All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, narrated by Janet Song
In All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung, who is Korean, confronts her experience of having been adopted by white parents, coming to terms with the ways in which she resents her alienation from a huge part of who she is — in a family that “othered” her despite their love and best intentions, and in a community that did the same, though often cruelly. When she gets pregnant, she decides it’s time to find her biological parents, and in the process she discovers an entire family. All You Can Ever Know is the messy navigation of Chung’s new reality — her working out the boundaries of these people who are both kin and strangers, her careful confrontation and reconciliation with her parents, and her exploration of the profound, ever-shifting meaning of family. Check out an excerpt here.
An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris, narrated by Eva Kaminsky
The first in a new trilogy from the author of the beloved Sookie Stackhouse series, An Easy Death exists in an alternate universe in which magic is real — and incredibly dangerous. The US has collapsed and been split up among the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. In one of the southwestern states called Texoma, deadly gunfighter and free agent Lizbeth Rose is confronted by two Russian sorcerers who are certain she can help them find a distant relative who might be the key to saving their exiled emperor. Unfortunately, there are plenty of sorcerers — and their own hired muscle — who are trying to stop them.
Beautiful Country Burn Again by Ben Fountain, narrated by Ron Butler
Ben Fountain’s essay collection encapsulates the political climate of 2016, narrating the year’s most surreal and influential events — the Iowa Caucus, the Democratic and Republican national conventions, the election itself and its aftershocks — and contextualizing them by probing into watershed moments of our nation’s past — moments that led to significant rebirth. Specifically, Fountain points to the Civil War and the Great Depression as formative existential crises. He argues that we face a third now, and that our next steps are crucial.
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh, narrated by Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh’s Kansas roots go back five generations. Her father and his family were wheat farmers, and her mother, like many of the women who came before her, got pregnant with Sarah when she was a teen. Smarsh’s memoir Heartland is a poignant look at growing up in a town 30 miles from the nearest city (Wichita); learning the value and satisfaction of hard, blue-collar work, and then learning that the rest of the country sees that work as something to be pitied; and watching her young mother’s frustration with living at the “dangerous crossroads of gender and poverty” and understanding that such a fate might be hers, too. This idea — this projection into the future — is the thread that Smarsh so gracefully weaves throughout the narrative; she addresses the hypothetical child she might or might not eventually have (an unnamed “you‘ throughout) and in doing so addresses all that the next-generation Middle Americans living in poverty will face.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, narrated by Dion Graham
Esi Edugyan’s novel follows 11-year-old George Washington Black, aka Wash, who — after growing up enslaved on a Barbados sugar plantation — is chosen by an eccentric explorer and abolitionist to be his manservant. Together they journey throughout a thrilling world entirely new to Wash — until Wash is blamed for a murder and the duo are forced to flee. As they travel through the American East Coast, London, Morocco, and eventually the Arctic, Wash experiences new understandings of freedom, invention, and rebirth.
Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness by Alisa Roth, narrated by Tavia Gilbert
In this exposé of America’s frequent criminalization of mental illness, journalist Alisa Roth dives deep into the criminal justice system, highlighting those victimized by it — it’s estimated that half of the country’s inmates have a psychiatric disorder — and those trying to fix it through more humane and rehabilitative approaches.
On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by Deray Mckesson, narrated by Deray Mckensson
DeRay Mckesson has been a key player in civil rights activism and organizing since the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in On the Other Side of Freedom he outlines the framework for a progressive future. Mckesson writes incisively and pragmatically about oppression, resistance, and injustice, weaving in the historical moments that brought us here.
The Caregiver by Samuel Park, narrated by Cassandra Campbell
The late Samuel Park’s The Caregiver follows Mara Alencar, who takes work as an at-home caregiver to a young woman dying of stomach cancer. Mara’s new career (and status as an undocumented immigrant) comes after her mother Ana’s involvement in a Brazilian rebel group forces them to flee their home in Rio de Janeiro and settle in California. There, living with a woman facing her death, she comes to terms with her traumatic past and turbulent relationship with her mother. That Park wrote this novel while fighting stomach cancer himself makes the story even more poignant.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, narrated by Richard Armitage
The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew who is forced to work for over two and a half years as a tattooist at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Despite witnessing horrific acts of evil and brutality, he risks his own life to protect fellow prisoners when he can. And when he meets a young woman named Gita, he musters the strength to ensure his own survival — so that he might one day leave the camp and marry her.