just want to go home, no matter what the cost." When two former lovers meet for dinner on the Fourth of July in "The Gift," they struggle to reconnect across a yawning chasm of loss caused by the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in 2010. And, in "Without Inspection," an undocumented construction worker hurtles to his death from rickety scaffolding, imagining final visitations with his lover and adopted son. These are stories of lives upended by tragedies big and small, from political coups to closely guarded maternal secrets. Throughout each story, Danticat attends to the ways families are made and unmade: Mothers yearn for children, women recover from divorce, and aging parents suffer from dementia or succumb to death. No one is immune from pain, but Danticat asks her readers to witness the integrity of her subjects as they excavate beauty and hope from uncertainty and loss.
An extraordinary career milestone: spare, evocative, and moving.
A frontier tale dazzles with camels and wolves and two characters who never quite meet.
Eight years after Obreht’s sensational debut, The Tiger’s Wife (2011), she returns with a novel saturated in enough realism and magic to make the ghost of Gabriel García Márquez grin. She keeps her penchant for animals and the dead but switches up centuries and continents. Having won an Orange Prize for The Tiger’s Wife, a mesmerizing 20th-century Balkan folktale, Obreht cuts her new story from a mythmaking swatch of the Arizona Territory in 1893. The book alternates between the narratives of two complex, beset protagonists: Lurie, an orphan and outcast who killed a boy, and Nora, a prickly frontierswoman with her own guilty conscience. Both speak to the dead. Lurie sees ghosts from early childhood and acquires their “wants,” while Nora keeps up a running conversation with her daughter, Evelyn, dead of heatstroke as a baby but aging into a fine young woman in her mother’s mind. Obreht throws readers into the swift river of her imagination—it takes a while to realize that Lurie is addressing all his remarks to a camel. The land is gripped by terrible drought. As Nora’s homestead desiccates, her husband leaves in search of water, and her older sons bolt after an explosive dispute. An indignant local drunk wonders whether “anybody else in this town [had] read an almanac or history in their lives? What were they all doing here, watching the sky, farming rock and dust?” Still, a deep stoicism, flinty humor, and awe at the natural world pervade these characters. They are both treacherous and good company. Here is Nora, hyperaware of a man who’s not her husband: “Foremost on her mind: the flimsiness of her unlaundered shirt and the weight of her boots.” Lurie, hiding among the U.S. Army’s camel cavaliers (you can look them up), is dogged down the years by Arkansas Marshal John Berger. Their encounters mystify both men. Meanwhile, there are head lice, marvelous, dueling newspaper editorials, and a mute granny with her part to play.
The final, luminous chapter is six pages that will take your breath away.
Crimes and misdemeanors animate a spirited history.
Attracted once again to sin and subversion, Abbott (Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, 2014, etc.) sets her lively new tale during Prohibition, when George Remus, a teetotaling lawyer–turned-bootlegger, amassed an empire so large that even he could not keep count of the distilleries and drug companies—liquor could be sold legally with a doctor’s prescription—that yielded his fortune. Deposits to his savings accounts “averaged $50,000 a day, in an era when the average salary was $1,400 a year,” Abbott reveals. “The money came in so fast that Remus couldn’t deposit it all, forcing him to carry as much as $100,000 in his pockets at any given time.” He indulged in real estate, automobiles, and antiques, and his attractive young wife shopped with abandon, buying items such as solid gold service plates, diamonds, and furs. The family’s mansion was decorated with Persian rugs, European oil paintings, and, in the parlor, a solid gold piano. Their parties were notoriously extravagant: One New Year’s Eve, guests received diamonds and gold as party favors. With politicians, legislators, city police, and Prohibition officers taking bribes of cash and liquor, Remus felt confidently above the law. However, he did not account for the dogged perseverance of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, an ambitious Department of Justice prosecutor determined to enforce the 18th Amendment. With the help of a team of agents known as Mabelmen, she succeeded, landing Remus in jail, where, at one point, he had a maid to cook and serve meals for him, fellow prisoners, and select visitors. Remus would be a colorful subject just on the basis of his flagrant bootlegging, but his malfeasance came to include something much more serious: murder. Drawing on government files, archives, newspaper articles, and trial transcripts—one of which was more than 5,000 pages long—Abbott recounts in tense, vivid detail Remus’ entanglement in intrigue, betrayal, madness, and violence.
