The Books

Our 2018 Contenders

Here’s a spreadsheet of the shortlist titles, if you’re into that kind of thing. We get a cut from any purchases made through the list links. Book descriptions are excerpted from publishers’ summaries and edited for length.


The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Best friends and artistic partners since the first week of college, Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses spent their twenties ensconced in a gritty Brooklyn studio. Now, after a decade of striving, the two are finally celebrating the release of their first full-length feature and stand at the cusp of making it big. But with their success comes doubt and destruction, cracks in their relationship. When the only other partner Sharon has ever truly known—her troubled, charismatic childhood best friend, Teddy—reappears, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, hastening a reckoning no one sees coming. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

In the near future, world wars have transformed Earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim

In a small Midwestern town, two Asian-American boys bond over their outcast status and a mutual love of comic books. Meanwhile, in an alternative or perhaps future universe, a team of superheroes ponders modern society during their time off. Between black-ops missions and rescuing hostages, they swap stories of artistic malaise and muse on the seemingly inescapable grip of market economics. All the while, a mysterious cybernetic book of clairvoyance beckons, and trusted allies start to disappear. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis

“Every morning in the bathroom I would repeat the same phrase to myself over and over again… Today I’m really gonna be a tough guy.” Growing up in a poor village in northern France, all Eddy Bellegueule wanted was to be a man in the eyes of his family and neighbors. But from childhood, he was different—“girlish,” intellectually precocious, and attracted to other men. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people, Nadia and Saeed, embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through… (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a rural hospital clinic. A boy named David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family. (Winner of the 2017 Rooster Summer Reading Challenge) (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, 30-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town, and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Ann and Wade have carved out a living for themselves from a rugged landscape, but they are bound together by more than love. In a story told from multiple perspectives—Ann, Wade, Wade’s first wife Jenny, now in prison for murder—and in exquisite, razor-sharp prose, we gradually learn of the shocking act that originally brought Ann and Wade together, and which reverberates through the lives of every character in Idaho. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Play-in competitor: Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. Almost by accident, she begins emailing with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. Selin’s summer in Europe is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

On Feb. 22, 1862, two days after his death, 11-year-old Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Soli is 18 when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border, arriving weeks later in Berkeley, Calif., dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. Kavya, a chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, is consumed by the unexpected desire to have a child. When she can’t get pregnant, Kavya and her husband are set on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care. As Kavya learns to be a mother, she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Anna Kerrigan’s father has disappeared, and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets a man who knew her father, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life and the reasons he might have vanished. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant-and that her lover is married-she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac

Play-in competitor: Rosa Ostreech, a pseudonym for the narrator, carries around a trilingual edition of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, struggles with her thesis on violence and culture, sleeps with a bourgeois former guerrilla, and pursues her elderly professor with a highly charged blend of eroticism and desperation. Elsewhere on campus, Pabst and Kamtchowsky tour the underground scene of Buenos Aires, dabbling in ketamine, group sex, video games, and hacking. And in Africa in 1917, a Dutch anthropologist works on a theory explaining human consciousness and civilization by reference to our early primate ancestors—animals, who, in the process of becoming human, spent thousands of years as prey. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Jojo is 13, and his mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is black and her children’s father, Michael, is white. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. When Michael is released from prison, the family drives north to the heart of Mississippi and the state penitentiary, where another 13-year-old boy—the ghost of a dead inmate—carries the South’s ugly history with him. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, legacies, violence, and love. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


So Much Blue by Percival Everett

Kevin is working on a painting he won’t let anyone see. It may or may not be his masterpiece; he doesn’t know or care. What Kevin does care about is the past. Ten years ago he had an affair. It’s not clear to him why he had the affair, but he can’t let it go. In the more distant past of the late ’70s, Kevin and his best friend, Richard, traveled to El Salvador on the verge of war to retrieve Richard’s drug-dealing brother. As the past intersects with the present, Kevin struggles to justify his sacrifices and secrets. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Play-in competitor: In his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity, a troubled college wrestler in North Dakota falls in love and becomes increasingly unhinged. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)


White Tears by Hari Kunzru

After Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, his similarly music-obsessed friend Carter sends it out over the internet, claiming it’s a long-lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation. (Amazon / IndieBound / Powell’s)