Little Children by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin's, $14). Perrotta's comic novel about suburban parents caught in a set of loveless, passionless marriages points to an inescapable fact about romantic expectations: Marriage isn't what it's cracked up to be. Fortunately, there is a path forward.
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout (Vintage, $15). Having children is also not what it's cracked up to be. Strout won a Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge. In her first novel, she examined the gulf that opens between a mother and her 16-year-old when the daughter is caught steaming up a car's windows with a high school teacher.
The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard (St. Martin's, $16). Maynard beautifully illuminates the resilience of children in this 2004 novel about a 13-year-old girl whose mother dies on 9/11 in one of the World Trade Center's burning towers.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (Harper Perennial, $15). Shriver's inventive novel, which follows one character along two potential life paths that emerge from a single decision, was engineered to pose one question: Should we give up a safe, loyal partnership for a novel passion? Not if we understand how love ages, we won't.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (St. Martin's, $15). Smith's protagonist is a 17-year-old aspiring writer. As she fills three notebooks with observations about family life in a crumbling English castle, she finds happiness despite the household's state ofnot-so-genteel poverty.
Jewel by Bret Lott (Washington Square Press, $14).Jewel is the happy matriarch of a hard-working Mississippi family and already the mother of five when her last child is born with Down syndrome in 1943. Lott's 1999 novel illustrates how confronting life's greatest challenges and regrets can accelerate both maturity and happiness.
Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards (Broadway, $15). The wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer just days before the 2004 election. As Edwards confronts her terminal illness in this book's pages, she demonstrates perhaps the strongest example of resilience I have ever read.