The Rooster

The 2020 Tournament of Books Long List

The most excellent, Rooster-worthy books of 2019. Look for our shortlist of competitors next month for the 2020 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes.

As readers and writers, we read novels for nourishment. Fiction is our daily bread. There are plenty of other metaphors. Just look at the way it’s been chewed over lately by Elif Batuman, Zadie Smith, Robin Sloan—as technology, as divination, as a packaged dream. But let’s be honest: Sometimes fiction isn’t in our daily diet. Weeks pass by and we’re only reading nonfiction, or research books for work. Sometimes a stack of magazines. Sometimes we only read two pages of a novel before going to sleep. Sometimes, we’ll read half of a paperback on a plane, then leave it unfinished on the rim of a recycling bin in Salt Lake City International Airport because we couldn’t bring ourselves to throw it away, but we’re done with it, so we fantasize that someone will come along and pick it up, a reader who matches with it better, though when was the last time we ourselves grabbed a book out of a public garbage receptacle?

Not all bread is good. Bad fiction is boring. Bad fiction gets thrown across the room! We’ll never all agree on what makes a novel bad, but each of us knows it when we read it. And we’re not talking about a book being “difficult,” or outside your comfort zone. We’re talking about a book that doesn’t work, that, try as it might, stumbles and falls. Or a book that cheats, a book that condescends. Fiction that frustrates. Fiction that disappoints. Fiction that fails.

And then you read an excellent book and it moves you, it startles you; you put the book down, and wonder how it knew so much about you. It’s a living, breathing, feeling thing.

We’re currently preparing for the 2020 Tournament of Books, our 16th edition, presented by the lovely people at Field Notes who make beautiful things. Now, if you’re not familiar with the ToB, it’s not really a tournament, more like a madcap, month-long event about books, publishing, and hot, hot feelings. Here’s how it works, and here’s a brief history of the ToB so far. This year’s event will be held in March, like usual, and in December we’ll release the shortlist of 16 or so books that will be in play. We’ll select those competitors from the 62 novels below.

About this list. We always say this, but some people don’t listen: First of all, because it doesn’t include several great books we missed or overlooked, probably including your favorite of the year, most likely, sorry. Also, this list, by and large, doesn’t include books marketed as “genre,” as much as we love them, and most of the books are published in English, mostly in the United States. What is “best” anyway? What this list represents is some of the most interesting, compelling, surprising, accomplished or just promising works of fiction that we discovered in 2019. How did we hear about them? Friends, colleagues, family members. A stranger in Texas at a bar. Over a free lunch in the faculty dining room at UCLA. Really, all over the place. And let’s not forget this summer’s Rooster reading extravaganza, aka Camp ToB, where Lost Children Archive reigned supreme. The point is, we hope you enjoy the list. We hope, among the group, you find some bread.

Before we sign off, a few things. First, sign up for the Rooster Newsletter for ToB updates. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our daily TMN Headlines newsletter too.

Finally, a note to booksellers and anyone else with a shared love for the Rooster who’s interested in getting the word out about their business: We have various sponsorships available during the 2020 Tournament of Books—please email us to find out more: talk@themorningnews.org.

 

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

Now that her father is on his deathbed, Alex feels she can finally unearth the secrets of who Victor is and what he did over the course of his life and career. She travels to New Orleans to be with her family, but mostly to interrogate her tightlipped mother, Barbra. Meanwhile Gary, Alex’s brother, is incommunicado. And Gary’s wife, Twyla, is having a nervous breakdown. As each family member grapples with Victor’s history, they must figure out a way to move forward—with one another, for themselves, and for the sake of their children. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

A missionary doctor succumbs to the vibrant chaos of 19th-century Siam. A post-World War II society woman marries, mothers, and holds court. A jazz pianist in the age of rock is summoned to appease the house’s resident spirits. In the present, a young woman tries to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in a New Krungthep yet to come, savvy teenagers row tourists past landmarks of the drowned old city. Time collapses as these lives collide and converge, linked by the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibious, ever-morphing capital itself. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy's scent, he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? And why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Black Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons

Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, this collection of short stories explores the ache of first love, the banality of self-loathing, the scourge of addiction, the myth of marriage, and the magic and inevitable disillusionment of childhood. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

June 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock—horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Capt. Harry Corsham is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing. To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. (Amazon / Book page at author site)

 

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Noah Turner sees monsters. His father saw them—and built a shrine to them with The Wandering Dark, an immersive horror experience that the whole family operates. His practical mother has caught glimpses of terrors but refuses to believe—too focused on keeping the family from falling apart. And his eldest sister, the dramatic and vulnerable Sydney, won’t admit to seeing anything but the beckoning glow of the spotlight…until it swallows her up. Noah Turner sees monsters. But, unlike his family, Noah chooses to let them in… (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

Abdel Latif, an old man from the Aleppo region, dies peacefully in a hospital bed in Damascus. His final wish, conveyed to his youngest son, Bolbol, is to be buried in the family plot in their ancestral village of Anabiya. Though Abdel was hardly an ideal father, and though Bolbol is estranged from his siblings, this conscientious son persuades his older brother Hussein and his sister Fatima to accompany him and the body to Anabiya, which is—after all—only a two-hour drive from Damascus. There’s only one problem: Their country is a war zone. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

One August afternoon, on the shoreline of the Kamchatka peninsula at the northeastern edge of Russia, two girls—sisters, eight and 11—go missing. In the ensuing weeks, then months, the police investigation turns up nothing. Echoes of the disappearance reverberate across a tightly woven community, with the fear and loss felt most deeply among its women. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Baking a multitude of tartes tatins for local restaurants, an Ohio housewife contemplates her four kids, husband, cats, and chickens. Also, America's ignoble past, and her own regrets. She is surrounded by dead lakes, fake facts, Open Carry maniacs, and oodles of online advice about survivalism, veil toss duties, and how to be more like Jane Fonda. But what do you do when you keep stepping on your son's toy tractors, your life depends on stolen land and broken treaties, and nobody helps you when you get a flat tire on the interstate, not even the Abominable Snowman? When are you allowed to start swearing? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Nine short stories that tackle some of humanity’s oldest questions along with new quandaries. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In “Exhalation,” an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom,” the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Akner

Dr. Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he moved out: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, tense co-parenting negotiations. He never thought that one day Rachel would just drop their children off at his place and never come back. As Toby tries to figure out what happened and what it means, his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio

Without warning or explanation, an unnamed 13-year-old girl is sent away from the family she has always thought of as hers to live with her birth family: a large, chaotic assortment of individuals whom she has never met and who seem anything but welcoming. Thus begins a new life, one of struggle, tension, and conflict, especially between the young girl and her mother. But in her relationship with Adriana and Vincenzo, two of her newly acquired siblings, she will find the strength to start again and to build a new and enduring sense of self. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A message from our sponsor

As always, Field Notes® has made a small batch of Memo Books for 2020, with the Tournament mascot on the cover and a list of competing books inside.

Buy one or more of these for $5 and Field Notes will donate all the profits to 826 National, a nine-chapter network that provides under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.

Over the years we have raised tens of thousands of dollars for 826. C’mon readers, let’s keep it rolling.

 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity. Her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools. Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, is a successful investment banker. Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. From a nonbinary social media influencer to a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, these 12 characters intersect in shared aspects of their identities, from age to race to sexuality to class. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Golden State by Ben H. Winters

In a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else, Laszlo Ratesic is a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service. He lives in the Golden State, a nation standing where California once did, a place where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life and governance impossible. In the Golden State, knowingly contradicting the truth is the greatest crime—and stopping those crimes is Laz's job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths, to "speculate" on what might have happened. But the Golden State is less a paradise than its name might suggest. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

From a crowded apartment on Mott Street, where an immigrant family raises its first real Americans, to a pair of divers at the Beijing Olympics poised at the edge of success and self-discovery, these 12 stories of love, family, and identity share the idea that the lives of these characters—with their unusual careers, unconventional sex lives, and fantastical technologies—can be extraordinary. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Honey in the Carcase by Josip Novakovich

