Times might be strange right now, but the book publishing industry is still bringing forth promising reads. While the current moment likely has your TBR pile stacked to the ceiling, I say half the fun of being an avid reader is looking for future books to salivate over. With that in mind, and just needing a break for the stress of life moment-to-moment right now, I’ve curated a list of five science fiction and fantasy books that are forthcoming in the fall of 2020.
While August might not technically be the fall, that does not make me any less excited for this book! Maria Dahvana Headley is the author of The Were Wife, a modern retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of Grendel’s mother; and this new translation seems like it will be equally tantalizing. This translation is said to have an eye gear toward gender, genre, and history, and I can’t wait to revisit this classic tale through the scope of the twenty-first century!
It is hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since Susanna Clarke’s debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, was published! That book has remained in my heart since the first time I read it all those years ago, and is one that I go back to often. So, maybe I am being dramatic, but I feel like I have waited my whole adult life for Susanna Clarke to publish another novel. While Piranesi is said to be much shorter than Clarke’s debut, it does not sound any less enchanting. It is a tale of a man who lives in an endless magical house that contains countless corridors, an infinite amount of statues, and even an entire ocean, and is about a newfound truth turning his reality upside down.
Versatile author extraordinaire V.E. Schwab will be back this fall with her new adult fantasy book. The story is said to be about a young woman who trades immorality for being forgotten by everyone she meets. The young woman carries on this way for over three hundred years, until one day, a man remembers her name. I have never read anything by Schwab that did not have me instantly hooked, and this book does not sound any different.
Author Nicole Glover’s debut novel, from JJA Books, is about a magic wielding African-American couple in post-Civil War Philadelphia who use their powers to investigate a murder that the police won’t touch. Said to be a mash-up of The Dresden Files and Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, this book combines elements of traditional fantasy, mystery, and history. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, as it combines some of my favorite things, and because the narrative sounds so exciting and fresh!
What would a list of forthcoming science fiction and fantasy novels be without the genre’s darling, Brandon Sanderson? The uber-successful author will be publishing the fourth installment of TheStormlight Archive this fall.Coming in at over one thousand pages, this book should keep readers busy, at least for a few hours. It is said to pick up with the human resistance taking on the enemy, only to find that the situation is a stalemate. From there, the war with the enemy develops into an arms race that begins to unveil secrets of the past. Sanderson can almost do no wrong, and I am sure that this book is going to be fantastic!
With all things love floating in the air around Valentine’s day, it is easy to become inundated with the sappy baby-Cupid and chalky-candy-heart energy of the whole affair. Nothing is so quick to activate my cynicism than heart shaped boxes filled with mediocre chocolates and plastic roses garishly displayed in every store. For anyone who has truly experienced the gamut of emotions which accompany love, its vicissitudes more closely resemble a fiery inferno than the saccharine-sweet sentiments the Valentine’s cards would have us believe. There is as much pain in love as there is pleasure.
Still, we are all rushing towards this elusive state of being in earnest. There is no way to deny the magnetism of love. So, rather than turn a blind eye to love at this time of year, it might behoove us to look at things from a different angle. Perhaps a fresh perspective will remind us of just why we are all so obsessed, constantly searching for this thing called love.
By way of this notion, I offer some literary couples who break the mold, their bonds more closely resembling love in its true state. As Lysander tells Hermia in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and these couples prove that. Though their undying devotion to one another remains intact, each of the couples follow an interesting and often twisted path towards love.
In Chuck Palahniuk’s first novel, the unnamed narrator (an insomniac with existential tendencies) meets and becomes obsessed with a woman named Marla Singer. It is at a meeting of a testicular cancer support group that the narrator first meets Marla. He is enraged that she would have the audacity to attend the support group, although he does not have testicular cancer himself. The narrator frequents different types of support groups in order to counteract his growing sense of ennui. Once he realizes that Marla has similar tendencies as himself, he cannot escape his growing interest, although he does not recognize it as affection.
When Marla starts sleeping with his roommate Tyler Durden, the narrator’s obsession and irritation collide. Only through a surprising plot twist does the true shape of their love story become clear. As Marla states, “You love me. You hate me. You show me a sensitive side, then you turn into a total asshole.” He is both repelled by and drawn to Marla with equal fervor. Yet, it is with thoughts of Marla that he ends his narrative, promising a continuation of their anything-but-typical love story.
