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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Great Reads
As a tie-in with Black History Month, we thought we’d home in on talented black novelists who are doing great work but are not well known. With distinctive voices and myriad themes, the authors in the following list speak to issues relevant to those both inside and outside the black community. Whether it’s Dexter Palmer depicting pugilistic mechanical men duking it out in an alternate world or Kennan Norris portraying black teenagers navigating the class and racial divides of a California suburb, these are writers who know how to wield language and who offer their own unique visions of contemporary life.
Brother and the Dancer, by Kennan Norris
In this outstanding debut novel, Norris proves himself to be an incisive writer as he follows two black teenagers from completely different worlds. Although Erycha and Touissant live only a few miles apart in San Bernardino, California, their lives couldn’t be more different. Hers is marked by poverty and violence. He is the privileged son of middle-class parents who named him after the Haitian revolutionary. Both of them, however, are struggling with issues of identity. A novel bursting with rich insights and meticulous writing.
The Dream of Perpetual Motion, by Dexter Palmer
This mind-bending alternate history showcases first-novelist Palmer’s dizzying creativity and intellectual ambition. It is a wild tale full of tin men, monsters, a magical playhouse, and a unicorn. It also encompasses Palmer’s layered, often surprisingly funny riff on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and shares that play’s surreal landscapes and shifting emotions while offering pointed commentary on language, art, technology, and alienation.
The Ecstatic, by Victor LaValle
LaValle is the author of a short story collection and three novels, and his distinctive style has brought a divided response from critics, with some labeling it mannered while others claim it is captivating. In The Ecstatic, his debut novel, LaValle creates an unforgettable character in 315-pound, 23-year-old, Cornell-educated Anthony James, who has fallen victim to the schizophrenia that is the family curse and who is running amok in his Queens neighborhood. But just when things look bleakest, Anthony unleashes a devastatingly funny series of observations about the absurdity of his situation. And that’s exactly why this novel is so moving.
Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Seasi
A father’s death leads to a new beginning for his fractured family in this powerful first novel. Kweku Sai is felled by a sudden heart attack at his home in Ghana. At the moment of his death, Kweku is filled with regret for abandoning his first wife, Fola, and their four children in Baltimore, many years ago, after losing his job as a surgeon. The four siblings reunite to journey to their mother’s home in Ghana, where secrets, resentments, and grief bubble to the surface. A finely crafted yarn that seamlessly weaves the past and present, Selasi’s moving debut expertly limns the way the bonds of family endure even when they are tested and strained.
Long Division, by Kiese Lagmon
Defying a patronizingly racist spelling bee on live television, 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson’s rant goes viral and becomes an embarrassment on a national scale. Sent to stay with family in the small town of Melahatchie, he distracts himself—from Internet infamy, redneck racists, and a grandmother who’s not afraid to make him cut her a switch—by reading a mysterious book. Titled Long Division, it also follows a 14-year-old named Citoyen Coldson but in 1985. Told from the parallel points of view of the two boys named City, the book elegantly showcases Laymon’s command of voice and storytelling skill in a tale that is at once dreamlike and concrete, personal and political.
Ruby, by Cynthia Bond
This searing debut novel, rendered in a soaring lyrical style, heralds the arrival of a major new literary talent. Ruby returns home to the small African American town of Liberty, Texas, only to succumb to bad memories of her abusive childhood. Once sharply dressed and coiffed, she now wanders the streets with ripped clothing and vacant eyes. But Ephram, the son of a backwoods preacher, still sees her as the lighthearted girl with pigtails, running free in the woods. And so he begins his long, sweet courtship, bringing her a homemade cake, cleaning her filthy house, and always treating her with kindness. Bond, who has taught writing to homeless and at-risk youth for more than 15 years, immerses readers in a fully realized world, one scarred by virulent racism and perverted rituals but also redeemed by love.
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