Presented as a series of vignettes, some in prose and others in poetry, the newest book by National Book Award winner Alexie is deeply personal: an honest, wrenching, and incredibly moving story about all aspects of life and family. After the death of his mother, Alexie’s mourning was complicated by memories of a difficult childhood. His portrayals of family relationships, identity, and grief have the universality of great literature. (LJ 4/15/17)—SS
What do you do when your mortgage is underwater, a catastrophe depletes your savings, or your anticipated retirement becomes financially impossible? A growing number of Americans address these crushing challenges by taking to the road, with an RV, a van, or even a small car as their permanent home. A must-read about contemporary nomads who exhibit pride, grit, resourcefulness, and resilience that is simultaneously hopeless and uplifting—and certainly unforgettable. (LJ 7/17)—SS
In a striking and gut-punching memoir, Gay lays bare a devastating moment of sexual violence and its reverberations throughout her life. Her raw vulnerability is felt in every line of the book’s various essays, which insightfully explore her growing up and detail the everyday, undeserved injustices and slights that come with being a person of size. Gay asks for no accolades for bravery, but her matter-of-fact candor calls for compassion and will inspire any reader to consider their relationship with their own body and how they may better respect others’. (LJ 6/1/17)—KD
In the late 19th century, the Osage Nation was displaced from its ancestral lands in Kansas to the seemingly destitute yet in fact immensely oil-rich territory of northeastern Oklahoma. Members would rise to become the wealthiest people in the world per capita but also the target of unimaginable killings. While the nascent FBI achieved some small measure of justice for the community, many unanswered questions remain. Impeccably crafted, Grann’s “spellbinding book about the largest serial murder investigation you’ve never heard of” is history that deserves to be read widely. (LJ 2/1/17)—AP
Ginny Moon is 14 years old and has autism. Her adoptive parents misunderstand her concerns about her Baby Doll, left with her abusive birth mother five years ago. Are they just not listening? Or does her literalism fight their attempts to keep her safe? This stunning debut novel will pull at readers’ hearts and consciousness. “Ludwig’s gorgeous, wrenching portrayal of Ginny’s ability to communicate what she needs is perfection.” (LJ 3/15/17)—BLF
Unexpectedly, McDermott opens with a suicide and ends with a murder, but her narrative remains firmly grounded in the questions that have always shaped her stunning oeuvre: What do we owe ourselves, what do we owe others, and what do we owe God? In an Irish community in early 1900s New York, two women make a towering sacrifice of conscience, with the story surrounding them presented in powerful, beautifully distilled prose. (LJ 8/17)—BH
Rachlin’s captivating dual narrative details the bipartisan creation of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, an innovative, neutral state body that investigates and rights wrongful convictions, and the story of Willie J. Grimes, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for a rape he didn’t commit. An excellent storyteller, Rachlin shows how the group was instrumental in Grimes’s ultimately redemptive, but often frustrating, decades-long battle to be declared innocent. His book is nuanced and compelling and will stay with readers long after they’ve finished it. (LJ 9/1/17)—AM
Short-story author Saunders’s triumphant long-fiction debut poses a fundamental question: What happens to us after we die? A community of lost souls gather in a Washington, DC, graveyard—the bardo of Tibetan Buddhist cosmology—to tell their stories and offer comfort and possibly salvation to President Lincoln’s recently deceased young son, Willie. In the process they just might save themselves, too. The combination of pathos, humor, historical detail, and a thoughtful and honorable president is beguiling. This book will give readers hope for humanity and possibly make them weep. (LJ 10/1/16)—LF
There is no future for Solimar in her small Mexican town, so she accepts an offer to transport her across the border to the United States. Her cousin lives in California; Soli will have a fresh start. More harrowing than Soli’s initial journey is her ultimate struggle to stay in this country and keep her child. Addressing matters of immigration, infertility, and belonging, this sophomore effort from Sekaran will make readers think long and hard about its characters and their sacrifices. (LJ 11/1/16)—BLF
In a work as epic and searing as its inspiration, Antigone, Shamsie links headstrong but devout Aneeka with Eamonn, son of a secularized Muslim high in the British government, as she struggles to save a twin brother who has followed in the footsteps of their deceased jihadi father. Few books have articulated so successfully and so provocatively the position of Muslims in the West, and Shamsie’s burnished prose leads to an explosive, heartrending finale. (Xpress Reviews 8/4/17)—BH
In late October, nine LJ editors gathered at New York’s gothic Jefferson Market Library to select this year’s top ten best books. Our nominee list consisted of 23 carefully selected fiction and nonfiction titles. After many weeks of reading and much deliberation, the winning titles are evenly split: five works of fiction and five nonfiction; five women authors and five men. If there is a “winner among winners,” it would be Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, for which every editor voted. Certain themes leapt out: Prepub Alert Editor Barbara Hoffert noted a strong thread of “community” among the titles, both fiction and nonfiction. Irish American nuns in early 20th-century New York, “new nomads” on the fringes of society, Osage Indians under attack, politically diverse justice seekers, ghostly beings in a Washington, DC, cemetery, and Muslims in London—all contend with living, dying, and surviving in this world (no space travel titles this year). Another strong theme is parents, specifically mothers. In You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie grieves for his difficult mom; foster parents and biological mothers figure in both Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy and Benjamin Ludwig’s Ginny Moon; Roxane Gay keeps a huge secret from her loving but concerned parents in Hunger.
Our top ten bring readers to the core of existence: the larger groups with which we identify and the mothers and fathers who give it heart. For more great books, check out the Top Five lists curated by LJ editors and contributors.—Liz French
The LJ editors’ Notables are titles that didn’t make it to the top ten, or weren’t nominated, or somehow flew under the radar. This is our chance to tell you about even more books we love and think you will too.
Want a hard copy? Just fill out the form below to download a printable PDF version of the full LJ Best Books 2017 list:
LJ editors are listed by initial at the end of annotations:
All outside contributors are listed by name: