Tuesday, December 12, 2017

This year's National Book Award 5 Under 35 Novels

I always follow the announcement of the National Book Award's 5 Under 35 honorees each year. The award is given to work that "promises to leave an indelible mark on the literary landscape." This year I was thrilled to see all five are women, and three of the selections are novels. One of the things I most love about the 5 Under 35 is that each honoree is selected by a past National Book Award participant. A novel I might not otherwise pick up (or know about) may rise to the top of the list when I see an author whose work I've enjoyed thinks it shows immense promise.

Chemistry by Weike Wang 
I'm drawn to fiction written by writers who are also scientists. While this novel is definitely about a chemist, but it's so much more. It's a refreshing take on a coming of age novel that challenges the genre's conventional tropes. I desperately want the narrator to have a name so I can talk about her, because I learned so much from her perspective and experience. (4 out of 5)

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
 I read What We Lose in a single evening (reading a novel in a single sitting in not something I can manage with a vivacious three-year-old, but this was pretty close). It enchanted me in so many ways, but especially in writing, character, and convention. It's brilliant and unique and an unbelievably exciting debut. (4.5 out of 5)

Jillian by Halle Butler
Jillian is a delightful, weird little novel. It's one I would hesitate to recommend because it's not a conventional novel. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but I loved the time I spent with it. It isn't a novel whose prose I underlined. It doesn't have much of a plot. It's experimental, and it's as much Megan's story as it is Jillian's. This novel intrigued me immensely, and it made me so excited and eager to see what wacky and wise things Halle Butler will write next. (4 out of 5)

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