An entertaining tale ripped from the headlines of Jazz Age America.
Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.
In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.
A popular young writer tackles a host of cultural movements in her debut collection of essays.
In these nine stunning pieces, New Yorker staff writer Tolentino seamlessly melds together journalistic social criticism and revealing personal essays. To varying degrees of intimate context, she places herself within each narrative, reporting on broad social currents while revealing very specific encounters. Among the many topics the author explores: the expansive influence of the internet and social media; the increasing social pressure to optimize our interests and aspirations at all times (especially for women); the alarming proliferation and increased tolerance of scamming; societal, somewhat idealized traditions such as marriage and, more specifically, weddings. Tolentino recounts her experience with reality TV and reflects on her teenage identity when she appeared as a contestant in Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico. “Reality TV had not yet created a whole new type of person,” she writes, “the camera-animated assemblage of silicone and pharmaceuticals; we hadn’t yet seen the way organic personalities could decay on unscripted television, their half-lives measured through sponsored laxative-tea Instagrams and paid appearances at third-tier regional clubs.” She also recalls favorite literary books from her past, assessing the heroines’ varying plights in guiding her current feminist leanings. While offering razor-sharp commentary on the underbelly of our culture, she can also appreciate its attraction. Furthermore, she acknowledges her particular conundrum, having established her niche as a writer by staying in tune with cultural trends: “I don’t know what to do with the fact…that my career is possible in large part because of the way the internet collapses identity, opinion, and action—and that I, as a writer whose work is mostly critical and often written in first person, have some inherent stake in justifying the dubious practice of spending all day trying to figure out what you think.” Tolentino offers a millennial perspective that is deeply grounded, intellectually transcending her relative youth. She brings fresh perspective to current movements in a manner similar to that of Joan Didion in the 1960s and ’70s.
Exhilarating, groundbreaking essays that should establish Tolentino as a key voice of her generation.
Anarchy reigns on the high seas as a New York Times investigative reporter travels the world’s oceans.
Early on, Pulitzer Prize and George Polk Award winner Urbina (Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore, 2005) writes that the stories he turned up while roaming from port to port “felt less like journalism than an attention deficit disorder,” so bewildering and untidy did they seem, so without unalloyed heroes and villains. One figure in the narrative, for instance, is a law-trained, poetry-writing sailor whose job is to sneak into ports where ships have been impounded and, on behalf of their owners, steal those ships away; the work is dangerous and utterly demanding. “He struck me as an older Tintin,” writes the author. The good guys in the story are beleaguered, outnumbered, and often outmaneuvered. As Urbina writes of Palau’s efforts to halt maritime poaching, a former captain of an interdicted pirate ship arrested in 2016 was back as an ordinary deckhand six months later, making the effort “more myth of Sisyphus than David and Goliath.” If there are villains in the story, they are perhaps the unnamed owners of fishing fleets that put out to sea for long periods of time, for they are inspected and policed only in port. Urbina engagingly chronicles his travels from one trouble spot to another: oil rigs erected on continental shelves, just outside the territorial zones of neighboring nations and subject to little governance; pirate-rich Somalia, where he became a persona non grata; and Djibouti, one of the places where ship owners—in this case of a Thai fleet—“shop around for the most lax registries with the lowest prices and fewest regulations.” Urbina’s book ranks alongside those by Mark Bowden and Sebastian Junger, fraught with peril and laced with beer, the smell of sea air, and constant bouts of gaming an inept system.
A swift-moving, often surprising account of the dangers that face sailors and nations alike on the lawless tide.
Autumn loving, they had a blast; autumn loving, it happened too fast.