Lisbeth Salander & Mikael Blomkvist, Millennium(series)
A love story that spans across several novels, the complicated relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael unfolds with as much passion and pain as any true romance often does. In the first book, the two are drawn together through the power of shared experience as well as a mutual tendency towards acting as social pariahs. When Lisbeth finally decides to accept and express her love for Mikael at the end of the book, it is only to see him with another woman. This causes Lisbeth to push away her feelings, and for the larger part of the second novel, the two communicate only in a distant and business-like manner.
Through the impetus of another harrowing experience, Mikael must rescue Lisbeth from near-death, again forcing the two together through tragedy. This situational closeness continues in the third installment of the series, as Mikael and Lisbeth must face danger, the possible imprisonment of Salander, and major life changes together. Although they have continuously experienced separation, the third book closes with Mikael at Lisbeth’s door. Though they are both unsure, Lisbeth again welcomes him in, both to her home and to her heart.
Set in a fantastic and fairytale-like atmosphere, the love affair between Celia and Marco is equal in its intensity only by their inability to act upon it. The two are the pawns of powerful rival magicians, each tied to the magical Le Cirque des Reves and forced to use all of their abilities in an attempt to overcome one another. Although they cannot be together in any typical sense, the two are drawn to one another with a consuming passion. Each expresses their love through magical acts conjured to speak to the soul of the other, thus growing their bond from a forced distance.
Perhaps it is this very distance and the continual effort which it demands, that makes their love so perennial. Through the course of the novel it becomes clear that there can only be one winner in this dangerous competition, with the death of the loser as the inevitable outcome. Faced with Marco’s death, Celia risks herself to save him. The two are taken out of the physical world to become spirits, still tied to the circus, yet finally free from their bonds. As the book closes, the ghosts of Celia and Marco restore the devastated circus to its former splendor, ensuring that they will forever have a place where their love can endure.
Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel focuses on a lonesome unicorn who sets out on a quest to find her sisters, despite the danger of a formidable enemy, the Red Bull. According to the tale, the Red Bull has driven all of her sisters into the sea, and keeps them prisoner there, at the whim of the cruel King Haggard.
Along the way, the unicorn meets the failed magician Schmendrick and a nomad cook named Molly Grue who vow to help her with her quest. As the three get near Haggard’s castle, they come face to face with the Red Bull, and Schmendrick is forced to act quickly in order to save the unicorn’s life by turning her into a young woman, Lady Amalthea.
At the castle, Lady Amalthea encounters Haggard’s adopted son, Prince Lir, who becomes hypnotized by the beauty and mystery of the Lady Amalthea, and pursues her although she shows him only indifference at first. Later in the quest, Lir sacrifices himself in an act of love to save the unicorn from the Red Bull. She, in turn, revives him from death with the touch of her horn. As the book closes, the two lovers are forced to separate, each returning to their own destiny. While they cannot ultimately be together, their souls have grown with the experience, and both are forever changed.
As the year is now winding down to a close, we enter a time of reflection of the joys 2019 held and begin to look forward to the future—a perfect time to look for new reads to brighten our 2020! Whether you are searching for new books to add to your TBR pile or a fun new book to gift to a friend or loved one, this list is guaranteed to fill your 2020 with delightful new reads. Some of these selections are beloved and long-awaited sequels, while others are relative newcomers to the bookish world, but all of them have something special to offer to every kind of reader.
The Kingdom of Back – Marie Lu. While Marie Lu is no stranger to the world of YA fiction, The Kingdom of Back is Lu’s first work of historical YA fantasy. This novel is centered around the two Mozart siblings, Nannerl and Wolfgang, and their love of music. Both siblings have a prodigious talent for playing and composing, but Nannerl’s ambition is hindered by the societal constructs of 18th century Europe that forbid women from composing. Wolfgang’s talents continue to grow and Nannerl’s hope dims further and further until a mysterious stranger appears offering her a deal that could cost her everything, or give her everything she’s ever wanted. This book tells a story of music, magic, and the unyielding bond between siblings.
Release Date: March 3, 2020
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins. This selection holds a special place in my heart, as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy was central to my literary journey as a middle school student.As of now, we don’t know much about what Collins has planned for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, but the novel will be a prequel to the trilogy, taking place sixty four years earlier than the events of The Hunger Games during the Tenth Annual Hunger Games. Although this novel will not include Katniss or Peeta (for obvious reasons) here’s to hoping that we might see some cameos of older characters from the original trilogy! This book is set to be released in May, giving us just enough time to reread the original books first.
