Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters (Delta, $12). Masters's book reads like a detective story, with the author trying to unravel the life of the homeless Stuart Shorter. The story starts with Stuart on the street and works back to pinpoint where it all went wrong. Writer and subject become unlikely friends in this powerful and moving exploration.
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice (Vintage, $13). Set in an opal-mining town in Australia, this gem of a book revolves around Kellyanne and her imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan. When they disappear, Kellyanne becomes sick over the loss. Despite not believing in them, Kellyanne's brother, Ashmol, goes searching for the imaginary duo.
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (Penguin, $15). Take one well-meaning librarian, one possibly gay 10-year-old boy, and one road trip across the country, and you have the wonderful and witty story of The Borrower. The moral ambiguity of so many of the decisions made along the way was what kept me thinking about this book long after the last page.
Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish by Joe Mackall (Beacon, $16). Over many years, English professor Mackall and his Amish neighbor Samuel have forged a touching friendship built on tolerance. Mackall creates a unique, honest, and always generous glimpse into the ironies of Amish culture. There are some truly poignant moments here when religion and lifestyle fall away and we see two human beings struggling to do the best they can for the people in their lives.
Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (Picador, $14). Suspenseful and wonderfully observed, Heller's book gets inside the head of a creepy loner named Barbara as she forges a friendship with a charismatic newcomer at the school where she works. Both women have secrets, which play out through the book. Heller uses unreliable narration to the best possible effect.
Skellig by David Almond (Delacorte, $17). A gorgeous book for readers of any age. A boy finds a hunched, human-esque creature in the corner of his garage and a secret friendship blossoms. The boy feeds the creature (Chinese takeout!) and helps him in whatever way he can.