From least to most liked, here's a rundown. (Skip to the end if you just want the Coffeehouse minimum of "best book read.")
Unwind by Neal Shusterman. A YA dystopian thriller aimed mostly at teen boys. It's kind of nice to see a YA dystopian with a boy protagonist, and my teenage son certainly enjoyed this book. (He's also perfectly willing to read books with girl protagonists.) I like to read what my kids read, especially if they ask me to and if the book seems provocative in some way. "Unwind" is meant to be provocative, but although I did fly through the pages I never really felt that provoked. Big issues are dangled in front of the reader but not fully explored. Perhaps the rest of the series does more exploration. (There is one scene that is quite disturbing, though not at all graphic, and it is the strongest scene in the book. But ... be forewarned. It's creepy as hell.)
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Another YA thriller, but this one is set in modern-day reality. Well, reality-ish. The narrator of this slim novel is highly unreliable, as you might expect from the title. You can't be entirely sure if the story you're being told is what really happened—and you're not sure the narrator knows, either. Lockhart combines elements of King Lear, Wuthering Heights, fairy tales, and M. Night Shyamalan to create something that feels both epic and creepy. Three wealthy teenage cousins and their outsider friend decamp to a posh island for summer vacations, along with their mothers (who are sisters) and their grandfather, the controlling patriarch. Yep, that's the King Lear part. Tension is simmering among the adults and one summer things come to a terrible climax. But the exact nature of the disaster is withheld from both the narrator and the reader till the end, turning this into a mystery/thriller of sorts. I read this before my kids, but have recommended it to them.
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. In the fictional town of Guerrero, Mexico, all the children born are either boys or girls masquerading as boys. If word gets out that a girl is born, the drug lords will whisk her off as soon as she hits adolescence. The mothers not only raise their daughters as sons (cutting off their hair, blackening their teeth, uglifying them in any way they can), they dig holes in their yards and stuff the girls into the ground as soon as they hear any car approaching. To be a girl in Mexico is to be an inevitable victim of human trafficking; the lesson of this novel is that even your mother can't save you. Not the most uplifting of stories, but Clement removes us from some of the suffering by taking a poetic, distant tone. It's also a very short novel, which maybe it shouldn't have been. It's similar to The Kite Runner and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena in that it explores the effect of war on civilians who just want to be left alone ... except both of those novels really get into the inner world of the suffering protagonists and the outer world that created the chaos. Clement sort of skims over it; it's an impressionist painting. A pastel Monet slur of a minefield. (Note: although this novel does feature a teenage girl, it's not YA. It could be read by teenagers, but it's not written for them.)
2. The Other Language by Francesca Marciano. A short-story collection featuring mostly Italian protagonists (Marciano lives in Rome) who are strangers in various strange lands. Although each story is about someone dealing with some sort of trouble—stories don't exist without conflict—I felt as if I was on an exciting globe-trotting vacation the entire time I read it. The book was so deliciously written I wanted to eat it when I was done. I rarely read things again but I was so transported by these sumptuous stories I will almost certainly be revisiting them.
1. Redeployment by Phil Klay. Another short-story collection, this one dedicated to men, mostly soldiers, who've been chewed up and spit out by our horrific decade of war. Klay himself is a veteran, a former Marine who served in Iraq. I thought he captured the speech and mindset of the soldier extremely well; it's not always flattering and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. But it's genuine, or as genuine as this civilian can imagine it to be. (Reviewers who served in the military agree that it's very accurate.) This book was published only a few months ago and has been received well ... I expect to see it on most Best of 2014 lists, and no doubt it's going to to earn a number of literary awards. Not only is the writing excellent, but it's something every American can benefit from reading ... no matter how you feel about the wars we've been fighting.
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