Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

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I loved this book, from my initial confusion about who was narrating, to figuring it out, and to the incredible language and storytelling. “Lincoln in the Bardo” is, on the surface, about the death of Lincoln’s son during the Civil War. But overall, this book is about narration.

Gwenamon says: A masterpiece!

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All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

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This novel is about the complicated relationship between Wavy (a fairy-like little girl, then a teenager), and Kellen (a gentle giant and ex-con) who is one of her meth-dealing father’s helpers. I think the book does an excellent job of making you take a position on the relationship. What’s completely unbelievable is how Wavy’s mom, a meth addict, is conveniently out of commission in her room for most of the story. And how Sandy, also an addict, remains so healthy and beautiful.

Gwenamon says: Provocative

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Wenjack by Joseph Boyden

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This is the tale of an Ojibwe boy who runs away from a residential school in order to return home. At first, he’s accompanied by two other students. Always, the forest spirits watch his journey. The writing is beautiful and heartbreaking.

Gwenamon says: Short, sad, and beautiful

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After the Parade by Lori Ostlund

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This novel tells 40-year-old Aaron Englund’s story. He leaves his long-term partner in New Mexico and drives to San Francisco to begin again. In re-establishing his life, he has to deal with the past’s ghosts. I loved the writing, the characters, and the balance of plot and character development. Also, Ostlund does a great job of keeping to a fairly linear plot with interspersed flashbacks. I have only two small problems with this novel: there’s a passage that spells out the title (which is overkill), and Aaron has a moment that is too self-aware for a character, like meta-narration.

Gwenamon says: Pitch perfect

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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This novel is about Cora’s escape from a plantation on the underground railroad. The best part of the novel, I feel, is that Whitehead makes the railroad a real thing rather than a metaphor. For that exceptional idea alone, I wish I could have loved this book. I couldn’t stand it. The characters are two-dimensional, most likely because of very little dialogue and just the arm’s-length, third-person narration.

Gwenamon: Doesn’t live up to the hype

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Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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There are really three stories going on this novel. I feel part of the most modern story, narrated by Marie, is excessive and tepid. It seems every book set in the past—and this one is, during China’s cultural revolution—must have a retrospective layer. Groan. The book’s best parts are set in the 1960’s and tell of Kai (Marie’s father) who plays the piano beautifully, his friend Sparrow who is an amazing composer, and Sparrow’s cousin, Zhuli who is a violin prodigy. The writing beautifully captures the futility of the revolution, and then, decades later, the protesting in Tiananmen Square. I learned a lot and really liked parts of this novel.

Gwenamon says: Fractured, but gripping in parts

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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“Homegoing” is described as the story of two half-sisters who are born in Ghana in the 1700’s. Their lives are shaped by slavery. But each chapter is really a short story about each sister’s descendants. So although the chapters are incredibly well written, I couldn’t keep the characters straight or get absorbed because they only stuck around for a few pages.

Gwenamon says: Incohesive

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