Release Date: May 19, 2020
You Are Not Alone – Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Hendricks and Pekkanen are already a highly-acclaimed writing duo, known for their top ten bestsellers The Wife Between Us and An Anonymous Girl. Their latest novel, You Are Not Alone, is centered around Shay Miller, a woman without a job, apartment, or a love life. Her eyes are opened when she witnesses an average woman make the decision to end her life by jumping in front of a subway train and realizes that she could see herself traveling down the same spiral. She soon meets a group of glamorous, put-together women offering to take her in with the promise, “You are not alone.” As Shay becomes more involved with the enviable Moore sisters, she finds her life getting better and better, but at a terribly high price. As the stakes continue to grow higher and higher, Shay finds herself wondering if “You are not alone” is a promise, or a threat. This psychological thriller is sure to shock and fascinate all varieties of readers.
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Imagine Me– Tahereh Mafi. Imagine Me is the sixth and final book in the explosive Shatter Me series. Try as I might, there are no words to accurately capture the beauty of this series. The series is set in a dystopian future and is centered around protagonist Juliette Ferrars. Juliette possesses a singular ability that makes her both powerful and feared: anyone who touches her feels immense pain and can be fatally wounded. Juliette uses her abilities to try and overthrow the tyrannical Reestablishment destroying her world. The prose of this series is especially noteworthy, as some lines and passages are crossed out to reflect Juliette’s train of thought. The Shatter Me series tells a story centered around love, resilience, and triumph over adversity. For those who have already read the other books in the series, I’m glad you can empathize with my bubbling excitement; for those that haven’t, you have almost four months to get caught up before the final book is released!
Release Date: March 31, 2020
The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley. “Everybody lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth?” This is the question that aging artist Julian Jessop wrote in a green notebook labeled “The Authenticity Project” before leaving it in a local cafe. When Monica stumbles upon Julian’s notebook, she adds her own story and aims to find a way to make Julian feel less alone. Soon, a whole cast of characters have added their stories to the green notebook, and even begin to meet in real life, where they’ll subject themselves to the terrifying ordeal of being known. The Authenticity Project promises to be a lighthearted and quirky yet candid and outspoken narrative on the nature of honesty and love. This book is highly recommended for those looking for a book about the human condition and who want to change the way they think.
In the modern age, we’ve seriously begun to take the wonder that is a well-written line or quote for granted. From our Instagram bios to epithets and even TV shows and movies, our world is framed around the words of others. To pay homage to the beauty of some of these memorable quotes, I’ve compiled a list of books (and a couple of poems) that are chock-full of swoon-worthy quotes that promise to stick with you and change the way you think about the world. Some of my selections are more modern, and some have stood the test of time, but they are all sure to leave you astonished by the brilliance of written word.
The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S. Eliot. This existential poem is one of Eliot’s most famous and oft-quoted works, and for good reason. The narrative is fairly concrete in comparison with the author’s usual abstract style, and it’s mainly centered around the monologue of an narrator who finds himself paralyzed by fear and anxiety. This poem is justifiably well-known and finds its universality in our tendency as humans to try to control our own fate, and the feeling of being perpetually on the outside looking in. Because of the multiple interpretations of this poem that are available, it has appealing aspects for all audiences, but will be especially enjoyed by those with an appreciation for philosophy and the human experience.
Memorable Quote: “For I have known them all, known them all: Known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is another commonly quoted author, and The Great Gastby is one of his most popular works. The narrator, Nick Carraway, often provides memorable quotes through his pessimistic musings about the human condition. The titular protagonist, Gatsby, by comparison often speaks to the starry-eyed idealism that lives inside of each of us, and the innate desire to ceaselessly pursue our personal happiness. Together, these two characters create a beautiful juxtaposition and many meaningful dialogues. This novel tackles themes such as love, isolation, and a desire to relive or change the past, with these themes combining into a melting pot of outspoken quotes about living in a world enraptured by materialism and status.
Memorable Quote: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
Looking for Alaska – John Green. Oh, John Green. Where would we be without your lighthearted but candid reflections on life? Looking for Alaska was Green’s first novel, but delights readers with so many strident ideas concerning the nature of life, death, and attempting to make the unknowable known. As a bonus, this novel also contains many great lines in the form of famous last words of men and women, as well as a reference to Gabriel Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth, and Auden’s As I Walked out One Evening. While this is one of Green’s more graphic works, it provides many thought-provoking observations on the inherent interconnectedness of people and the unseen ways in which we impact one another throughout our lives.