A man tends bees amid the bombed-out husks of his village. A young girl takes revenge for the loss of a precious life. A Yugoslav drifter finds himself at dead ends in the American heartland. A marriage splinters over a suspicious scent. A cat and a dog enact ancient enmity in the midst of a warzone. An old debt is repaid. And a boy and a juvenile hawk seem to be on a similar quest for freedom and adventure, though violence lurks in the wilds just beyond the window. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

In at the Deep End by Kate Davies

Julia has had enough. Enough of the sex noises her roommate makes. Enough of the one-night stand who accused her of breaking his penis. The only thing she hasn’t had enough of is orgasms; she hasn’t had proper sex in three years. So when Julia gets invited to a warehouse party in a part of town where trendy people who have lots of sex go on a Friday night, she readily accepts. And that night she meets someone: a conceptual artist, who also happens to be a woman. Julia’s sexual awakening begins; her new lesbian life is exhilarating. Guided by her new lover Sam, Julia soon discovers London’s gay bars and BDSM clubs—and the complexities of polyamory. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Inland by Téa Obreht

In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives collide. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, a newspaperman, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and her husband’s 17-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

King of Joy by Richard Chiem

Growing up, Corvus develops a unique coping mechanism: She can imagine herself out of any situation. To get through each day, Corvus escapes into scenes from fantasy novels, pop songs, and action/adventure movies, and survives by turning the everyday into just another role to play in the movie of her life. After a tragic loss, Corvus finds a sadness so great she cannot imagine it away. Instead, she finds Tim, a pornographer with unconventional methods, who offers her a new way to escape into movies. But when a sinister plot of greed and betrayal is revealed, Corvus must fight to reclaim her independence. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Last of Her Name by Mimi Lok

A story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including ’80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong, and contemporary urban California, we meet an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers, and kung-fu fighting teenage girls. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

How far does one have to travel to find home elsewhere? These stories center around the lives of Ugandans in Britain, featuring characters both hyper-visible and unseen—they take on jobs at airport security, care for the elderly, and work in hospitals, while remaining excluded from white, British life. As they try to find their place, they drift from a home that feels further and further away. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

A mother and father set out with their two children, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. On the radio, there is news about an "immigration crisis": thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained—or lost in the desert along the way. As the family drives, we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure—both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. (As the winner of Camp ToB 2019, Lost Children Archive receives an automatic berth in the 2020 Tournament of Books.) (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Lot by Bryan Washington

In the city of Houston—a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America—the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys. Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer

Surgeon’s apprentice Zachary Walsh knows that his master, John Howard, prides himself on his rationality. But John cannot explain how or why Mary Toft, the wife of a local journeyman, has managed to give birth to a dead rabbit. When this singular event becomes a regular occurrence, John and Zachary realize that nothing in their experience as rural physicians has prepared them to deal with a situation like this. When King George I learns of Mary’s plight, she and her doctors are summoned to London, where Zachary is exposed to some of the darkest corners of the human soul. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

When Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson fall in love in the 1970s, they are blithely ignorant of all that’s to come. By 2016, their four daughters are each in a state of unrest: Wendy soothes herself with booze and younger men; Violet battles anxiety and self-doubt; Liza finds herself pregnant with a baby she’s not sure she wants by a man she’s not sure she loves; and Grace begins living a lie no one in her family suspects. Following the arrival of Jonah Bendt—given up by one of the daughters in a closed adoption 15 years before—the Sorensons’ past unfolds. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find her father has committed suicide. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates, and the Mortons reach a tipping point. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach a segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that in reality is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you,” but his friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Night Swimmers by Peter Rock

