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10 notable novels for your holiday reading list

Afreen Feroze Akbany
Afreen Feroze Akbany

Eighteen-year-old third culture kid, currently on a gap month in Jakarta

Jakarta | Mon, December 11, 2017 | 02:55 pm
10 notable novels for your holiday reading list

Here are 10 books to spend your holiday down-time in enjoyable, engrossing reading that allows you to escape to another time, place or identity – all without leaving home. (Shutterstock/*)

Here are 10 notable fiction books — in no particular order — that you might want to dive into this holiday season.

Literary fiction

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Tallent’s debut novel centers around feral teenager Turtle Alveston, who has been raised in the forests and hills of Northern California by her widowed father. Her social existence is confined to her middle school, where she perennially fends off attention from anyone who might offer it, and life with her father. She meets Jacob, a high school boy who lives in a big clean house and tells jokes. Her experience with an authentic teenage crush provides her impetus to devise an escape, using the same skills her father taught her.

This originally told, profoundly moving story marks the debut of a remarkable contemporary writer.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Ward’s third novel is set on a farm on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and follows Jojo and his little sister Kayla, who live with their grandparents, and the sporadic presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie. Their granddad, "Pop", mans the homestead, meticulously tending to the goat yard, chicken coop and pigpen, while their grandma, "Mam", is in the throws of cancer. Arguably, Leonie’s greatest addiction is her love for the children’s white father, Michael, who has been locked up for three years at Parchman, the state prison. When Michael calls to say that he has been released, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out on a journey to collect him, in an effort to make her family whole again.

As a character study of an African-American family in contemporary Mississippi, Sing, Unburied, Sing is an instantly captivating tale of the power and limitations of family bonds.

Historical fiction

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Set in 1862, Saunders’ long-awaited debut novel commences with the illness and subsequent death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln — the President’s beloved son — amid the Civil War. The grief-stricken President frequents the crypt where Willie is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown, where he is surrounded by disembodied spirits. Saunders employs facts and semi-facts to spin an unforgettable story of love and loss in a thrilling, supernatural realm that is both hilarious and terrifying.

“Bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist reference to the transition period between death and rebirth. In the given context, it signifies a kind of purgatory inhabited by ghosts.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

In 1995, an innocent, language-intoxicated and second-generation Turkish immigrant teen Selin arrives at Harvard University to pursue subjects she has never heard of, and an all-consuming crush that she develops on Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Again, Batuman lends this work integrity, as it is likely to have stemmed from her own experiences as a daughter to Turkish immigrants and Harvard graduate. At the end of her freshman year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer and Selin journeys to the Hungarian countryside to teach English and perhaps see him on weekends. To her surprise, he encourages her to rebuff the idea of a romantic relationship between them.

The novel presents a warm, funny portrayal of a young woman attending university in the ‘90s and discovering the difference between life and literature.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Set in the period in which Dickens wrote his cherished classic, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a novel for those who enjoy humor and rich historical details from Charles Dickens’s life. Silva realistically depicts the writer's restlessness, yearning for public approval and how his narcissism turns people away. When one of his works surprisingly flops after his yearly Christmas successes, the distinguished life he has built for himself begins to crumble: His critics turn against him and Dickens begins envisioning living in a poor home.

The novel recounts Dickens's search for inspiration in the city of London and provides a charming rendition of the events leading to the writing of the memorable classic.

Young adult fiction

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Green’s first novel after The Fault in Our Stars focuses on 16-year-old Aza Holmes, who suffers from severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Set in Green’s hometown of Indianapolis, the story follows Aza on her search for a fugitive billionaire who happens to be the father of one of her acquaintances. Readers spend long stretches in her head, exposed to her unsteady thoughts as well as her "rational" side of that tries to talk herself down.

What gives the novel integrity is the fact that Green himself has suffered from OCD, as he has revealed in tweets and on his vlog. Green remarked: “This is my first attempt to write directly about the kind of mental illness that has affected my life since childhood, so while the story is fictional, it is also quite personal.”

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thomas’s debut novel, which has spent almost an entire year on the New York Times bestseller list and been optioned for a film, follows 16-year-old Starr Carter who has lost two of her childhood friends to gun violence. As the sole witness of the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil, Starr finds herself overwhelmed by the pressure of testifying before a grand jury and the responsibility of speaking out in his memory.

The novel offers some perspective into the life of a black teenage girl who moves between two worlds — the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood where she lives and the private, suburban, majority-white school that she attends — which seem to converge as the plot progresses. As a work written for young adults, it reminds its audience of racialized violence against teens. With her intimate writing style and first-person narration, Thomas masterfully taps into Starr’s pain, shock and outrage during the shooting and the trial that ensues.


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West recounts the story of refugees Saeed and Nadia from an unnamed country, who flee to Greece, England and finally to the Unites States in an effort to reinvent their lives. The focus of the novel is less on the physical hardships that befall the characters as a result of civil war, and more on the psychology of exile and the aftermath of dislocation. The novel follows its lead characters as they emerge into an uncertain future and struggle to hold onto each other and elements of their past, despite how oppressive their past may have seemed.

Hamid’s harrowing work tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty and courage that should not be missed.

Adult fiction

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Taking place in a small, remote Swedish town, Backman’s latest novel tells the story of a junior hockey team hopeful of bringing the town national glory and, with it, economic recovery. Under the guise of being a sports novel, this seemingly simple story quickly turns dark as the one-track minds and hearts of the town’s residents are exposed.

Beartown explores what it means for a young group of boys to carry the hopes of an entire town on their shoulders, for a town to come together because of shared hope and is torn apart because of secrets and disagreements. Although set in a small forest town in Sweden, this is a timeless and universal story of sexism, homophobia and political tensions that could happen virtually anywhere.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng’s fans may recognise some elements from her debut Everything I Never Told You, including racial tension, contentious family dynamics and blatant foreshadowing.

Set in the ‘90s in a progressive suburb called Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio, it recounts the story of Mia Warren and her teenaged daughter Pearl, who arrive to settle in the suburb after living in dozens of towns. Pearl longs for a sense of belonging and thus quickly becomes a fixture in the home of their landlord, the Richardsons. When the Richardsons’ family friend decides to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts, leaving the society utterly transfixed and putting Mia and Elena Richardson on opposite sides. Elena grows increasingly suspicious of Mia’s motives and attempts to uncover the secrets of her past, an investigation that could cost her dearly. (kes)


Afreen Feroze Akbany is an eighteen-year-old third culture kid who has an insatiable curiosity for topics related to health science, economics, philosophy, entertainment and travel; and finds it pretty amusing to write about herself in third person. She is currently on a gap month in Jakarta before pursuing undergraduate studies abroad.

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