Twice a year the American Booksellers Association shares indie booksellers recommendations for book clubs. We’re excited to share them here with you as well. While this edition was not in print (or on the IndieBound website with the previous publications), we’ll be sharing some of our favorite sections from the full list. And the even better news about these titles? They’re all in paperback! Each cover links to the book on our website and is followed by a blurb from an indie bookseller and the synopsis from the publisher.
Winter & Spring Book Club Recommendations Top 10
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
The Nickel Boys is more proof that Colson Whitehead is an essential American author. Based on the true story of Florida’s infamous Dozier School for Boys, in The Nickel Boys, Whitehead continues his reckoning with the violence endured by African Americans, which he began with The Underground Railroad. The Nickel Boys is a bare, unvarnished, and unblinking coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and an all-too-real horror from our nation’s history. It’s a story that must be told by the only writer who can tell it.Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.
Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and “should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation’s best” (Entertainment Weekly).
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado uses short memoir pieces to build a sinister Dream House around her readers. She is a master architect who occasionally lobs a brick through the glass, disturbing collective notions of ‘lesbian utopia’ and violence as masculine. Her pivotal story interrogates stereotypes and contributes essential questions to the global #MeToo discussion. She is an innovative writer and queer hero of our time. I feel so grateful to her for sharing her painful past, giving us new ways to think about power and persuasion, and grateful to Graywolf for giving her a platformAlsace Walentine, Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, FL
A revolutionary memoir about domestic abuse by the award-winning author of Her Body and Other Parties.
In the Dream House is Carmen Maria Machado’s engrossing and wildly innovative account of a relationship gone bad, and a bold dissection of the mechanisms and cultural representations of psychological abuse. Tracing the full arc of a harrowing relationship with a charismatic but volatile woman, Machado struggles to make sense of how what happened to her shaped the person she was becoming.
And it’s that struggle that gives the book its original structure: each chapter is driven by its own narrative trope—the haunted house, erotica, the bildungsroman—through which Machado holds the events up to the light and examines them from different angles. She looks back at her religious adolescence, unpacks the stereotype of lesbian relationships as safe and utopian, and widens the view with essayistic explorations of the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.
Machado’s dire narrative is leavened with her characteristic wit, playfulness, and openness to inquiry. She casts a critical eye over legal proceedings, fairy tales, Star Trek, and Disney villains, as well as iconic works of film and fiction. The result is a wrenching, riveting book that explodes our ideas about what a memoir can do and be.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
I cannot recommend this novel enough. From Zachary’s perfect characterization as a curious, if unmoored, graduate student to the worlds upon worlds of story, The Starless Sea is magnificent. Each thread opens a door (figuratively and literally) to one of the most thrilling and rewarding universes I’ve ever read. Add to that several impossible and wonderful romances, and you have an excellent addition to any book lover’s shelf.Demi Marshall, BookPeople, Austin, TX
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world—a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth. What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians—it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also of those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose—in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
A spare, probing look at four generations of two families thrown together by a teenage pregnancy. Moving back and forth in time, in Red at the Bone we hear from the 16-year-olds and their parents, and from the child’s perspective, beginning with her 16th birthday celebration. Social standing, goals, desires, and understandings are at stake, underscoring how early decisions and actions can change the course of lives. A powerful, poetic novel.Liza Bernard, Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, VT
An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other, from the New York Times-bestselling and National Book Award-winning author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming.
Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
This stunning book in the tradition of The Secret History and The Magicians is about a girl who can see ghosts, and who gets a full scholarship to Yale in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy. Bardugo’s first adult entry has a cast of characters you won’t soon forget, and great social commentary about class. Great for fans of her other work who have aged up, or fans of gritty adult fantasy.Vickie Roberts, Andover Bookstore, Andover, MA
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo comes a mesmerizing tale of power, privilege, and dark magic set among the Ivy League elite.
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their eight windowless “tombs” are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street’s biggest players. But their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.
Ninth House is the long-awaited adult debut by the beloved author of Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. Leigh Bardugo will take her place alongside Lev Grossman and Deborah Harkness as one of the finest practitioners of literary fantasy writing today.
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton writes with captivating force; she holds a mirror to the insidious, enduring nature of American racism, revealing how it adapts to threaten Black lives in new, but not unfamiliar, ways. This novel — which spans five generations — is a love letter to grandmothers. With it, Sexton asks us to recognize and honor what we inherit from our ancestors, and how me might yield this inheritance in our fight for liberation.Serena Morales, Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY
In 1924, Josephine is the proud owner of a thriving farm. As a child, she channeled otherworldly power to free herself from slavery. Now her new neighbor, a white woman named Charlotte, seeks her company, and an uneasy friendship grows between them. But Charlotte has also sought solace in the Ku Klux Klan, a relationship that jeopardizes Josephine’s family.
Nearly one hundred years later, Josephine’s descendant, Ava, is a single mother who has just lost her job. She moves in with her white grandmother, Martha, a wealthy but lonely woman who pays Ava to be her companion. But Martha’s behavior soon becomes erratic, then threatening, and Ava must escape before her story and Josephine’s converge.
