By Dennis LehaneSet in Boston, the plot is set in motion when three boys, Jimmy, Sean, and Dave, are playing in the neighborhood and Dave is abducted. Though he escapes his kidnappers, he is never free from the prison of his mind, where he is tortured by memories of the sexual abuse he endured at their hands. Thirty years later, Dave is a blue-collar worker, Jimmy is an ex-con, and Sean is a detective. Their paths intersect when Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter is murdered. The love Jimmy has for his firstborn daughter and the pain of losing her drives his quest to find her killer. Jimmy suspects Dave, and Sean is assigned to the case. When you get your hands on the book, be prepared to ignore pretty much everything else in your life until you’ve reached the last page. It’s a murder mystery, but it’s also Lehane’s astute observations on trauma and how it can impact the rest of our lives.
By Anthony DoerrSet in Europe during World War Two, the story focuses on two characters and how their paths eventually converge. When Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of six, her father, Daniel, builds her an exact replica of their Paris neighborhood in miniature, so she can navigate independently. When the Nazis invade France years later, Daniel flees to the safety of an uncle’s coastal fortress with Marie-Laure on his back. Unbeknownst to Marie-Laure, they are smuggling a sought-after jewel her father took from the museum where he worked before their exile. Meanwhile, in Germany, the Nazis have plucked young Werner from his orphanage because of his incredible aptitude for radio repair. Initially thrilled for the opportunity, Werner is soon horrified by the atrocities he witnesses in the Hitler Youth Academy. Eventually, he is tasked with following the activities of the French Resistance, an assignment that nudges him ever closer to Marie-Laure’s hiding spot. This is a novel about morals, hope, and growing up. The beautiful prose and masterful storytelling beg you to ask yourself what you would do in the same circumstances, while compelling you to keep turning pages.
By Celeste NgThough it appears the story is set in motion with the mysterious death of teenage Lydia, it actually begins before she is even born. In this mystery-meets-love-story-meets-tragedy, Ng expertly peels back the layers of the family history that led to the unfortunate series of events that precipitated Lydia’s demise. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, her father, James, grows up in the 1950s with a longing to assimilate into U.S. culture. He hopes to fulfill that longing by marrying the blue-eyed, blonde-haired Marilyn. Marilyn, however, is desperate to forge a path as a doctor, a dream that is derailed when she and James start a family. This is the heart-wrenching story of the failed dreams, expectations, and desires of a family who, despite their love for each other, are strangers to one another.
By Alice SeboldThe story begins when the narrator, Susie, is raped and murdered. (Yes, you read that right, the narrator is a dead person.) Specifically, she is a dead teenage girl whose ability to tell a gripping story is unmatched. Though Susie’s mom, dad, and siblings share the same crushing loss, they process their grief differently. While Susie’s mom retreats to grieve privately, her father, Jack (played by Mark Wahlberg in the film adaptation), dives in headfirst in a tireless mission to bring justice to his daughter’s killer. Though nightmarish, the tone is much lighter than you’d expect for such a heavy topic. There’s a reason Oprah recommended this story of family, love, loss, redemption, and letting go.
By M. L. StedmanSet in Australia just after the first World War, this is the story of Tom, his wife, Isabel, and the baby they find alone in a rowboat washed up on the shore of the desolate island where Tom works as the lighthouse keeper. After surviving the horrors of the war, Tom enjoys the predictable life he shares with Isabel and wants nothing more than to make her happy. Despite his misgivings, he gives in to Isabel’s desperate wish to keep the baby. Tom must grapple with the reality of what they took from another family when they claimed the baby they found as their own. Tom is caught in a moral dilemma that will keep you turning the pages way after your bedtime. This is a book about truth, love, and loyalty that you should not read without tissues nearby.
By Garth SteinThis touching story is told from the perspective of the protagonist’s dog. Garth Stein does such an excellent job of letting the dog tell the story, it never even feels weird that a dog is the one giving you all the details. (And, no, I am not the kind of person who shares a bed/hamburger/french kiss with her dog. I don’t even have a dog.) Enzo, the dog, is a shrewd (if biased) observer of human nature. He is also fiercely loyal to his owner, Denny, who is a racecar driver, a mechanic, and an all-around stand-up guy. Through Enzo’s loving eyes, we watch Denny face loss and the unimaginable challenges thrown at him in the wake of that loss. In this unputdownable tale of friendship, loyalty, life, and death, we also see how Denny uses the wisdom he’s gleaned from racing to steer his life.