Russell Banks’ latest novel, Lost Memory of Skin, has an unexpected protagonist. The Kid, a convicted sex offender, camps out under a causeway in Florida. Laws stipulate that he must stay away from places where children congregate. A victim of his own instincts, young and a bit naïve, the Kid leads a shiftless existence with other homeless men. His life takes an unexpected turn when the Professor—a compelling and intellectually brilliant figure—takes an interest in him. Determined to show that individuals like the Kid can be given another chance and brought back into society, the Professor allies himself with the young man. But when the Professor’s questionable past comes to light, their delicate bond is forever altered. Provocative and timely, Banks’ expertly crafted novel is also a penetrating study of social issues. The Kid’s story is captivating from start to finish.

Charles C. Mann’s 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created takes an intriguing look at the ascent of Europe and the development of globalization. Grand in scope yet satisfyingly detailed, Mann’s powerful narrative touches down in China, Africa and Mexico as it traces the evolution of complex trade systems and the establishment of economies that made the world what it is today. This rich synthesis of politics and history also examines the cross-continental exchanges that brought the tomato to America and the potato to Ireland and disseminated diseases on a worldwide scale. Mann deftly tracks volatile political issues—race and class, immigration and trade—back to their roots, placing them in a fresh context. A contributing editor of The Atlantic and other publications, Mann is the author of the much-praised 1491. He has followed up that acclaimed work with another eloquently written narrative that makes history come alive.

Proving yet again that he can pull off any narrative sleight of hand, Stephen King delivers one of his most imaginative books yet in 11/22/63: A Novel, a time-tripping return to the era of JFK. High school English teacher Jake Epping leads an uneventful life until he’s persuaded to take a journey into the past by his diner-owning friend, Al. Long preoccupied with the Kennedy assassination, Al has the ability to travel back in time—via a portal in his restaurant. He entrusts Jake with a special task: Revisit the ’60s and abort the Kennedy assassination. Jake is equal to the challenge, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime—one that takes him to rural Texas, where he teaches high school, falls in love and awaits the appearance of Lee Harvey Oswald, whose plans he hopes to thwart. King mines the absurdity of Jake’s situation even as he highlights the drama and danger of his mission. This genre-bending work is an unforgettable blend of history, mystery and fantasy.

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