Subjective as the term can be, here are the books Bookshop Santa Cruz has selected as the best Fiction published in the year 2017, presented as part of our Best Books of 2017 Lists. All books reviewed by Bookshop staff below.
Step into an enchanted land of Middle Eastern mythology and folklore in this remarkable debut by S. A. Chakraborty. Follow the tale of Nahri, a con artist from the streets of 18th-century Cairo, as she is swept into the world of the ancient magical djinn. Complex and mesmerizing, with phenomenal world building, the story’s mythology is vibrant and tangible. This is an exciting read that is impossible to put down.
I don’t want to lead with the fact that the author of this book is serving a life sentence for murder because there is so much more to this book than that sensational fact. However, it is precisely this fact that makes this collection of short stories from the insideso raw and powerful. A great read. - Casey
Helena is the child born of kidnapping and captivity, until she and her mother escaped. Thirteen years later, her father has broken out of prison and Helena must use the skills he taught her to catch him. Woven around Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Marsh King's Daughter, and alternating between Helena’s childhood and her hunt for the man she both loves and hates, this fiendishly paced psychological thriller completely floored me. Think Room, but with vengeance. - Flannery
What does it mean to live in a post-scarcity world that can’t let go of capitalism? Walkawaydeftly explores this sticky subject and I enjoyed each of its twists and turns. Those who refuse to play by the rules of the old system, those who walk away, discover something the ultra-rich of a dying world desperately want. Set in the near future, this book is a terrifying but also optimistic look at what the world could become. - Ivy
Manhattan Beach is stunning. Read the first page and sigh with immense pleasure at having started something magnificent. Set in Brooklyn around the Great Depression and WWII, we follow young Anna Kerrigan, one of the first female Naval Yard divers, as she seeks to unravel her father's mysterious disappearance. This may seem a straightforward historical novel, but with Egan's peerless writing and keen emotional intelligence, it plumbs the depths of human will, connection, and reinvention. - Melinda
Omar El Akkad’s debut novel is challenging and full of uncomfortable truths, but it is also incredibly relevant and an intensely compelling read. Set in a near future rife with climate crises and acts of war on home soil, American War follows Sarat Chestnut and her family as they play out the many ways terror can manifest itself and take its toll. We talk about using literature to better see ourselves, to better understand others, and American War is eye-opening in the most powerful of ways. - Melinda
This is, without a doubt, my pick for best graphic novel of the year. The art is stunning. The mystery is shocking and keeps you turning page after page. - Ivy
This is the feel good book of the year! Part Man Called Ove, part David Sedaris but simply and stunningly his own, Greer's ability to capture the spirit of his quirky and unforgettable character will go straight to your heart and make you believe in humankind once again.
Hamid delivers a haunting parable for our times, a prescient novel that follows the budding relationship of Nadia and Saeed, two young people who must leave an unnamed city imploding with violence and unrest. Both a modern love story and a surreal migration tale, Exit West holds up a mirror and magnifies the ways we are all affected by the loss of home in a world increasingly shifting; as Hamid writes, we are all migrants through time. It is a powerful and lovely prospect.
Megan Hunter is a new force to be reckoned with and celebrated. In her beautiful, spare novel, climate crisis floodwaters force an exodus of London and we follow the story of one woman, her husband R, and her newborn son Z, as it is laid out in poetic captures, each word carefully placed. This is a haunting exploration of motherhood, its foreignness, its innate strength, and its parallels to survival in an upturned land. - Melinda
Most of the Baek's were born in Japan but their Korean blood makes them strangers in their homeland, a story many citizens of the United States are familiar with, but has never been told with such crisp clarity. Pachinko unfolds like a family tree. A couple generations back, often only a name and a few small things are known. As you meander closer to the present, the details expand rapidly building a symphony to show a complicated, interwoven whole. Min Jin Lee has constructed a gorgeous saga jumping from branch to branch of a Korean family as they struggle on a climb of their own against poverty and prejudice. It seems timely that a story of division and alienation in what, ostensibly, should be their own country should be told now. Lee has proven herself to be a master of storytelling and this is her opus. - Ivy
Reading the stories in Her Body and Other Parties has been among the memorable literary pleasures of 2017. Carmen Maria Machado writes with fearless exploration, precision, and tenderness that would prompt envy if gratitude and admiration weren’t first to arrive on the scene. From the lovely, apocalyptic love story “Inventory” to the dizzying and original “Especially Heinous,” Machado’s work is curious, inventive, and thrilling. It’s feminist and pop culture, classic and weird; the stories are complex and the characters are haunting. What a debut! - Chorel
A small book with an emotional punch, One of the Boys is a gripping and heartbreaking look at how kids protect themselves in the face of addiction and abuse from a parent. A powerful narrative about our common vulnerabilities and acts of perseverance in the face of life's challenges. - Casey
Tom Barren majorly f-ed up. After a time travel accident born of arrogance and grief, he finds himself in the most messed up possible world: our 2016. See, Tom is from the world we were supposed to have. Life was much more The Jetsons before he messed with the timeline. Hilariously funny and hyper aware of itself, this book is a madcap roller coaster ride from start to finish. I cannot emphasize enough how much I enjoyed this book and, man, am I mad at Tom Barren for the present we have. His sounds so much more pleasant and imaginative. - Ivy
