Deck the halls with violent mayhem!! Okay, okay, so maybe this book doesn’t scream “Holiday Gift!”(it is after all a huge tome about a very intelligent boy who enjoys religious discourse, Philip Roth, pretty girls, and beating the shit out of whomever does him wrong. All at the tender age of ten!). It is also, however, an incredible story spun by a resounding new voice in the annals of Modern American Literature. If you’re shopping for anyone who likes envelope-pushing fiction (think Jonathan Safran Foer, David Foster Wallace or Gary Shteyngart) follow The Instructions. They will thank you for letting them in at the ground floor of something truly remarkable. -Jamil
This could be your normal middle school coming of age novel, if only Toby didn’t have to do the awful things he does, and if only Shelby didn’t have to be so unlucky. John Brandon is a hard writer to pin down because he does everything so well. This book has characters you fall in love with. It has an incredible sense of humor, and it has an incredible sense of terror and suspense as well. It has people, for better and worse, acting like people. They are some of my favorite characters in fiction; they are smart and earnest and brave, lost and flawed, blandly diabolical and petty and sweet. Reading this, I felt what they felt and deeply feared what they feared. A perfect choice for anyone who loves brave fiction. -Casey O.
Blind Your Ponies is what I consider to be the feel-good book of the year. Willow Creek is a down-on-its-luck tiny Montana town, with only eighteen kids (total!) in its high school and a 0-93 basketball record. But this year, things begin to change, starting with the arrival of a 6’11″ Norwegian exchange student. So begins a delightful, heartwarming story about a dedicated coach who cobbles together a basketball team of scrappy boys who start with nothing but guts, heart, and a good sense of humor. The whole cast of characters, from townspeople to the team, is the quirkiest, most lovable bunch of underdogs I’ve read about this year. This story will keep you on the edge of your seat and bring a smile to your face. -Hilary
Yes, it’s the story of a mother and her child held captive, but the real story is one of resilience—both of a child and of the bond between mother and son. A gripping, smart thriller. I knew the author had me when I, like this young protagonist, missed the “room”—the world created by his mother to keep him safe and help him grow until…well, you’ll have to read it. (A great plane read too!) -Karen