The Revisioners explores the depths of women’s relationships–powerful women and marginalized women, healers and survivors. It is a novel about the bonds between mothers and their children, the dangers that upend those bonds. At its core, The Revisioners ponders generational legacies, the endurance of hope, and the undying promise of freedom.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia
After reading the author’s previous book, Bellwether Rhapsody, I have been anxiously awaiting her next read, and she did not disappoint! A gloriously fun read that reminded me of the beauty and magic of The Night Circus mixed with the puzzle-solving mystery of The Westing Game. A perfect choice to pick up and devour. Prepare to be immersed in Tuesday’s world, following clues and enjoying Racculia’s wit throughout an elaborate treasure hunt in the city of Boston.Kirsten Hess, Let’s Play Books!, Emmaus, PA
A handsome stranger. A dead billionaire. A citywide treasure hunt. Tuesday Mooney’s life is about to change . . . forevermore.
Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.
Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.
A deliciously funny ode to imagination, overflowing with love letters to art, from The Westing Game to Madonna to the Knights of the Round Table, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is the perfect read for thrill seekers, wanderers, word lovers, and anyone looking for an escape to the extraordinary.
White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad
Ruby Hamad delivers us a meticulously researched, incisive, beautifully written, and much-needed look at how white women historically have used and continue to employ their privileged, patriarchy-rooted racial status as ‘damsel’ paragons to undercut and suppress BIPOC women. I lost count of the number of times I found myself emphatically nodding along while turning the pages. Everyone needs to read this book, which will definitely be a mainstay on Duende’s ‘Decolonize Your Mind’ reading list.Angela Spring, Duende District, Washington, DC
Called “powerful and provocative” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of the New York Times bestselling How to be an Antiracist, this explosive book of history and cultural criticism reveals how white feminism has been used as a weapon of white supremacy and patriarchy deployed against Black and Indigenous women, and women of color.
Taking us from the slave era, when white women fought in court to keep “ownership” of their slaves, through the centuries of colonialism, when they offered a soft face for brutal tactics, to the modern workplace, White Tears/Brown Scars tells a charged story of white women’s active participation in campaigns of oppression. It offers a long overdue validation of the experiences of women of color.
Discussing subjects as varied as The Hunger Games, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the viral BBQ Becky video, and 19th century lynchings of Mexicans in the American Southwest, Ruby Hamad undertakes a new investigation of gender and race. She shows how the division between innocent white women and racialized, sexualized women of color was created, and why this division is crucial to confront.
Along the way, there are revelatory responses to questions like: Why are white men not troubled by sexual assault on women? (See Christine Blasey Ford.) With rigor and precision, Hamad builds a powerful argument about the legacy of white superiority that we are socialized within, a reality that we must apprehend in order to fight.
rough house by Tina Ontiveros
The story of Tina Ontiveros’ childhood with her family, both before and after her parents divorced, is one of just barely scraping by — but in such a way that her life can inspire envy as well as sorrow. Her lumberjack dad’s outsized personality and way of life is at once riveting, horrifying, and occasionally beautiful, and Ontiveros conveys this masterfully. Her depiction of and feeling for the rich Northwest outdoors is as affecting as that of her youth and coming of age in this world.Georgiana Blomberg, Magnolia’s Bookstore, Seattle, WA
Tina Ontiveros was born into timber on both sides of the family. Her mother spent summers driving logging trucks for her family’s operation, and her father was the son of an itinerant logger, raised in a variety of lumber towns, as Tina herself would be.
A story of growing up in turmoil, rough house recounts a childhood divided between a charming, mercurial, abusive father in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and a mother struggling with small-town poverty. It is also a story of generational trauma, especially for the women—a story of violent men and societal restrictions, of children not always chosen and frequently raised alone.
Ontiveros’s father, Loyd, looms large. Reflecting on his death and long absence from her life, she writes, “I had this ridiculous hope that I would get to enjoy a functional relationship with my father, on my own terms, now that I was an adult.” In searingly honest, straightforward prose, rough house is her attempt to carve out this relationship, to understand her father and her family from an adult perspective.
While some elements of Ontiveros’s story are universal, others are indelibly grounded in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest at the end of the twentieth century, as the lumber industry shifted and contracted. Tracing her childhood through the working-class towns and forests of Washington and Oregon, Ontiveros explores themes of love and loss, parents and children, and her own journey to a different kind of adulthood.
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves made up for ending the Shetland series by introducing us to a new series starring Detective Matthew Venn. I immediately fell in love with the area of North Devon and with Matthew, his husband Jonathan, and his fellow police officers. The Long Call is a terrific police procedural that deals with lots of sensitive issues in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner. I can’t wait to learn more about Matthew and his earlier life as well as get to know Jonathan and the other people of the village.Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
The Long Call from Ann Cleeves—bestselling and award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both of which are hit TV shows—introduces the first in a gripping new series, told with deep compassion and searing insight.
In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father’s funeral takes place. On the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.
Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.
The case calls Matthew back to the people and places of his past, as deadly secrets hidden at their hearts are revealed, and his new life is forced into a collision course with the world he thought he’d left behind.