Best of 2013
By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95.
By turns tender and trenchant, Adichie’s third novel takes on the comedy and tragedy of American race relations from the perspective of a young Nigerian immigrant. From the office politics of a hair-braiding salon to the burden of memory, there’s nothing too humble or daunting for this fearless writer, who is so attuned to the various worlds and shifting selves we inhabit — in life and online, in love, as agents and victims of history and the heroes of our own stories.
By Rachel Kushner.
Radical politics, avant-garde art and motorcycle racing all spring to life in Kushner’s radiant novel of the 1970s, in which a young woman moves to New York to become an artist, only to wind up involved in the revolutionary protest movement that shook Italy in those years. The novel, Kushner’s second, deploys mordant observations and chiseled sentences to explore how individuals are swept along by implacable social forces.
By Donna Tartt.
Little, Brown & Company, $30.
Tartt’s intoxicating third novel, after “The Secret History” and “The Little Friend,” follows the travails of Theo Decker, who emerges from a terrorist bombing motherless but in possession of a prized Dutch painting. Like the best of Dickens, the novel is packed with incident and populated with vivid characters. At its heart is the unwavering belief that come what may, art can save us by lifting us above ourselves.
LIFE AFTER LIFE
By Kate Atkinson.
A Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown & Company, $27.99.
Demonstrating the agile style and theatrical bravado of her much-admired Jackson Brodie mystery novels, Atkinson takes on nothing less than the evils of mid-20th-century history and the nature of death as she moves back and forth in time, fitting together versions of a life story for a heroine who keeps dying, then being resurrected — and sent off in different, but entirely plausible, directions.
TENTH OF DECEMBER
By George Saunders.
Random House, $26.
Saunders’s wickedly entertaining stories veer from the deadpan to the flat-out demented: Prisoners are force-fed mood-altering drugs; ordinary saps cling to delusions of grandeur; third-world women, held aloft on surgical wire, become the latest in bourgeois lawn ornaments. Beneath the comedy, though, Saunders writes with profound empathy, and this impressive collection advances his abiding interest in questions of class, power and justice.
AFTER THE MUSIC STOPPED
The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead
By Alan S. Blinder.
The Penguin Press, $29.95.
Blinder’s terrific book on the financial meltdown of 2008 argues that it happened because of a “perfect storm,” in which many unfortunate events occurred simultaneously, producing a far worse outcome than would have resulted from just a single cause. Blinder criticizes both the Bush and Obama administrations, especially for letting Lehman Brothers fail, but he also praises them for taking steps to save the country from falling into a serious depression. Their response to the near disaster, Blinder says, was far better than the public realizes.
DAYS OF FIRE
Bush and Cheney in the White House
By Peter Baker.
Baker succeeds in telling the story of the several crises of the Bush administration with fairness and balance, which is to say that he is sympathetic to his subjects, acknowledging their accomplishments but excusing none of their errors. Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The Times, is fascinated by the mystery of the Bush-Cheney relationship, and even more so by the mystery of George W. Bush himself. Did Bush lead, or was he led by others? In the end, Baker concludes, the “decider” really did decide.
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL
Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
By Sheri Fink.
In harrowing detail, Fink describes the hellish days at a hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina, when desperate medical professionals were suspected of administering lethal injections to critically ill patients. Masterfully and compassionately reported and as gripping as a thriller, the book poses reverberating questions about end-of-life care, race discrimination in medicine and how individuals and institutions break down during disasters.
How Europe Went to War in 1914
By Christopher Clark.
Clark manages in a single volume to provide a comprehensive, highly readable survey of the events leading up to World War I. He avoids singling out any one nation or leader as the guilty party. “The outbreak of war,” he writes, “is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse.” The participants were, in his term, “sleepwalkers,” not fanatics or murderers, and the war itself was a tragedy, not a crime.
By Sonali Deraniyagala.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.
On the day after Christmas in 2004, Deraniyagala called her husband to the window of their hotel room in Sri Lanka. “I want to show you something odd,” she said. The ocean looked foamy and closer than usual. Within moments, it was upon them. Deraniyagala lost her husband, her parents and two young sons to the Indian Ocean tsunami. Her survival was miraculous, and so too is this memoir — unsentimental, raggedly intimate, full of fury
Notable Children’s Books of 2013
BOXERS and SAINTS. Written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang. (First Second, $18.99 and $15.99.) In these companion graphic novels, Yang, a Michael L. Printz Award winner, tackles the complicated history of China’s Boxer Rebellion, using characters with opposing perspectives to explore the era’s politics and religion.
ELEANOR & PARK. By Rainbow Rowell. (St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99.) A misfit girl from an abusive home and a Korean-American boy from a happy one bond over music and comics on the school bus in this novel, which our reviewer, John Green, said “reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.”
FANGIRL. By Rainbow Rowell. (St. Martin’s Griffin, $18.99.) In her second Y.A. novel published in 2013, Rowell cleverly interweaves the story of an introverted girl’s freshman year in college — and first romance — with the “Harry Potter”-like fan fiction she writes in her spare time.
