Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise (Holt, $27) is a novel that ideally requires a clear schedule and a close friend to read along with—it demands your time and attention, and absolutely deserves it. Trust Exercise, winner of the National Book Award for Fiction, follows a group of students at a competitive performing arts high school as they move from adolescence to adulthood. There are rivalries, complicated power dynamics, questionable teaching ethics, teenage lust, and a particularly unruly group of British actors. It feels appropriate that the novel is split into two halves, as the overall story is primarily concerned with dualities: on-stage versus off-stage personas, exterior versus interior lives, artifice versus vulnerability. But Choi deftly takes apart those dualities and the result is an incredibly satisfying reading experience, filled with turns and reexaminations. Trust Exercise is a singular book from a master storyteller.
Sally Rooney's newest novel, Normal People (Hogarth, $26) is the delightfully frustrating story of Marianne and Connell, entrenched in a complicated relationship full of miscommunication over the course of four years. Rooney gracefully explores how our emotions age and mature with us in a modern coming-of-age story; but also present in the novel is astute observation of how class and social hierarchy inevitably intertwine with our relationships. Her language is deft and precise, her psychological insight unnerving, and her characters realistically complex and imperfect. She strikes us with her subtlety, but her intelligence remains an obvious presence on every page. Although Rooney has been dubbed the “millennial novelist,” this fiction can appeal to nearly anyone hungering for a rich, character-driven story about the irrevocable effects of intimacy and young love.
With her debut novel, Disappearing Earth (Knopf, $26.95), Julia Phillips shows she is an author to watch. With a surprising ease and deftness, Phillips transports the reader to the rugged and frozen terrain of the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia. One August afternoon the Golosovsky sisters, age eight and ten, go missing. Each beautifully written chapter of the ensuing story takes place over the course of one month during the year after their disappearance. This story is not your usual mystery thriller. It is instead an examination of the ripples, at times barely noticeable, a tragedy can leave on a seemingly tranquil community. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a woman, most of whom don’t have a deep connection to the Golosovsky family. Yet each has been touched by this mystery in however small a way. As each woman’s story unfolds, Phillips reminds us that with every ripple there is a preceding point of impact. While the sisters’ disappearance contributes, Phillips shows that the real impact comes from the realities of life women face on the Kamchatka Peninsula: violence, betrayal, discrimination, mistrust, poverty, and physical hardship form the true tragedy here. This is an amazing story that will leave you yearning for more.