Jenn Lawrence picks the hottest titles in hardcover for September.
The People of Forever Are Not Afraid
by Shani Boianjiu
Three young Israeli women — Yael, Avishag and Lea — attend high school in a country where war and violence are a typical part of life. Despite this, they still endure the typical teen girl angst and feelings, discovering their own sexuality and the like. Emotions battling inside them mirror the war being fought outside. Like other girls their age, they are drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces, a duty required by law. They are each assigned a different duty: Yael becomes a weapons instructor; Lea enters the military policy, assigned to work at checkpoints; and Avishag stands guard duty. Their lives are consumed in the war, preparing for an act or incident that may never come. Boianjiu creates an incredibly intense story of these three young Israeli women, forced to reach adulthood in the midst of war. At an age in which a young girl typically feels hope and anticipation about her future, these three young women instead are surrounded by death and devastation, unable to even contemplate a future or a life after the war. This haunting coming-of-age story skillfully portrays the individual side of a war not often spoke of, much less written about. Destined to be an award-winner, this novel gives the reader a unique perspective of war and the devastation experienced by those fighting it.
The Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers
A firsthand experience of war, this novel follows private John Bartle on his first tour in Iraq, beginning with his pre-tour training and ending after his return home. Paralleling Bartle’s story is that of a teenage recruit, Murphy. Both men come from different backgrounds and different levels of experience. Each has a completely unique future paved ahead of him, life dealing each of them a fate that will forever alter their lives. More than a novel that simply retells the story of war, Powers reaches inside the mind of this serviceman, detailing the psychological aspects of war. From watching fellow servicemen die to being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of individuals, this novel describes, with chilling clarity, the aftereffects of war on the men and women who fight it.
by Zadie Smith
Set in Northwest London, Zadie Smith’s most recent novel examines residents of this segment of London. The two main characters, Leah and Natalie, have been friends since childhood. They each strive to rise above the stereotypes of living in NW and to achieve more than their parents before them.
Leah has a promising job at a nonprofit, yet she and her husband Michel are constantly struggling to get by. On the other side, Natalie and her husband, Frank, are financially well off, with the perfect family, living the perfect family dream. Leah and Michel continue to attend Natalie’s social functions, constantly reminded of what they do not have. Natalie and Frank seem to have the perfect future paved before them without obstacles preventing them from reaching their goal. Leah and Michel, on the other hand, are always one step from disaster. Michel’s constant desire to be more like his wife’s best friend causes a tension in their marriage, forcing Leah to feel as though her life is missing something. On the other side of the coin, Natalie struggles to re-create herself as a completely different individual from the one she was while growing up. This new identity takes a toll on her as if she’s simply playing a role and the world is her audience.
Both women struggle to find happiness, craving a life that is not their own. One would think this commonality would bring them together, yet each woman refuses to admit how hollow they each feel as individuals. Told in Smith’s trademark unique style of dialog, NW is not a novel that can be read quickly or without full attention. The stream-of-consciousness technique she deploys can be distracting to some yet those who are bound and determined to stick it out will be immensely rewarded by powerful and memorable scenes.
by John Smolens
It is the summer of 1796. The trading ship Miranda, sailing from France, attempts to come into port at Newburyport, Massachusetts. The ship is a virtual ghost ship, its crew decimated by a devastating virus. The ship is deemed quarantined by the local physician Giles Wiggins and the remaining crew is unable to come ashore. Yet when Newbury residents fall ill with similar symptoms, something must be done fast to prevent further spread of the virus. Attempting to contain the sickness, Giles sets up a pest-house, much to the dismay of the townspeople. Anyone with symptoms of the sickness are quarantined there, with either a painful death or difficult recovery as their fate.
Giles’ actions threaten the livelihood of Enoch Sumner, the owner of the Miranda and Giles’ half-brother. When the harbormaster’s family falls ill, his son, Leander Hatch, is the only survivor. Leander is taken into the Sumner home and provided work in return for a place to stay. Religious fervor and fear take over the town, only exacerbated when all the medical supplies are stolen from a black marketer out of Boston. The future of the townspeople, and the town itself, are at risk. It is only the quick thinking and actions of Giles that will prevent the entire town from devastation.