Staff Pick

One of the most talked about books this autumn, and my favorite, was My Absolute Darling (Riverhead, $27), by Gabriel Tallent. Shocking and unsettling, at times difficult to read, the novel follows fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston, who feels more at home in nature than she does with her survivalist and damaged father, as she searches for freedom and fights for her soul. Roaming the woods one night, wondering if her father would be able to find her, she meets two lost teenage boys and guides them safely out. And that is the moment she starts questioning her home life. The way Tallent brings you steadily into Turtle’s mind makes you almost feel her pain. He manages to capture her deepest thoughts, her internal struggle, her will to survive. Obviously suffering from Stockholm syndrome, she debates with herself over whether to stay or leave, doubting her worth every step of the way. But she fights and she survives. She is the kind of girl, brave and determined, with whom readers are almost duty-bound to fall in love. Tallent grew up in Mendocino and spent a lot of time outside. His love for the region is evident in Turtle’s view of the place and Mendocino itself is a strong character in the book. This is Tallent’s debut novel. And what a remarkable debut it is!

My Absolute Darling: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735211179
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Riverhead Books - August 29th, 2017

Staff Pick

Friendships seldom get the sustained literary treatment that romances do, but Claire Messud’s insightful novel The Burning Girl (W.W. Norton, $25.95) shows that these relationships strike as deep, stir as many emotions, and do as much to shape a person, for better or worse. They can have special force when formed early in life, and Messud’s protagonists, Julia and Cassie, are best friends from nursery school to roughly seventh grade. Narrating the friendship and its aftermath, Julia, the one who takes paths already there rather than striking out into untrodden territory—the one who sets limits—insists that she and Cassie are as close as sisters. Their two families never mesh, however, and Julia comes to realize that her notion of “home” is not Cassie’s. Much of Cassie’s home life is guesswork, and while Julia does that work, her version of Cassie is partly made up; at times Cassie seems like one of the characters Julia, an aspiring actress, inhabits on stage. Messud uses the inherently self-dramatizing period of adolescence as a lens to view more difficult questions of how well any two people can know each other, and she brilliantly demonstrates how the typical rites of passage—fantasizing about an alternative family, surviving junior high cliques—can suddenly yield “one of those events that that was little and big at the same time,” bringing about the kind of understanding that a person never forgets.

The Burning Girl Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393635027
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - August 29th, 2017

Without a doubt, State of Wonder (HarperCollins, $26.99), by Ann Patchett, is the book I enjoyed reading the most in 2011. For a bookseller, that’s a pretty bold statement. Open this novel and let Patchett’s beautiful, evocative writing take you far away to a place you probably never want to visit, the Brazilian rain forest.  It’s full of excessive heat, very large snakes, and a LOT of insects.  Nevertheless, our heroine, Marina, a research physician from Minnesota, goes there to bring back the body of her colleague.   He died mysteriously while on assignment for the drug company they both work for.   While there, she encounters her former mentor who is working on a very secret (and potentially lucrative) fertility drug.  We go with Marina from cold, desolate Minnesota to the sweaty depths of the rain forest as she uncovers truths, including her own. Patchett has a way of making every detail of Marina’s journey interesting and believable.  I couldn’t put it down.

State of Wonder: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062049810
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Harper Perennial - May 8th, 2012