Our picks for the best books of January range from a fascinating title that profiles child prodigies to the extraordinary conclusion to the Binti trilogy. So sit back, relax and kick off your new year with some captivating reads.
1. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Release Date: January 9th from G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Why You’ll Love It: Chloe Benjamin explores family and destiny in her new novel, which promises a sweeping epic that will enchant you from cover to cover.
If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ‘80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
2. Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies by Ann Hulbert
Release Date: January 9th from Knopf
Why You’ll Love It: In a fascinating study of genius, Off the Charts finds Ann Hulbert profiling 15 “exceptionally gifted” boys and girls—revealing the exhausting toll of exceptional talent on young people.
Description: Ann Hulbert examines the lives of children whose rare accomplishments have raised hopes about untapped human potential and questions about how best to nurture it. She probes the changing role of parents and teachers, as well as of psychologists and a curious press. Above all, she delves into the feelings of the prodigies themselves, who push back against adults more as the decades proceed. Among the children are the math genius Norbert Wiener, founder of cybernetics, a Harvard graduate student at age fifteen; two girls, a poet and a novelist, whose published work stirred debate in the 1920s; the movie superstar Shirley Temple and the African American pianist and composer Philippa Schuyler; the chess champion Bobby Fischer; computer pioneers and autistic “prodigious savants”; and musical prodigies, present and past.
Off the Charts also tells the surprising inside stories of Lewis Terman’s prewar study of high-IQ children and of the postwar talent search begun at Johns Hopkins, and discovers what Tiger Mom Amy Chua really has to tell us. But in these moving stories, it is the children who deliver the most important messages.
3. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
Release Date: January 16th from Tor.com
Why You’ll Love It: Nnedi Okorafor concludes her mesmerizing Binti trilogy this month, releasing yet another extraordinary sci-fi novella that proves to be necessary reading.
Description: Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her. Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene—though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives—and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.
4. Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
Release Date: January 16th from Pamela Dorman Books
Why You’ll Love It: Mira T. Lee’s debut novel tackles sisterhood and mental health with empathy, delivering a powerful read about sacrifice and love.
Description: Two sisters—Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and life-changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. But Lucia impetuously plows ahead, marrying a bighearted, older man only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She moves her new family from the States to Ecuador and back again, but the bitter constant is that she is, in fact, mentally ill. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until, inevitably, she crashes to earth.
Miranda leaves her own self-contained life in Switzerland to rescue her sister again—but only Lucia can decide whether she wants to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans—but what does it take to break them?
5. The Infinite Future by Tim Wirkus
Release Date: January 16th from Penguin Press
Why You’ll Love It: With The Infinite Future, Tim Wirkus crafts two gripping sagas into one gloriously captivating tome.
The Infinite Future is a mind-bending novel that melds two page-turning tales in one. In the first, we meet three broken people, joined by an obsession with a forgotten Brazilian science-fiction author named Salgado-MacKenzie. There’s Danny, a writer who’s been scammed by a shady literary award committee; Sergio, journalist turned sub-librarian in São Paulo; and Harriet, an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City, who years ago corresponded with the reclusive Brazilian writer. The motley trio sets off to discover his identity, and whether his fabled masterpiece—never published—actually exists. Did his inquiries into the true nature of the universe yield something so enormous that his mind was blown for good?
In the second half, Wirkus gives us the lost masterpiece itself—the actual text of The Infinite Future, Salgado-MacKenzie’s wonderfully weird magnum opus. The two stories merge in surprising and profound ways. Part science-fiction, part academic satire, and part book-lover’s quest, this wholly original novel captures the heady way that stories inform and mirror our lives.
6. The Largess of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Release Date: January 16th from Random House
Why You’ll Love It: Completed shortly before Denis Johnson’s death last year, The Largess of the Sea Maiden is a powerful collection of short stories from a titan of modern literature.
Description: Written in the luminous prose that made Denis Johnson one of the most beloved and important writers of his generation, this collection finds him in new territory, contemplating the ghosts of the past and the elusive and unexpected ways the mysteries of the universe assert themselves.
7. Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block
Release Date: January 16th from Flatiron Books
Why You’ll Love It: Stefan Merrill Block’s novel launches a haunting, emotional story that will leave you utterly captivated.
Description: One warm, West Texas November night, a shy boy named Oliver Loving joins his classmates at Bliss County Day School’s annual dance, hoping for a glimpse of the object of his unrequited affections, an enigmatic Junior named Rebekkah Sterling. But as the music plays, a troubled young man sneaks in through the school’s back door. The dire choices this man makes that evening ?and the unspoken story he carries? will tear the town of Bliss, Texas apart.
Nearly 10 years later, Oliver Loving still lies wordless and paralyzed at Crockett State Assisted Care Facility, the fate of his mind unclear. Orbiting the stillpoint of Oliver’s hospital bed is a family transformed: Oliver’s mother, Eve, who keeps desperate vigil; Oliver’s brother, Charlie, who has fled for New York City only to discover he cannot escape the gravity of his shattered family; Oliver’s father, Jed, who tries to erase his memories with bourbon. And then there is Rebekkah Sterling, Oliver’s teenage love, who left Texas long ago and still refuses to speak about her own part in that tragic night. When a new medical test promises a key to unlock Oliver’s trapped mind, the town’s unanswered questions resurface with new urgency, as Oliver’s doctors and his family fight for a way for Oliver to finally communicate? and so also to tell the truth of what really happened that fateful night.
8. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Release Date: January 16th from St. Martin’s Press
Why You’ll Love It: Because it’s a compelling book by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Description: From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.
9. A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise by Sandra Allen
Release Date: January 23rd from Scribner
Why You’ll Love It: Sandra Allen’s original approach to writing about schizophrenia makes for a page-turning book that weaves family secrets and mental health into a stunning read.
Description: Sandra Allen did not know her uncle Bob very well. As a child, she had been told he was “crazy,” that he had spent time in mental hospitals while growing up in Berkeley in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But Bob had lived a hermetic life in a remote part of California for longer than she had been alive, and what little she knew of him came from rare family reunions or odd, infrequent phone calls. Then in 2009, Bob mailed her his autobiography. Typewritten in all caps, a stream of error-riddled sentences over 60, single-spaced pages, the often incomprehensible manuscript proclaimed to be a “true story” about being “labeled a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic,” and arrived with a plea to help him get his story out to the world.
In A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise, Allen translates her uncle’s autobiography, artfully creating a gripping coming-of-age story while sticking faithfully to the facts as he shared them. Lacing Bob’s narrative with chapters providing greater contextualization, Allen also shares background information about her family, the culturally explosive time and place of her uncle’s formative years, and the vitally important questions surrounding schizophrenia and mental healthcare in America more broadly. The result is a heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious portrait of a young man striving for stability in his life as well as his mind, and an utterly unique lens into an experience that, to most people, remains unimaginable.
10. Peach by Emma Glass
Release Date: January 23rd from Bloomsbury USA
Why You’ll Love It: (Trigger warning for assault.) Emma Glass’ debut produces a lyrical, heartrending reading experience that explores one woman’s response to a horrific assault.
Description: Something has happened to Peach. Staggering around the town streets in the aftermath of an assault, Peach feels a trickle of blood down her legs, a lingering smell of her anonymous attacker on her skin. It hurts to walk, but she manages to make her way to her home, where she stumbles into another oddly nightmarish reality: Her parents can’t seem to comprehend that anything has happened to their daughter.
The next morning, Peach tries to return to the routines of her ordinary life, going to classes, spending time with her boyfriend, Green, trying to find comfort in the thought of her upcoming departure for college. And yet, as Peach struggles through the next few days, she is stalked by the memories of her unacknowledged trauma. Sleeping is hard when she is haunted by the glimpses of that stranger’s gaping mouth. Working is hard when her assailant’s rancid smell still fills her nostrils. Eating is impossible when her stomach is swollen tight as a drum. Though she tries to close her eyes to what has happened, Peach at last begins to understand the drastic, gruesome action she must take.