Devi S. Laskar (Counterpoint)
As a child, I was intrigued by the idea that just before death, scenes from my life would flash before my eyes. In The Atlas of Reds and Blues, the main character, “Mother,” finds herself in this very situation. She is an American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, shot by police in her own driveway. In a series of stunning vignettes, Laskar tells the story of Mother lying quietly, bleeding, and reflecting on her life: “She lies on the concrete, wanting to laugh but can’t, but the corners of her mouth turn upward. Gift from God echoes inside her. Her name means ‘Gift from God.’”
Yangsze Choo (Flatiron Books)
Ji Lin, a spunky teenage girl growing up in 1930s Malaya, is surrounded by unattainable things. Her stepfather blocks her ambitions to enter nursing or teaching, her stepbrother is elusive, and her mother’s Mahjong debt is crippling. Meanwhile, Ren, an 11-year-old Chinese servant, has been tasked by his deceased British master with finding the old man’s severed finger and returning it to his grave, thus freeing his spirit to travel into the afterlife. Choo intertwines a mystical Asian culture with the more skeptical British Empire, creating a magical setting in which Ji Lin and Ren spin closer and closer to one another. An enthralling read.
Anissa Gray (Berkley)
Althea and her husband, Proctor, are arrested for financially fleecing their own community, and Althea’s sisters, Viola and Lillian, try to hold everything together. (“Everything” includes Althea’s two daughters, one of whom turned in her parents.) The converging characters bring the past with them, and as the grandmother says, “Hungry ghosts got to be fed.” Gray’s book is a gritty, raw study in how the past shapes the present—how it influences our ability (or inability) to change. As Lillian says, “We may not be gods anymore, but we do still have to have some power. Over ourselves. To do what’s right.”