Memorable Quote: “We need never be lost, because we can never be irreparably broken.”
Jane Eyre– Charlotte Bronte. For fans of romantic writing, Jane Eyre provides a gold mine of ethereal and mesmerizing lines. Jane herself manages to be simultaneously timid and bold, and this balance is reflected in both her spoken words and her introspective thoughts. The novel is centered around themes such as independence, morality, and the struggle between rational thought and emotional feeling, making it relevant today for all audiences.
Memorable Quote: “I remembered that the real world was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse.”
The Laughing Heart – Charles Bukowski. I have to admit, I am a huge Bukowski fan, and I couldn’t resist adding him to this list. While most of his works tend to be laced with a fair dose of cynicism, The Laughing Heart is uncharacteristically hopeful and optimistic. This poem manages to convey a powerful message in just a handful of lines, and has a duality to it that allows it to be both soft and stern, reminding each of us of the power that we hold within ourselves. On a good day, this poem is an affirmation that we are already equipped with everything we need to succeed in life, and on a bad day it reminds us to keep fighting and never yield to the darkness that sometimes threatens to encroach our vision.
Memorable Quote: “your life is your life. know it while you have it. you are marvelous the gods wait to delight in you.”
Sometimes, we all just need a good cry—and what better way to achieve that than reading a book that gives your heartstrings a nice tug? Although I know exactly how each of these books end, I still go through a box of tissues each time I read them. They’re just that good. So, grab some chocolate, get cozy, and get ready to shed some tears.
The Best of Me – Nicholas Sparks. Let’s be real, any Nicholas Sparks novel would fit well into this category, but, The Best of Me is my go-to. It follows the story of previous high school sweethearts, Dawson and Amanda, who haven’t seen each other in 20 years since they split. Luckily for us, we find them as they reunite for the first time. The story bounces between the present and past as we learn about their very different family dynamics and, ultimately, why they broke up in the first place. The end comes with a surprising ‘Sparks Style’ twist—one that left me sobbing the first time I read it. This is the perfect read for any fans of star crossed lovers, and I can promise it delivers in the tear department. (Fun fact: they added an alternate ending in the movie version because it’s that heart wrenching).
The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky. This book holds a special place in my heart, probably because it’s one of the first books I ever truly cried over. The story begins as the main character, Charlie, enters his freshman year of high school. Following the death of his best (and only) friend, Charlie is lost and not sure what to expect. While suffering from this trauma, he is also still coming to terms with the death of his aunt who passed on his 7th birthday. Shy and insecure, he is befriended by step-siblings Patrick and Sam, who begin to help him open up to the world. We read his story through letters that he writes to a “friend”; though we never learn the name of this friend, and they never write back. This format gives us an intimate connection with Charlie as we are taken on a wild journey through the ups and downs that come with growing up. Skillfully crafted, this story never fails to leave me with me tears running down my face. 10/10 would recommend.
A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. This one is for all my dog lovers out there. It’s a heart-warming story about a golden retriever named Bailey and his owner Ethan, who grows up with Bailey by his side. We follow the story through Bailey’s point of view as he is reincarnated multiple times, each time as a different breed. The unique perspective lets us live all of his experiences as he ends up in various homes throughout the book. Heartfelt ending aside, this book had me sobbing the entire time. I’m the type of person who cries whenever a dog dies in books, movies, real life, all of it. Apparently, I wasn’t consciously aware that in order for the pup to be reincarnated, he had to die each time first. So yes, I cried about 15 times reading this book, but, it was totally worth it. This story reminds us that even though our dogs are just a short part of our life, we’re their entire life. A Dog’s Purpose is great for when you want something lighter, but still tear-worthy.