This novel is simply exquisite. I loved every quiet, joyous, heart-bursting, heart-breaking, contemplative moment of it. Deeply immersed in turn of the 20th century Catholic Brooklyn, McDermott unspools and weaves together the lives affected by one man’s life-ending decision, as his widowed wife, their infant daughter, and the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor come to understand the power of friendship and loyalty, and the nuances of faith and forgiveness. - Melinda
It is hard to imagine Ng outdoing herself after the success of her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, but she’s up to the task with the exquisite Little Fires Everywhere. Each member of the Richardson family, living in the rigidly structured suburban Shakers Heights community, is inexplicitly drawn two new freewheeling residents, the artist Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl. Ng’s mastery is in her ability to develop characters in many layers and then, with perfect pace and nuance, remove each layer to reveal an emotionally resonant understanding around themes of family, identity, and community. - Casey
I can’t do better to sell you on this book than to quote Merritt Tierce’s review of it–Tierce whose book Love Me Back has much of the dark feminist brilliance, if less of the humor than Nutting’s. She writes: "Like the best episodes of Black Mirror, Made for Love provokes the disturbing realization that we are, more or less, already living in the time portrayed as a couple of steps beyond too much...Made for Love crackles and satisfies by all its own weird rules, subversively inventing delight where none should exist. How can a book be so bright, and so dark?" With the relevance we seek and the deadpan humor we need, you haven’t read anything quite like Made for Love. - Chorel
There is so much to love in every Louise Penny mystery, and although this is the 13th in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, it is one of her best and a perfect place to start. Each novel explores topics beyond the murder du jour, with intimately drawn characters in a charming Quebec setting. Glass Houses delves into conscience, long held secrets and public shaming, all within a perfectly paced courtroom drama.
A perfect Irish novel. Quiet. Heartbreaking. Beautiful. I loved this book. - Casey
Lincoln in the Bardo is a game-changer, essential reading for all people interested in the literary arts, destined to cult classic status. Mr. Saunders has crafed a perfect blend of beautiful language and gut-busting jokes to ease the mood, while we read contemplative prose meant to elevate us all. - Jason
Danez Smith is a gift to poetry and social discourse, with insights concise and cutting, “tongue rot with gospel / & other glories.” This sophomore piece looks staggering so far. Don’t Call Us Dead explores mortality through a more beautiful question: After trauma, how does the collective black body under attack approach a better world? Smith gives black boys lost to systemic violence a voice, which through their poetry insists “please don’t call / us dead. Call us alive someplace better.” - a.c.
For fans of literary fiction, there’s so much to love in Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful and quietly disturbing stories, which trace the secret lives of the residents of a small town in Illinois. Those who have read My Name Is Lucy Barton will recall some of the characters here: the janitor at the local school; the family and the poverty and the house Lucy fled; and even the observations she made from her hospital bed. The stories in Anything Is Possible are rich variations on several tightly connected themes: poverty, familial bonds and broken marriages, and the mysterious, subtle qualities of forgiveness and acceptance. One of the pleasures of Anything Is Possible is the omniscient narrator. It’s so gratifying to dip into the different characters’ perspectives and read their thoughts—finding what you hoped and what you feared, judgments and kindnesses, both. - Chorel
My Absolute Darling is a masterpiece. With language as clean as it is expressive, it’s a perfect combination of propulsive storytelling and languid observation, a hero’s journey in the form of Turtle Alveston, a meticulous near-feral girl who is difficult to care for but easy to love, who is at home in the expansiveness of the Northern California coastline but lost to the violence in her own home, imprisoned by the hands of her beloved father. Once awakened by her first crush, Turtle must continue along the dangerous path towards self-awareness and ultimately escape, accompanied by the deliciously smart repartee of her new friends and the safety of self-reliance within the deep backwoods. Gorgeous in its depiction of nature, human and otherwise, unafraid to tell the truth, even in its complexity, this novel both breaks your heart and patches it with hope. One cannot help but read with a new way of seeing, an unforgettable treasure within this incredible book. - Melinda
This penetrating novel dropped me into the minds of multiple characters on the ground in the early days of America's war with Iraq, and what I saw through their eyes won't soon be forgotten. Spoils draws out the mundanity and the violence of moments lived not just as a soldier in a modern war--but as a human living the universally difficult experience of being alive. Van Reet's gift for narrative, his ability to evoke the nuances of place and culture clash, and his cast of characters with their complexities of motive, create this haunting and tragic story of the dysfunction of contemporary war. Not to be missed. - Chorel
There is so much to love about this quirky debut novel. Wang’s narrator must come to terms with her stalling chemistry research, her dear devoted boyfriend, and her complicated relationship with her Chinese immigrant parents, and she attempts to do so with hilarity and heart. Wang writes with such personality, adding unexpected resonance through scientific principles and Chinese culture, and ultimately creating a multifaceted love story and one endearing heroine. - Melinda
In a small town along the Mississippi coast, one American family struggles with the ebbs and flows of a roller-coaster life grappling with addiction, connection, imprisonment, belonging and multi-generational strife. Jesmyn Ward, author of National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones, writes with gloriously, lyrical prose – a true mix of magical realism and honest observation of human nature which fully demonstrates that she is one of the greatest American authors writing today. - Casey