Having worked together in the Succotash Hut at the pumpkin patch for years, best friends and co-workers Deja and Josiah, who goes by Josie, ditch work and find love on their last night, heading out in search of Josie’s unrequited love, the girl who works in the Fudge Shoppe. Deja, a witty and outgoing girl who attracts—and is attracted to—boys and girls alike, is set on helping the shy, rule-following Josie move out of his comfort zone before they part ways for college. Deja encourages Josie to take a chance and talk to the girl of his dreams instead of pining for her from afar. Not to be dissuaded by his reticence, Deja leads Josie to multiple stops in the Patch in search of the almost-impossible-to-find Fudge Girl, with every stop taking them in a new direction and providing a new treat. As they journey through the Patch—chasing a snack-stealing rascal, dodging a runaway goat, and snacking their way through treats from fudge to Freeto pie—they explore the boundaries of their friendship. Visually bright and appealing in autumnal reds, oranges, and yellows, the art enhances this endearing picture of teenage love. Deja is a beautiful, plus-sized black girl, and Josie is a handsome, blond white boy.
A heartwarming, funny story filled with richness and complexity.
(Graphic fiction. 14-18)
Grief, addiction, first loves, and traveling an unplanned road are among the many themes explored in this debut novel.
After growing up in an insular town in Colorado, graduating senior Scarlett has big ambitions. Though she dabbles with alcohol and drugs, her intelligence, drive, and propensity for physics pave her way into college after college. At the same time, her close relationships prove difficult for Scarlett to leave behind: her best friend, Hannah; ex-boyfriend, Cody; and lifelong friend, David, with whom a clandestine romance, replete with a sort of magnetic sexual draw, blooms. Moving between the present and two points in the recent past, her heartfelt yet often sardonic first-person narration fills in the details of this deeply authentic story, realistically portraying how paralyzing unexpected circumstances and tragedy can be. Scarlett herself is marvelously complex, sympathetic but difficult, grief-stricken and funny. Secondary characters are also well developed, imbued with interesting backstories that help frame this study both in how people can break one another and hold each other together. Scarlett and David are both white, Cody is Latinx, and there is some diversity in ethnicity, gender, and sexuality among the people Scarlett meets while at her fictional college in Maine.
Lovely, evocative, unadorned writing shines in this smart, poignant story that serious teen readers shouldn’t miss
. (Fiction. 14-18)
Free verse provides an introspective voice for a teen struggling with an eating disorder.
Unhappy with her weight, June engages in severe dieting and keeps her determined attempts to starve herself secret. When Toby moves in next door, she learns he has his own private shame. Consequently, he keeps his relationship with June hidden and separate from his life as a popular basketball player. While June tries to binge and purge her way to thinness, she still sees the beauty in her own plus-sized sister, Mae, and awaits the day Mae sees it, too. Quinn (Down With the Shine, 2016, etc.) reveals what her characters want to hide as readers hope for a righteous ending. The physical layout of the text conveys profound truths about friendship, loyalty, and payback in accessible language that never obstructs the power of the message. Conversations are italicized, and lines that slip and slide, stagger and indent quietly communicate all the drama of high school to readers. Parents are inconsequential as the teens navigate societal expectations while trying desperately not to let their masks slip. Exquisite writing allows each poem to be savored individually as readers find bits of themselves reflected in the situations and characters and cheer on the unlikely hero. Characters are presumed white.
Rhythm, repetition, and carefully crafted writing relate the challenges of a teen girl reluctant readers would love to befriend.
(Verse novel. 14-18)
After a summer break spent in Beirut, Ghady, a Lebanese teenager, returns with his family to Brussels, Belgium, where they reside.
Left behind is Rawan, his female best friend, with whom he keeps in touch through email. Through their correspondence, readers find out about their dreams and ambitions but also, and most importantly, their teenage angst and worries: Rawan’s increasingly uneasy relationship with her parents and Ghady’s bouts with homesickness and racial stereotyping. Their stories—while told through the perspectives of two Lebanese characters—skillfully examine issues pertinent to adolescents everywhere: bullying, peer pressure, racial discrimination, conflicts with parents, substance abuse….The young peoples’ narratives and communications uncover each of their perceptions of the other’s world, with Rawan envious of the fast internet and 24/7 electricity Ghady enjoys in “well-organized” Brussels while Ghady longs for the extended family life of Lebanese culture and writes to Rawan that “the noise of the Beirut streets…is better than the silence here.” Originally written in Arabic, the novel is masterfully penned by celebrated, award-winning authors Sharafeddine (The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina, 2015, etc.) and Barraj (Red Line, 2019, etc.). The dual authorship results in a seamless text, and readers will travel smoothly between the novel’s two loci, Beirut and Brussels.
