David Arnold makes his YA debut with Mosquitoland, the tale of a teen runaway on a 947-mile journey to find her mother. It all begins on a Greyhound bus, but dangers big and small make Mim's journey treacherous and transformative. "I am Mary Iris Malone," our heroine says, "and I am not okay." Through letters to a character named Isabel, as well as through clever, authentic narration, she reveals the confusion, pain and heartwrenching vulnerabilities that spurred this epic journey. BookPage met Arnold when he came through Nashville promoting his book, and it was a delight to pick this new author's brain.
George Hodgman had defined himself by his work as an editor in New York City. Newly out of a job, he returns home to small-town Paris, Missouri, and discovers that his mother, Betty, is in need of full-time care. Their affection and shared humor dance around the unspoken; Hodgman is gay, a fact his parents never acknowledged.
It takes a special talent for an author to tap into the mind of a character who is radically different from himself, and first-time novelist David Arnold has uncannily captured the voice of a 16-year-old girl with beauty and style in Mosquitoland.
“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.
Gayle Forman, whose previous books include If I Stay and Just One Day, specializes not only in three-word titles but also in novels that combine emotional intensity with moral complexity. I Was Here opens with a gut-wrenching wallop as Cody relates the suicide email she received from her best friend, Meg.
“When you stopped trying to be one perfect person, you could be many.” A small-town Tennessee girl flourishes into a classic, yet never cliché, femme fatale in Rebecca Scherm’s provocative coming-of-age debut, Unbecoming.
It’s easy to forget that by the time he was 41, F. Scott Fitzgerald was washed up. His books were out of print, magazines weren’t interested in his stories and his monthly royalties were down to pocket change. In 1937, he went to Hollywood, where he struggled to make a living writing screenplays, barely staying one step ahead of his creditors. It is these lean years that Stewart O’Nan examines in his brilliant biographical novel West of Sunset.
Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, with its intriguing and evocative title, was an international bestseller that fed Western readers’ appetite for learning about life under a fundamentalist regime. Her new book, The Republic of Imagination, bears some of the hallmarks of that success—literary criticism blended with personal history—but it flips the equation, offering an assessment of Nafisi’s adopted country (she became an American citizen in 2008) through the lens of her passion for literature.
Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, The Hundred-Year House, is an appealing mix of archival mystery, ghost story and historical novel. Told in reverse chronology, it unfolds as a kind of bookish scavenger hunt set in a former artist’s colony, uncovering clues and putting pieces of the fictional puzzle in place. I was able to catch up with Rebecca at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books.
If the mark of a great author is not merely how much she incites the imaginations of readers but the extent to which she inspires fellow writers, then there can be no doubt that Jane Austen is the greatest author of them all. Just when you think the market for Austen spinoffs has reached capacity, a new book comes onto the scene that turns the genre on its head. Such is the case with First Impressions, Charlie Lovett’s delightful new novel.