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Find more Carnegie Medal Read-alikes, 2018
As we await the announcement of the winner of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Denver at the RUSA Book and Media Awards event on February 11, 2018, readers are immersing themselves in the three finalists. For further Carnegie reading recommendations, we’re happy to provide this list of three-for-three Carnegie fiction read-alikes.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (Random), was inspired by President Lincoln’s mournful visits to the cemetery after his young son’s death. The novels below also take imaginative approaches to Lincoln, a genuine leader and a figure of integrity, conscience, courage, and eloquence who defines so many of America’s direst conflicts, along with the nation’s idealism, complexity, and resiliency.
A Friend of Mr. Lincoln. By Stephen Harrigan. 2016. Knopf.
Harrigan’s stellar historical novel offers a powerfully astute look at the public and private sides of the young Abraham Lincoln and the agonizing ordeals he endured trying to reconcile the two. The Lincoln we encounter here is a lanky and popular member of Illinois’ General Assembly, a man with a talent for telling off-color jokes and capturing a crowd’s attention, ambitious yet awkward and prone to depression. Harrigan’s tale of ethics, morality, and courage is as vital as today’s news.
I Am Abraham. By Jerome Charyn. 2014. Liveright/ Norton.
Adept at fictionalizing historical figures from Emily Dickinson to Jerzy Kosinski, Charyn writes here in Abraham Lincoln’s voice, conveying the legendary president’s inimitable intelligence, wit, and compassion. As he traces Lincoln’s life of struggle, Charyn links the specter of mental illness within Lincoln’s family to the country’s catastrophic division. This empathic novel reveals the depth of Lincoln’s commitment to both his family and his country.
The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln. By Stephen L. Carter. 2012. Knopf.
Carter, a Yale law professor as well as a best-selling novelist, imagines Lincoln surviving John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt only to be threatened with impeachment. Up steps Abigail Canner, a young, educated black woman defying convention as she clerks for the law firm defending Lincoln. Carter’s fascinating mix of murder mystery, political thriller, and courtroom drama offers a topsy-turvy look at Lincoln and a deep dive into the complexities of race, class, and sex.
Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (Scribner), is a many-faceted historical novel set on New York City’s 1930s and ’40s waterfront and encompassing a family drama; gangsters; innovations at the Brooklyn Naval Yard; a shipwreck in U-boat-infested waters; and the story of an independent, unconventional woman. The insightful and imaginative novels below also set the adventures of intrepid individuals within a richly nuanced social context.
Careers for Women. By Joanna Scott. 2017. Little, Brown.
Maggie begins her career in New York City in 1958, awed and intimidated by Mrs. J, the exacting director of the Port Authority’s public-relations department. Mrs. J also mentors Pauline, a single mother with a special-needs daughter, and their stories intertwine in a suspenseful drama of profound dimensions as Scott delves into the struggles of women in a sexist world and the human and environmental costs of greed.
When the World Was Young. By Elizabeth Gaffney. 2014. Random.
In a nuanced novel set in Brooklyn Heights during WWII and the Korean War, Gaffney tells the story of smart and earnest tomboy Wally, who worships Wonder Woman and whose aptitude for science is manifest in an ardor for ants. With her father serving in the Pacific, an unbalanced mother, and a stern grandmother, Wally depends on Loretta, their African American housekeeper, for guidance and love.
World Gone By. By Dennis Lehane. 2015. Morrow.
This is the concluding volume in Lehane’s historical trilogy about crime boss Joe Coughlin, following The Given Day (2008) and Live by Night (2012). All three will appeal to readers taken with the gangster story within Egan’s novel. Here it’s the 1940s, wartime, and Coughlin is happy to step down with hopes of living in peace, but someone wants him dead, and the past is not so easily forgotten. Over three volumes, Lehane has turned the tragic tale of a man and his family in good times and bad into a complex saga about passion and crime, living and dying.
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner), tells the story of 13-year-old Jojo as his drug-addicted mom, Leonie, leads him and his baby sister on a lurching odyssey across the state of Mississippi to retrieve their father from prison. As Jojo, Leonie, and Leonie’s father narrate from alternating perspectives, Ward conjures the ghosts that some members of this family can see and from which none can escape. The three novels below explore complicated familial love, both worldly and supernatural, across space and generations.
The Lauras. By Sara Taylor. 2017. Hogarth.
Gender-fluid teen Alex narrates this coming-of-age novel in which Ma leads the two of them on a cross-country road trip in search of the Lauras, women who played important roles in Ma’s often-harrowing life journey. Ultimately, understanding Ma’s past and pathological restlessness deepens Alex’s love for them both.
No One Is Coming to Save Us. By Stephanie Powell Watts. 2017. Ecco.
Watts’ Great Gatsby–inspired powerhouse debut, which focuses on the lives of several members of a southern black family, is a human tale of resilience and the universally understood drive to do whatever it takes to save oneself. Watts’ novel was the first Book Club Central SJP Pick.
Red Now and Laters. By Marcus J. Guillory. 2014. Atria.
Incorporating voodoo, ghosts, and southern folklore, Guillory’s enchanting first novel introduces Ti John, a Creole boy growing up in a violent Houston neighborhood in the 1980s.
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