Roxane Gay's 6 favorite books
The novelist recommends works by Emma Donoghue, Cristina Henríquez, and more
Edinburgh by Alexander Chee (Picador, $17). A 12-year-old and his friends carry a dark torment from a trip they made with a pedophilic choir director. As time passes, they meet varied, often troubling fates, and not until this novel's end do we learn who survived and at what cost.
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Penguin, $16). The scope and intensity of Coetzee's award-winning novel leave an indelible impression. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, this breathtaking book about a professor banished for seducing a student examines the nation's legacy of inhumanity, middle-aged men behaving badly, and the unexpected intimacy that arises between a father and daughter as they seek mutual understanding.
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung (Riverhead, $16). Fractured by secrets, a Korean family must find their way back to harmony in Chung's 2012 novel. Hannah, a college student, has disappeared. Her sister, Janie, the dutiful daughter, sets out to find Hannah before their father dies. In confident prose, Chung elegantly interweaves mythology and memory, the past and the present.
Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (Harper Perennial, $15) Scandal has driven a small family — an insomniac, her violently somnambulant husband, and their mute son — from Illinois to Miami. As the adults drift apart, they're further rocked by an accident and Hurricane Andrew.
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (Knopf, $25). Everyone who comes to the United States brings a complicated story. Arturo and Alma Rivera have emigrated from Mexico to get their brain-injured teenage daughter, Mirabel, the help she needs. As the parents adapt to a new life, they watch warily as a young neighbor befriends Mirabel. Cristina Henríquez's new novel chronicles this budding romance with tenderness, making it seem that young love makes anything possible.
Room by Emma Donoghue (Back Bay, $16). Because Donoghue uses a 5-year-old narrator to describe what he and his mother suffered during years of captivity, the horrors they endured are starkly but poetically revealed. This novel does not offer happy endings but suggests that hope endures beyond unspeakable trauma.
— Roxane Gay's debut novel, An Untamed State, focuses on a privileged Haitian family torn apart by the kidnapping of their grown daughter. Bad Feminist, a collection of Gay's nonfiction essays, will be released in August.