A heartfelt and beautifully written page-turner.
After traveling the rocky road of elementary school friendship in Real Friends (2017), Hale returns with another graphic memoir delving even deeper into preteen tribulations.
Now in sixth grade, young Shannon is a member of “the Group,” an assortment of popular and pretty girls that most notably includes best friend and group ringleader Jen and unrelenting mean-girl Jenny. However, infighting and treachery proliferate, leaving Shannon feeling frequently off balance as she strives to fit in and suppresses things she enjoys. She captures the dynamic brilliantly: “Sixth grade friendships were like a game… / only as soon as I’d figure out the rules… / they’d change again.” In addition to laying bare the back-stabbing and cattiness, Hale also examines her struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive tendencies with openness and honesty. Shannon’s story is ultimately empowering, showing the satisfaction she feels following her own path. Hale and illustrator Pham (working with colorist Sycamore) capture the nuances of a typical middle school life, balancing Shannon’s public woes with her inner conflicts and adding a fun dose of 1980s nostalgia. Pham’s art is evocative in its simplicity; detailed facial expressions add emotional depth and accessibility for even the most reluctant readers. An author’s note talks earnestly and age-appropriately about anxiety. Consider this a must-read for fans of Raina Telegmeier or Victoria Jamieson. Hale and her friends are predominately white, although students of color are present throughout.
This glimpse into middle school is insightful, introspective, and important
. (Graphic memoir. 7-12)
On their first play date, two girls have vastly different ideas about what their dolls can and should do.
The hostess, a brown-skinned girl with puffy red hair whose “perfect” bedroom is princess themed, owns a Princess Penelope doll that wears an evening gown and “real glass slippers.” The guest, an Asian girl wearing a dinosaur T-shirt, brought her Penny doll too—only hers wears a black motorcycle jacket, boots, and sunglasses. Readers will note that each doll resembles her owner. The dolls take over in the illustrations, with alternating black and purple text showing the girls’ suggestions for play. Princess Penelope wants to host a tea party and ride ponies. But Penny “isn’t a princess” and doesn’t have a pony. She’s a secret agent with a racing bike. Their ideas of fun clash, but when a werewolf appears in the kingdom, Penelope shows that she’s not “just a princess.” The two team up, using the Princess’ resourcefulness and Penny’s skills to save the day. The watercolor illustrations move from a pastel-dominated palette interrupted by Penny’s black suit to a green countryside and back again, skillfully transforming characters, expressions, and settings. The theme of merging girly things with smarts and power is rightly popular right now; this action-packed romp through two girls’ imaginations is a fun addition to the collection.
Following The Gauntlet (2017), Riazi once again offers a fast-paced story in a changing game world with floating skyscrapers, flying cars, flavorful food and sweets, and a giant talking mouse.
It’s been a few years since Bangladeshi American Ahmad Mirza, now 12, entered Paheli. After his sister, Farah, now at Princeton, sends a mysterious package to his school instead of home, Ahmad finds himself in Paheli again with classmate Winnie Williamson, who’s black. He does not remember the time spent in Paheli, but everything seems familiar somehow: “Something about the Minaret…reached inside and scratched its nails over old scars in his heart in the worst kind of way. It brought up memories of pain and panic without him even being able to identify what those memories were.” The evil Architect has a new partner, the MasterMind; Madame Nasirah, the Gamekeeper, is back to guide the players, providing them with spinach pies, desserts, and tools. T.T., a 6-foot-tall talking mouse, provides additional support. Ahmad and Winnie must stick together and trust each other if they are to defeat the Architect and MasterMind in the requisite three rounds, solving a puzzle in each timed challenge. Ahmad, who has ADHD, struggles with making friends and discovers more about himself through his game adventure. Through the tight third-person narration, Ahmad comes into his own, but Winnie’s character is not as fully developed.
A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.
Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.
A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.