THE 5TH WAVE. By Rick Yancey. (Putnam, $18.99.) Yancey’s wildly entertaining novel, in which aliens come to Earth, manages the elusive trick of appealing to young readers and adults alike.
PICTURE ME GONE. By Meg Rosoff. (Putnam, $17.99.) Mila, a young Londoner with an uncanny gift for empathy, accompanies her father to upstate New York to search for his best friend. Questions of honesty and trust are central to this novel, a National Book Award finalist.
THE RITHMATIST. By Brandon Sanderson. Illustrated by Ben McSweeney. (Tor/Tom Doherty, $17.99.) A boy longs to join a magical cadre defending humanity against merciless “chalklings” in this fantasy, set in an alternate version of America.
ROSE UNDER FIRE. By Elizabeth Wein. (Hyperion, $17.99.) In Wein’s second World War II adventure novel — the first, “Code Name Verity,” was highly praised last year — Rose, 18, an American transport pilot and aspiring poet, struggles to survive in a women’s concentration camp after her plane is grounded in Germany.
BETTER NATE THAN EVER. By Tim Federle. (Simon & Schuster, $16.99.) A 13-year-old escapes to New York for a Broadway audition in this debut novel, described by Patrick Healy in The New York Times as “a twinkling adventure tale for the musical theater set.”
THE CATS OF TANGLEWOOD FOREST. By Charles de Lint. Illustrated by Charles Vess. (Little, Brown, $17.99.) A young girl whose life is saved when magical cats transform her into a kitten learns there are consequences to playing with time and fate.
FLORA AND ULYSSES: The Illuminated Adventures. By Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by K. G. Campbell. (Candlewick, $17.99.) A freak accident with a vacuum cleaner turns an ordinary squirrel into a superhero in this madcap chapter book by the author of “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.”
HERO ON A BICYCLE. By Shirley Hughes. (Candlewick, $15.99.) In this first novel by the award-winning picture-book author and illustrator, a family in Nazi-occupied Florence aids the partisans.
MY HAPPY LIFE. By Rose Lagercrantz. Illustrated by Eva Eriksson. (Gecko, $16.95.) In her review on NYTimes.com, Pamela Paul described this chapter book, about a kindergartner’s experience of starting school, as “one of those joyous rarities: a book about girls who are neither infallible nor pratfall-prone, but who are instead very real.”
THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP. By Kathi Appelt. (Atheneum, $16.99.) In a swamp near the Gulf of Mexico, raccoon brothers search for the yeti-like Sugar Man, who, if awakened, can help save their home from becoming a theme park. Our reviewer, Lisa Von Drasek, said Appelt’s “mastery of pacing and tone makes for wonderful reading aloud.”
AFRICA IS MY HOME: A Child of the Amistad. By Monica Edinger. Illustrated by Robert Byrd. (Candlewick, $17.99.) A West African girl, on board the Amistad when older slaves take over the ship, has a long journey back to her homeland.
THE BEAR’S SONG. Written and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud. (Chronicle, $17.99.) A bear cub chases a bee into the Paris opera house while his father struggles to find him amid the amusing distractions of Chaud’s busy scenes.
BLUEBIRD. Written and illustrated by Bob Staake. (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99.) In this wordless tale of a bullied boy and the bird who helps him, Staake, creator of “The Red Lemon,” has drawn a book of true beauty with a bittersweet ending.
THE BOY WHO LOVED MATH: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. By Deborah Heiligman. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. (Roaring Brook, $17.99.) A picture-book biography of Erdos, the eccentric Hungarian-born mathematician.
BUILDING OUR HOUSE. Written and illustrated by Jonathan Bean. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17.99.) A true tale of homesteader parents in the 1970s.
THE DARK. By Lemony Snicket. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. (Little, Brown, $16.99.) A little boy and the darkness he fears reach a detente in this just-spooky-enough story, a New York Times Best Illustrated award winner.
FOG ISLAND. Written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer. (Phaidon, $16.95.) In this Times Best Illustrated award winner, storm-tossed siblings wash ashore on a forbidden island off the coast of Ireland.
HILDA AND THE BIRD PARADE. Written and illustrated by Luke Pearson. (Flying Eye/NoBrow, $24.) In this graphic novel, a blue-haired girl named Hilda feels out of place in urban Tolberg, until an amnesiac raven helps her settle in.
JOURNEY. Written and illustrated by Aaron Becker. (Candlewick, $15.99.) A lonely girl draws a red door on her bedroom wall and enters a lushly detailed imaginary world.
MR. WUFFLES! Written and illustrated by David Wiesner. (Clarion, $17.99.) A house cat does battle with space aliens in this wordless picture book by Wiesner, a winner of three Caldecott Medals.
SOMETHING BIG. By Sylvie Neeman. Illustrated by Ingrid Godon. (Enchanted Lion, $16.95.) A little boy, frustrated by his desire to do something significant, and his father, who wants to help him, find a new perspective at the seashore.
THIS IS THE ROPE: A Story From the Great Migration. By Jacqueline Woodson. Illustrated by James Ransome. (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99.) The multiple Newbery Honor winner Woodson uses a common household item to reflect one family’s experience of the Great Migration.