Simultaneously complex and simple, exploring complicated ideas in clearsighted and transparent ways, it grabbed me immediately. The plot is two (or three) stories in one: Ruth, a novelist in the Canadian Pacific Northwest finds a carefully packaged lunchbox on the beach. The diary and letters inside become a portal to the life of Nao Yasutani, a Japanese teenager struggling with school and family pressures. Nao’s irresistible account pulls Ruth in, and she begins a search for the Yasutani family, trying to track their lives then and now.
These stories explore the impact of World War II on Japan and its people, exploring ideas like the tenuous nature of tradition alongside the advance of Westernization, the fragility and impermanence of life and the echoes of loss, the nature of love and family, poverty, innovation, manners, aging, and much more.
On a Sunbeam is such an endearing story of coming of age and finding one’s footing in life. Mia joins a crew of space re-builders who travel to distant planets to renovate ruins for hire. As she bonds with her new crew, we see flashbacks to her former life in boarding school. As a student, she struggled to stay on top of her work, but she developed a love for Lux, a sport that involves flying ships through dark tunnels to search for colorful “planets.” At the same time, she fell in love with Grace, a shy girl with secrets about her past. Present-day Mia learns to love her new career while she deals with past loss and uncertainty. Her journey to find her path and her people is compelling and beautifully rendered.
Binti is strong and self-reliant, but her adventures put her into situations where she must face just how much she does not know, and learn from it. She experiences trauma, and wrestles with coming to terms with it and moving on with her life.
Asghar’s poems are effortlessly thought-provoking and captivating. They are playful, exploring different forms and techniques, but also direct, a clear-eyed look at life as a Pakistani-American orphan who wrestles with finding and creating home.
In Thick, Tressie Mcmillan Cottom writes with academic precision in a warmly confidential tone, showcasing her intellect and expertise while avoiding typical academic jargon and getting straight to the point. And for her, the point is that Black women deserve the assumption of competence and value, to be heard in their own right, without tokenizing or trivializing.
Against a heartbreaking and beautifully rendered backdrop, two young adults fall in love. The compelling beauty of their growing attraction is heightened by the setting–the city steadily and inevitably descends into chaos and danger. The intensity of Saeed and Nadia’s love for each other increases alongside their fear for themselves and loved ones. Rapid loss of comfort and stability around them fuses them together, and they become like family to one another.
The story unfolds through poems, some playful, some raw, some confused, some tender, all bursting with energy. Xiomara (or the Poet X), has such a vibrant and captivating voice. Each poem provides a glimpse into her life, and these glimpses stack to propel the reader forward.
The scope of the story is vast, so much so that I cannot adequately begin to summarize the things that happen to this family over the generations. And yet, Lee tells the entire tale with such compassion and evocative detail that it feels as though one knows the characters intimately.
These characters are not merely representatives of social issues; they are powerfully drawn, complex, and compelling. I could barely tear myself away, eager to see what would happen to them all.