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 Weekly Words about New Books in
Independent Bookstores

June 10, 2018

Paperback Fiction Offers Stories for a Variety of Reading Tastes
  
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud. This emotionally intense coming-of-age novel about the unraveling of a friendship is from the author of (among others)The Emperor's Children and The Woman Upstairs. Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their quiet hometown of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie's life begins to spin out of control, putting her life in danger and shattering her oldest bond. The book's narrator is Julia, now a high school senior, who in telling Cassie's story (not always reliably) also reveals the complexities of societal expectations for girls approaching adulthood.    
 
 
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. This was one of my favorite novels of 2017 - a celebration of quirkiness and the inaugural pick of Reese's Book Club, begun last June by actress Reese Witherspoon. Eleanor Oliphant is an odd duck - single, socially awkward, and living a life of routine and loneliness. When she inadvertently connects with geeky co-worker Raymond, Eleanor slowly discovers the joys of friendship and human interaction. Although Eleanor has a rather harrowing childhood backstory that is slowly revealed, this remains a charming, feel-good novel with humor and sweetness.    
 
When the novel was first released last year, an Associated Press review said: "Eleanor Oliphant is endearing, [a] whip-smart read. . . a fascinating story about loneliness, hope, tragedy and humanity. Honeyman's delivery is wickedly good, and Eleanor won't leave you anytime soon." I agree.
 
 
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. It's been 20 years since Roy's last novel, but that one was a doozy - the Booker Prize-winning The Go d of Small Things. Since then, Roy has stayed busy as a both an outspoken political activist and writer of essays and other non-fiction. Her return to fiction comes two decades later, but critics and booksellers have agreed the book was worth the wait. Roy's narrative, set in contemporary India, is not always easy to read, dealing as it does with brutal poverty, human cruelty, and the absurdities of modern war. But her wealth of complex characters, including a hermaphrodite named Anjum who is the book's linchpin, and a defined storyline allow her to showcase her writing talent. This a novel about oppression and inhumanity, but it also is a story of hope and the search for a place to belong.    
June's #1 Indie Next Pick Is Powerful Contemporary Native American Story   
   
There There by Tommy Orange. This debut novel from Orange, a member of the  Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma,  depicts the modern-day lives of Native Americans of various ages, gend ers, and life circumstances. The story, set in Oakland, California, is told through the perspectives of
12 characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Among the attendees is Jacquie Red Feather, newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle's death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle's memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield is there to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to perform in public for the very first time. The gathering promises to be a glorious communion and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. There will also be sacrifice and heroism, as well as unspeakable loss.
       
The book has received a number of starred reviews as well as being voted this month's favorite new book by independent booksellers like Heather Weldon from Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, who wrote the following:
 
"There There is the kind of book that grabs you from the start and doesn't let go, even after you've turned the last page. It is a work of fiction, but every word of it feels true. Tommy Orange writes with a palpable anger and pain, telling the history of a cultural trauma handed down through generations in the blood and bones and stories of individual lives. He also writes with incredible heart and humor, infusing his characters with a tangible humanity and moments of joy even as they are headed toward tragedy. There There has claimed a permanent spot in my heart despite having broken it, or maybe because it did. I think this may be the best book I've ever read."   
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Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

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