If your book club is not one to shy away from the hard questions, try one of these recent titles. Open and honest conversations about race, family secrets, sexuality, immigration, abuse, poverty, and marriage are difficult, but you’ll be glad you rose to the challenge.
Cape May by Chip Cheek
Arriving for their honeymoon in 1950s Cape May, New Jersey, Henry and Effie are startled to find the beach town deserted. Isolated in their new marriage, they decide to cut their trip short. But before they leave, they encounter their glamorous, sensual neighbors and become swept up by their drama. The beautiful socialite Clara; her lover, wealthy playboy Max; and his aloof, mysterious half-sister, Alma, to whom Henry is irresistibly drawn. The empty beach town becomes their playground as they sneak into the vacant summer homes, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink an enormous amount of gin. Soon Henry and Effie slip from innocence into betrayal, with irrevocable consequences.
Get the reading group guide.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
Claire is only seven years old when her older sister, Alison, dies tragically during a family vacation to the Caribbean island of Saint X. She spends much of her life piecing together who she thinks Alison was, and as with anyone who dies young, myths take over. As an adult, Claire (who now goes by Emily) runs into one of the local men suspected in her death. Turns out, they’re neighbors in rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Through this complicated relationship, Emily sees privilege and race collide, and rethinks her version of that fateful family vacation.
Get the reading group guide.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
In an isolated stretch of the Australian outback, brothers Nathan and Bub grapple with the unexplained death of their third brother, Cameron. Why would he wander into the wilderness with no supplies? What does it mean that he was found at Stockman’s Grave, known for its ghostly legends? As the grieving begins and life’s details are re-sorted, Nathan is mortified by the skeletons that come out of Cameron’s closet. He has his own to deal with — they all do — but facing their past is the only thing that will lead to clues that explain Cameron’s death.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Elwood Curtis’ life is on the right track, which is saying a lot for a young black man in Tallahassee at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Until it isn’t. A single slipup sends him to the Nickel Academy, a “reform school” that notoriously sends young men out into the world worse than when they came in. Elwood feels he can only survive the physical abuse and daily insults by emulating Dr. Martin Luther King. His friend, Turner, isn’t convinced. Decades later, we see that only one of them made it out alive.
Get the reading group guide.
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
Alice’s new life in the suburbs is an adjustment. Her career is in transition, which suddenly makes her a “housewife,” a term she thinks should be redefined. In the meantime, Alice discovers an old cookbook left in the basement by a previous owner, Nellie. Seeing a fun project, Alice starts making the recipes in Nellie’s book, which also holds unsent letters and telling notes in the margins. As Nellie’s shocking secrets come to light, Alice feels challenged to examine her own life — as a wife, as a woman — and where her power really lies.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Patsy makes the hard decision to leave her home in Jamaica, which includes her young daughter, Tru. Her destination is New York City, and the woman with whom she hopes to find love. Of course, the American Dream is not what it seems, and Patsy has to take low-wage jobs and live under the radar as an undocumented immigrant. In Jamaica, Tru grows up without a mother, left to find her own identity and ways to heal from Patsy’s estrangement. Finally, a painful reunion changes their lives.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe, daughter of Helios, isn’t enthralled by the lives of gods and would rather spend her time with mortals. Her witchcraft powers, however, do come in handy when she needs to conquer her enemies. Zeus, sensing that Circe’s power is uncontrollable, exiles her to an island where she has no allies and must depend on her considerable skills to survive the men and gods who try to take her down. With a divine Old Boy’s Club at her throat, she must decide if she is to remain a god or live among the mortals she loves.
The Antidote for Everything by Kimmery Martin
Georgia and Jonah are doctors at the same hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. A single monumental decision by hospital leadership changes their careers and their close friendship overnight: The hospital will no longer care for transgender patients. Jonah, a gay man, immediately rebels and is fired amid a manufactured scandal. Georgia, seeking a middle ground, battles corporate and religious dogma, while trying to reinstate Jonah and do what she can for their patients.
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
One hundred years into America’s dystopian future, most land is underwater. Maya and her daughter, Pearl, survive by fishing and trading, but heartache nags at them. Maya’s oldest daughter, Row, has been missing for years, but there’s a rumor of her appearance at an outpost in the Arctic. Now, Maya must decide if she should risk their already insecure lives chasing a shadow, or if they can live with the regret of never knowing what happened to Row.
There There by Tommy Orange
The Big Oakland Powwow is on everyone’s mind. Some will go to prove their sobriety. Others will honor the memory of a loved one who passed. Young dancers will debut not just their skills, but their identity within their tribe. A few will arrive with worse motives. As 12 people prepare for the big day, history, poverty, pride, and love swirl around them. It’s a painful yet realistic story about Urban Indians, their displacement, and the myths that try to hold them back.