On the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin, a recent college graduate and a young widow, Mrs. Abel, swim together at night, making their way across miles of open water, navigating the currents and swells and carried by the rise and fall of the lake. The nature of these night swims, and of his relationship to Mrs. Abel, becomes increasingly mysterious, until the night Mrs. Abel disappears. Twenty years later, he tries to understand those months and looks for clues to the fate of Mrs. Abel, and begins once again to swim distances in dark water. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

At school, Connell is popular and well-adjusted, while Marianne is intensely private. But later, when they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin, Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Lillian and Madison were the unlikeliest of roommates at their elite boarding school: Madison, the daughter of a prominent Atlanta family, being groomed for greatness; Lillian, a scholarship student, plucked out of nowhere based solely on her intellect and athletic prowess. Yet the two were as tight as could be. Years later, the two have lost touch, but Madison writes and begs Lillian for help. Her husband’s twin stepkids are moving in with them and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. There’s a catch: The twins can spontaneously combust when they get agitated. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge not only struggles to understand herself and her own life, but those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine—whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father; a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment; a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush; or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

In a letter to his mother who cannot read, Little Dog, who is in his late twenties, unearths a family’s history that began before he was born—a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam—and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation that along the way explores race, class, masculinity, and our American moment—immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Optic Nerve by María Gainza

El Greco visits the Sistine Chapel and is appalled by Michelangelo’s bodies. The mystery of Rothko’s refusal to finish murals for the Seagram Building in New York is blended with the story of a hospital in which a prostitute walks the halls while the narrator’s husband receives chemotherapy. Alfred de Dreux visits Géricault’s workshop; Gustave Courbet’s devilish seascapes incite viewers “to have sex, or to eat an apple”; Picasso organizes a cruel banquet in Rousseau’s honor. All of these fascinating episodes in art history interact with the narrator’s life in Buenos Aires—her family and work; her loves and losses; her infatuations and disappointments. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is killed by a speeding car. His death brings together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she’d left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora’s and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Oval by Elvia Wilk

In the near future, Berlin’s real estate is being flipped in the name of “sustainability,” only to make the city even more unaffordable; artists are employed by corporations as consultants, and the weather is acting strange. When Anja and Louis are offered a rent-free home on an artificial mountain, they seize the opportunity. After Louis’s mother dies, Anja is convinced he has changed. At work, Louis has become obsessed with a secret project: a pill called Oval that temporarily rewires the user’s brain to be more generous. While Anja is horrified, Louis believes he has found the solution to Berlin’s income inequality. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A message from our sponsor

As always, Field Notes® has made a small batch of Memo Books for 2020, with the Tournament mascot on the cover and a list of competing books inside.

Buy one or more of these for $5 and Field Notes will donate all the profits to 826 National, a nine-chapter network that provides under-resourced students, ages 6-18, with opportunities to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.

Over the years we have raised tens of thousands of dollars for 826. C’mon readers, let’s keep it rolling.

 

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

As Matthew is walking home from the subway, a handsome skateboarder catches his eye. Leif, mesmerizing and enigmatic, invites Matthew to meet his friends. It’s easier to know what’s in other people’s minds than most people realize, the friends claim. Do they believe in telepathy? Though Matthew should be writing his dissertation, he soon finds himself falling in love with Leif and entangled with Leif’s group. When the friends fall afoul of a security contractor, the repercussions damage the romances and alliances that hold them together, and complicate the faith the members of the group have in the powers they’ve been nurturing. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad

Midhat Kamal is the son of a wealthy textile merchant from Nablus, a town in Ottoman Palestine. A dreamer, a romantic, an aesthete, in 1914 he leaves to study medicine in France, and falls in love. When Midhat returns to Nablus to find it under British rule, he must find a way to cope with his conflicting loyalties and the expectations of his community. The story of Midhat’s life develops alongside the idea of a nation, as he and those close to him confront what it means to strive for independence in a world that seems on the verge of falling apart. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Patsy by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn

When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. However, Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother―or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Pigs by Johanna Stoberock

Four children live on an island that serves as the repository for all the world’s garbage. Trash arrives, the children sort it, and then they feed it to a herd of insatiable pigs: a perfect system. But when a barrel washes ashore with a boy inside, the children must decide whether he is more of the world’s detritus, meant to be fed to the pigs, or whether he is one of them. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places… including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth. As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “Who do you want to be?” (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

It's 2001 and the evening of 16-year-old Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony—a celebration that ultimately never took place. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán

Felipe and Iquela, two young friends in modern day Santiago, live in the legacy of Chile’s dictatorship. Felipe prowls the streets counting dead bodies real and imagined, aspiring to a perfect number that might offer closure. Iquela and Paloma, an old acquaintance from Iquela’s childhood, search for a way to reconcile their fragile lives with their parents’ violent militant past. The body of Paloma’s mother gets lost in transit, sending the three on a pisco-fueled journey up the cordillera as they confront the pain that stretches across generations. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman

An unnamed Sri Lankan inmate has barricaded himself inside a prison computer lab in Dutchess County, NY. A riot rages outside, incited by a poem published in the house literary journal. This, our narrator’s final editor’s letter, is his confession. How did he end up here? Should he have remained a quiet Park Avenue doorman? Or continued his rise in the black markets of postwar Sri Lanka? And why does everyone think the riots are his fault? Can’t they see he’s really a good guy, doing it for the right reasons? (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

Over the years, May Attaway has turned inward, finding pleasure in gardening—and keeping her neighbors at arm’s length while keenly observing them. But when she is unexpectedly granted some leave from her job, May is inspired to reconnect with four once-close friends. So she goes, one by one, to each of them. Savoring the pleasures along the way, May gets a taste of viral online fame, but chooses to bypass her friends’ perfectly cultivated online lives to instead meet them in their messy analog ones. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

In stories set against the backdrop of Denver, Colo., Latina women of indigenous ancestry navigate their lives with caution, grace, and quiet force. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Same Same by Peter Mendelsund

In the middle of a Middle Eastern desert there is an Institute where various Fellows come to undertake projects of great significance. Percy Frobisher arrives one day to undertake a project; only once he arrives, surrounded by the simulated environment of the glass-enclosed dome of the Institute and the various Fellows focused on the minutiae of their great works, Percy’s mind goes completely blank. When he spills something on his uniform, he learns about a mysterious shop where you can take something, utter the command “same same,” and receive a replica even better than the original. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa

1960s Angola. A Goan immigrant family finds itself caught between their complicity in Portuguese rule and their own outsider status in the period leading up to independence. Looking back on her childhood, our narrator captures the difficult relationship between her and her mother, and the ways in which their intimate world is shaken by domestic violence, the legacies of slavery, and the end of empire. Her story unfolds into a growing awareness of the lies of colonialism and the political ruptures that ultimately lead to their exile. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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Say Say Say by Lila Savage

Ella's artistic ambitions have given way to an unintended career in caregiving. One spring, Bryn hires her to help him care for Jill, his wife who was left verbally diminished by a brain injury suffered in a car accident. As Ella is drawn ever deeper into the couple’s household, she is profoundly moved by the tenderness Bryn shows toward the wife he still fiercely loves. Ella is startled by the yearning this awakens in her, one that complicates her feelings for her girlfriend, and causes her to look at relationships of all kinds in new ways. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Among the stories in this collection, “A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion” describes a young couple engaged to be married who are forced to deal with interfering relatives dictating the appropriate number of ritual goat sacrifices for their wedding. “Missed Connection—m4w” is the tragicomic tale of a pair of lonely commuters eternally failing to make that longed-for contact. And in “More of the You That You Already Are,” a struggling employee at a theme park of dead presidents finds that love can’t be genetically modified. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores

A parallel universe. South Texas. Esteban Bellacosa has lived on the border long enough to know to keep quiet and avoid the dangerous syndicates who make their money through trafficking. But his simple life gets complicated after a swashbuckling journalist invites him to an underground dinner at which animals brought back from extinction are served. Bellacosa soon finds himself in the middle of an increasingly perilous and surreal journey, in the course of which he encounters legends of the long-disappeared Aranaña Indian tribe and their object of worship: the mysterious Trufflepig, said to possess strange powers. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

