Chosen by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book, You Think It, I’ll Say It, is the best-selling novelist’s first short-story collection. Below, the author of Prep, American Wife, and Sisterland names six recent novels featuring strong-willed female protagonists.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Penguin, $16). Selin, a freshman at Harvard in the mid-1990s, strikes up a correspondence with Ivan, an upperclassman, through the newfangled medium of email. Batuman makes smart and hilarious observations about language, longing, and self-consciousness.
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet (Picador, $16). In another recent novel set in the ’90s, another freshman has traded working-class Cuban-American Miami for an elite college in upstate New York. Back in Florida, an Elián González–inspired drama unfolds; up north, Lizet navigates academic and romantic confusion. Capó Crucet is equally brilliant writing about class, sex, and what it’s like to experience snow for the first time.
White Houses by Amy Bloom (Random House, $29). In this historical imagining, plucky journalist Lorena Hickok recounts her romantic relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, including stints when “Hick” literally lived inside the White House. Hick’s hardscrabble upbringing contrasts with Eleanor’s privilege, but the two women are bound to each other by a deep love that Bloom illuminates with poignancy and humor.
Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter (Vintage, $16). This smart, caustic novel follows its 30-something heroine as she takes a job at a foundation ostensibly committed to improving women’s lives but perhaps equally invested in nurturing its founder’s ego. Winter writes with sharpness, nuance, and compassion about female friendship, feminist hypocrisy, and infertility.
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Algonquin, $16). Jones’ justly acclaimed An American Marriage is a recent Oprah’s Book Club pick; this 2011 novel is equally wonderful. Its teenage narrators are half sisters whose father is a bigamist, a situation Jones makes complex. She also magnificently captures details of teenage girlhood that are at once universal and specific to 1980s Atlanta.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (Hogarth, $16). Frances is a student and aspiring writer who becomes involved with a married, older actor. The dialogue is superb, as are the insights about communicating in the age of electronic devices. Rooney has a magical ability to write scenes of such verisimilitude that even when little happens they’re suspenseful.