Unconventional Thrillers, Stories with Staying Power, and the Brightest Fiction of Fall 2020

Our new favorite books break down like this: voice-driven novels and poems that are unlike anything we’ve come across before, twisty stories and psychological thrillers, and two novels that will never, ever leave us.

Distinctive Voices

  • <em>Just Like You</em> by Nick Hornby

    Just Like You by Nick Hornby

    Join us for our September goop Book Club read—we’ve got a reading guide, a Facebook group for mini discussions and book chatter, and a live conversation with the author coming up on Wednesday, October 28, at 10 a.m. PT. Clever, entertaining, funny, and keenly observed, Just Like You is an unexpected modern love story about a nearly divorced woman who goes off her script when she meets a man from the generation after hers. You read in part to see what will become of their relationship and what their next acts will look like. And also because Hornby is a master of dialogue, chemistry between characters, and social commentary in a way that feels pointed and true as well as optimistic.

  • <em>Memorial</em> by Bryan Washington

    Memorial by Bryan Washington

    Bryan Washington’s writing is a treasure. We read his first book, the deeply affecting story collection Lot, for the July edition of goop Book Club. And we were uncool-level-eager to read his second book—and first novel—Memorial. Washington told us it was “a multi-culti gay slacker traumedy.” It’s about Benson and Mike, two young men living together in Houston, whose relationship is fizzling out when two things happen at the same time. Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, arrives from Tokyo for a visit. And Mike leaves for Osaka, to see his estranged father, who is dying. It’s brilliant, funny, true.

  • <em>Pizza Girl</em> by Jean Kyoung Frazier

    Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

    Weird, wry, and charming, Pizza Girl is a novel about an eighteen-year-old who is pregnant, living with her boyfriend and mom, and working as a pizza delivery girl in suburban Los Angeles. One day, she gets a strange call at work—a woman named Jenny wants a pizza with pickles for her son. The more our heroine gets to know Jenny, the more topsy-turvy her life gets. You’ll likely feel compelled to judge and root for these characters simultaneously.

  • <em>Here Is the Sweet Hand</em> by francine j. harris

    Here Is the Sweet Hand by francine j. harris

    Here Is the Sweet Hand is a new collection from renowned poet francine j. harris. Its complex, compelling protagonists take shape off the page almost instantaneously. Some of the poems are so full of heat, so pressing, that you’ll hold your breath until the last line. One poem, about Election Day (but not), compels a “ha.” Another, a thoughtful mediation on language—and whether or not it kills information—will get lodged in your mind. Throughout, there are literary greats, sex, pop culture, and confrontations with the concept of the Good Samaritan. A favorite poem: “Forestbathing (or Trees),” which was surprising and beautiful.

The Eerie, Spooky, Fast-Paced Sort

  • <em>Leave the World Behind</em> by Rumaan Alam

    Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

    Rumaan Alam’s third novel is almost certain to be one of the biggest books of the fall—and the year. (Netflix already picked the story up, with Sam Esmail directing and Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington set to star.) Leave the World Behind could be read as a new kind of end-of-the-world fiction, but to press any genre onto this story feels wrong. The book begins with Amanda, Clay, and their two teens on a family vacation in Long Island. Which gets interrupted when the owners of the home show up one night. There’s been a blackout in New York City and the owners are wondering if they can stay the night. The blackout is just the beginning, though, and it won’t be just one night. (Read more about Alam in this recent Vulture profile.)

  • <em>The Island Child</em> by Molly Aitken

    The Island Child by Molly Aitken

    From a young age, Oona wanted to leave Inis, the isolated island off the coast of Ireland where she grew up. Which is not how everyone felt about the island—for many, it was a treasure, the only home they’d ever known and ever wanted to know. How would Oona leave? With a shock. The narrative of The Island Child moves back and forth in time from childhood Oona to adult Oona, who is eventually forced to go back to her past in an attempt to free herself from it.

  • <em>Sisters</em> by Daisy Johnson

    Sisters by Daisy Johnson

    Read this when you are able to stay up late. Sisters is a haunting story about July and September, two sisters born ten months apart, who abruptly leave school after a somewhat mysterious bullying incident, the details of which seem unspeakable. Their new life is by the shore, isolated, in a long-abandoned family home, with their struggling mum. Something is up—with the landscape, with the house, with them. July senses that the deeply intimate and tight thread connecting her to September feels different. What else can we say? We didn’t see the twist coming. This story is a tight monster.

  • <em>Empire of Wild</em> by Cherie Dimaline

    Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

    Cherie Dimaline’s novel is inspired by the Canadian Métis legend of the rougarou. Empire of Wild is about a woman named Joan who has been looking for her husband for almost a year. Victor disappeared after they’d gotten into an argument, which was rare for them. Joan is convinced that Victor is alive—and still, of course, she’s shocked when she hears his voice coming from inside a revival tent in a parking lot. (In part because this is the last place she’d expect to find him.)

  • <em>True Story</em> by Kate Reed Petty

    True Story by Kate Reed Petty

    At first glance, the plot seems straightforward: Two boys, high school lacrosse players, drive a girl from a private school home after a party. She passes out. Rumors spread. Allegations are am. People in town are upset. People in town forget about it. Two women don’t. But with every page, True Story gets less straightforward, more inventive, with slow and fast twists that challenge conventional notions of power, sexual assault, and our understanding of truth.

Stay with You Forever

  • <em>Betty</em> by Tiffany McDaniel

    Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

    Prepare to be undone. In the category of A Little Life, this is one of those rare books, full of tragedy and trauma, that is so stunning, so beautiful, so piercing, you could never forget it. Tiffany McDaniel: wow, wow, wow. Betty is inspired by McDaniel’s mother and tells the story of a resilient, curious girl named Betty, the sixth of eight siblings, born to a Cherokee father who instills in her a wonder for the land outside her window.

  • <em>Transcendent Kingdom</em> by Yaa Gyasi

    Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

    Yaa Gyasi’s first masterpiece, Homegoing, was an epic that spanned seven generations. Her second masterpiece is a close-up. Transcendent Kingdom is about twenty-eight-year-old Gifty, who is trying to finish her doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford when her mother is pulled into her second severe depression and travels from Huntsville, Alabama (where Gifty grew up), to stay with her daughter. It’s about the big stuff: faith, science, family, death, purpose, heartbreak, hope. You might keep it together for a while. And then weep toward the end—not really because of any particular plot event but because Gyasi’s writing has a way of making you bare, of breaking you open.

We hope you enjoy the books recommended here. Our goal is to suggest only things we love and think you might, as well. We also like transparency, so, full disclosure: We may collect a share of sales or other compensation if you purchase through the external links on this page.