More than 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third: Aunt Lydia. Her complex past and uncertain future unfold in surprising and pivotal ways. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Trump Sky Alpha by Mark Doten

One year after the president plunged the world into nuclear war, with 90 percent of the world’s population destroyed, a journalist named Rachel goes on assignment to document the final throes of humor on the internet, hoping along the way to discover the final resting place of her wife and daughter. What she uncovers are references to a little-known book that inspired a shadowy hacktivist group whose role in the downfall of the internet, and the enigmatic presence of a figure known only as Birdcrash, take on immense and terrifying dimensions as Rachel ventures further into the ruins of the internet. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The outside world of family life and economic status, of academic pressure and of their future adult lives, fails to penetrate this school's walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that catapults the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

In rural Alaska, a Taiwanese immigrant family struggles to make ends meet. The father is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother holds the house together. When 11-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis, he falls into a coma. He wakes up a week later to learn his little sister Ruby was infected—but did not survive. Routine takes over: The siblings care for each other; distance grows between the parents. Then the father is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, resulting in the death of a little girl. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky

Rachel Klein never meant to kiss her professor, but with his long eyelashes, his silky hair, and the sad, beautiful life he laid bare on Twitter, she does. Zahid Azzam never planned to become a houseguest in his student’s sprawling Connecticut home, but with the sparkling swimming pool, the endless supply of Whole Foods strawberries, and Rachel’s beautiful mother, he does. Becca Klein never thought she’d have a love affair so soon after her divorce, but when her daughter’s professor walks into her home, she does, and the affair is…a very bad idea. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Born into bondage, young Hiram Walker almost drowns when he crashes a carriage into a river, but is saved from the depths by a force he doesn’t understand. So begins an unexpected journey into the covert war on slavery that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s plantations to guerrilla cells in the wilderness. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, all Hiram wants is to free the family he left behind—but first he must master his magical gift and reconstruct the story of his greatest loss. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

“You can be beautiful, even more beautiful than before.” This is the seductive promise of Dr. Nzinga’s Clinic, where anyone can get their lips thinned, their skin bleached, and their noses narrowed. In this near-future Southern city, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, our narrator just wants the best for his son, whose black birthmark is getting bigger by the day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

What Is Missing by Michael Frank

Costanza is convinced that she has made peace with her childlessness. A year after the death of her husband, she returns to the pensione in Florence where she spent many happy times in her youth, and there she meets 17-year-old Andrew and his father, Henry, a physician who specializes in reproductive medicine. With three lives marked by heartbreak and absence, Costanza, Andrew, and Henry have the opportunity to make themselves whole three months later in New York, where the relationships among them cut to the core of what it means to be a father, a son, and a potential mother. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual—though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story. Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories—of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice—the life of one man will be powerful and poignantly laid bare. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum

Eighteen-year-old Deya must meet with potential husbands at her grandmother's behest, though her only desire is to attend college. Deya can’t help but wonder if her options might have been different had her parents survived a fatal car crash that left her and her sisters orphans in their grandparents’ care. But fate has a will of its own, and soon Deya will find herself on an unexpected path that leads to shocking truths about her family—knowledge that will force her to question everything she thought she knew about her parents, the past, and her own future. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Los Angeles is tense in the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager. Living at home with her Korean-immigrant parents, Grace Park is trying to understand why her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in years. Shawn Matthews's sister was murdered as a teenager back in 1991, and this new shooting is bringing up painful memories. Plus, his cousin is just released from prison and needs to reconnect with their family. When another shocking crime hits LA, the families collide in unexpected ways. Tensions come to a head and force a reckoning that could clear the air or lead to more violence. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

 

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biopic

The Tournament of Books’ organizers Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are TMN’s co-founders. Baldwin’s latest novel is The Last Kid Left. His next book, a work of creative nonfiction about the city-state of Los Angeles, is forthcoming in 2021. More by The Tournament of Books Staff