The Sea of Tranquility – Katja Millay. Naturally, I had to include at least one book without a movie adaptation. I didn’t know much about this book when I first picked it up, but, a friend told me it was a must read—and, boy, was she right. The story follows Nastya Kashnikov, a former piano protégée, as she starts school in a new town. We don’t know much about her in the beginning except that she had been in a horrific accident and has decided to isolate herself from the rest of the world. She hasn’t touched a piano since the accident and she speaks to no one. That is, no one except for Josh Bennett, who has his own tragic past. Their story is full of raw, human emotion that is truly difficult to come by in this medium. This book wrecked me in the best and most unexpected way. It is definitely a must read for anyone looking for a solid cry session.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green. No tear-rendering book list would be complete without this masterpiece. 16-year-old Hazel Lancaster was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she was 13 and since then, it has spread to her lungs. The experimental trial she is on keeps her alive for the time being, but, (as she so kindly reminds us) she is dying, a fact that she is more or less okay with. She meets Augustus Waters (Gus) in support group and despite her attempts to fight it, finds herself falling in love with him. This beautifully written novel follows their love story, and, no matter how many times I read it, I am a sniffling mess at the end. Towards the end of the story, Hazel says that she can’t talk about their love story without turning into a puddle of tears. Well Hazel, neither can I. If you have yet to read this book, I suggest you go out and get it right now. Yes, it’s that good.
I’m a sucker for a good dog story, even though, in the back of my mind, I know the story will break my heart. But, I think that’s why I love these books so much—because despite the predictable conflicts and resolutions, they elicit something in your heart that only dogs can. So to all of my dog lovers out there, this one’s for you. Get your tissues ready.
Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls. This beloved classic perfectly captures the bond between a boy and his dogs. When young Billy finally saves up enough money to take home two hounds of his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he is set on becoming the best hunting team in town. But, as with many stories about faithful pups, sadness awaits Billy and teaches him how hope can grow from despair. Warning: this book, along with the 2003 film, are wonderfully crafted tearjerkers. You may want to invite your own pup to be your reading buddy for this story.
The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein. Told from the perspective of Enzo the dog, readers will learn about his owner, race car driver Denny Swift, who helps teach Enzo what is means to be human. Enzo is there for his owner through the ups and downs of life, and alongside a considerable amount of television and people watching, the dog becomes a philosopher of sorts interested in the human condition. Be sure to pick up a copy of this heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting book before the film adaptation comes out next Friday.
Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. At first, Travis thinks Old Yeller is just a thieving, ugly, stray dog. He soon learns that Old Yeller is much more: a clever, loyal dog that wants nothing more than to help and protect his family on their ranch. After growing to love Old Yeller, Travis is faced with a tough choice when his dog is wounded. For those of you with Amazon Prime, you can take advantage of their e-book offer and enjoy this timeless classic for free.
Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo. After finding a suffering dog in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal names the dog after the store and takes him home. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal learns how to make friends, grows closer to her father, and meets an eclectic group of people who teach her how to open up, forgive, and value friendship. This children’s book is perfect to read aloud with your children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews—or even to read by yourself and remember why you fell in love with the book in elementary school.
A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. In this book, a devoted pup provides humorous commentary on the human relationships he witnesses. He is reincarnated four times as different dogs and works to find a unique purpose through each of his four lives. The story focuses mainly on the dog’s time as Bailey, who belongs to Ethan, a young boy who encounters several obstacles in life beside his loyal dog. And, for any fans of this novel, you can also pick up A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to this heartwarming story.
The artwork featured on our blog is a watercolor and ink pen art piece provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.
Break out the cake, Dobby—it’s Harry Potter’s 39th birthday today! To celebrate, the girls in my house have been doing a Harry Potter book club, and it has been, in a word, fantastic. But we all know that eventually we will have to read Rowling’s last, “All was well,” at which point we will turn to these seven magical reads.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is perfect for any fan of fast-paced and beautifully written fantasy. When our Editor-In-Chief lent me this book (which, incredibly, was originally a draft for NaNoWriMo), I had no idea how much I would enjoy escaping into the world of Celia and Marco in Le Cirque des Rêves. Its powerful imagery and sorcery are reminiscent of the Time-Turner complications with magic that Harry Potter encounters in his third year.
For fans of the later and darker Harry Potter books,The Red Queen is an explosive start to a now-famous young adult series that satisfies readers who enjoy court intrigue, unsteady relationships, and supernatural violence. A powerful protagonist, a glitteringly gory setting, and the swiftly changing loyalties and truths in the narrative make this book hard to read without immediately picking up the next of the series.
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchantedfollows Ella of Frell in her quest to break her curse of obedience. This is potentially one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, perhaps because it combines the complications of magic that resonate in the later parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly with Harry’s discoveries about prophecies, curses, and destinies) with the simplicity of action and strength of character that Harry shows from the beginning.
For fantasy readers who find themselves somewhat disappointed that dragons are only featured in a few (key, but brief) scenes of J. K. Rowling’s series, turn to Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slipperstrilogy that follows Creel in her enchanting journey through a fantasy full of delightfully personable dragons.
