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.
What would happen if the winning designer of the 9/11 memorial was a Muslim? In this provocative, deeply resonant debut, Amy Waldman imagines the frenzy as the news spirals outward to inflame politicians, reporters, bloggers, lawyers, Muslim activists, and the victims’ families—the relatives of a firefighter, the wife of an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant who worked as a janitor in the Twin Towers. Then there’s the artist himself, the enigmatic Mohammad “Mo” Kahn, an architectural whiz-kid and the child of secular Indian immigrants from suburban Virginia. The Submission (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26) is a blistering social commentary and a vivid tapestry of post-9/11 New York, but it’s Waldman’s complex, humane characters who keep the pages turning.
(This book cannot be returned.)
Justin Torres’s slender, spare debut novel is the story of three mixed-race brothers growing up amid the chaos of their dysfunctional family in New York. The prose is clean, evocative, and purposeful, recounting the boys’ coming-of-age experiences in a series of vignettes. We The Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18) manages to tackle the underside of family life, the complexities of sibling relationships, and a few other social taboos with emotion at once raw and deeply touching. I loved this book and am excited to have been introduced to Justin Torres, an exciting and talented new addition to the literary scene.