Readers who loved Harry Potter as “the Chosen One” will enjoy Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, where an orphan thief named Sage confronts his identity and potential in a fantasy kingdom. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy deals with many of the same themes found in Harry Potter’s encounters with navigating fame and accepting responsibility.
Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glassbuilds an engaging fantasy world of scriptology where Elsa learns to navigate reality while understanding the power of the written word. Her realizations about truth mirror Harry’s encounters with Umbridge’s lesson, “I must not tell lies,” in his fifth year, as well as his learning how to sift fact from fiction in Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography in the seventh book. Clare’s book is perfect for Potter fans!
Last but not least, Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdomsseries has perfect action scenes for those readers who loved the various encounters that Harry and his friends had with magical creatures—including trolls and spiders. Sky Raiders is full of Cole’s adventures that are enthralling like Harry’s, and there are four more books to enjoy in the series!
From Memorial Day to Independence Day to Labor Day and everywhere in between, summer is the perfect time for fiction that explores what it means to be American! While it’s great to return to classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Howard Fast’s April Morning, and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, not every American origin story centers on a white man in wartime. Here are six powerful classics that reflect the scope of our country’s diversity, showing the value of the past and the determination towards the future that unites Americans regardless of time period or background.
Amy Tan’s masterful The Joy Luck Club is a classic fiction novel that provides a realistic portrayal of American families. Beginning in China and continuing in San Francisco, the Joy Luck Club meets weekly to play mahjong. When its founder, Suyuan, passes away in the 1950s, her daughter Jing-mei is confronted with the truth about her mother’s complicated past. Jing-mei’s feelings of inadequacy in telling her mother’s story are echoed by the other daughters of the club members, as being raised in America gave them markedly distinct experiences than that of their mothers. Told in a series of linked shorter accounts, the book gives us a glimpse into the cultural and generational conflicts with immigrant mothers and American-raised daughters. This novel offers a powerful definition of being American: how—instead of abandoning of the past—the American spirit is strengthened by retaining cultural heritage while still moving forward.
Mexican-American Esperanza may only be twelve years old, but that does not keep her from having big dreams and being determined to leave her family’s poverty in the past. As she matures and undergoes traumatic experiences throughout the year, Esperanza’s story provides a real, raw look into the racial segregation, financial difficulties, and physical challenges that many Americans on the fringe experienced in the late 1950s, just as Esperanza did where she lived in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza’s learning to balance cultural heritage and personal progression to help others exemplifies a critical dichotomy in true Americanism.
Octavia Butler’s Kindred follows Dana, a 26-year-old black woman in California in 1976, and her literal connections with her past as she interacts with her ancestors in slavery in the early 1800s in Maryland. She makes difficult choices and experiences the atrocities of slavery in a personal way, made more poignant by comparison to her white husband’s treatment. Dana’s cross-century experiences of taking control of her life in the face of misogyny and racism prove the persistence of the past in the attitudes of the present, providing a vivid perspective on these periods in American history that is often overlooked.
Jim Burden reminisces on his experiences with his childhood friend, Ántonia Shimerda, who came with her Bohemian immigrant family to Nebraska in the 1880s. From teaching her English as children to visiting her with her own children decades later, Jim’s account of Ántonia’s life, especially in comparison to his own, does credit to both the lifelong friends. Ántonia’s actions throughout demonstrate her remarkable tenacity of spirit with the balance of remembering history while moving forward. Willa Cather’s masterpiece, My Ántonia, shows how—even with all the complications of her past experiences—Ántonia fully and truly embodies American values.
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man begins and ends with the unnamed narrator hiding from the world underground saying he is invisible. Pondering Louis Armstrong’s lyrical question, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”, the African-American narrator tells the story of his life, from youth to college to employment centered in 1930s Harlem, where he continually experienced the invisibility that resulted from others’ conscious choices not to see him. This bitterly reflective classic points out that keeping the American spirit moving forward should not come at the expense of forgetting the more complicated parts of our past or ignoring the reminders of those circumstances that surround us.
And finally, perhaps the most classic of the list—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with its famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in 1861 Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. Scarlett is not at all the typical protagonist for a Civil War novel, nor is she the typical Southern Belle. With her quick thinking and perseverance, Scarlett never gives up despite all the challenges she encounters, and to the less-than-happy end she retains her determination, representing the true American spirit.