By Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, HarperAvenue, 368 pages, $22.99
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's debut is a buzzed-about novel that ticks many boxes: post-9/11 sorrow, teenage angst as it relates to sexual identity, birth order and the family ties that bind, marriage, gay marriage, PTSD and more. It's well-written and compelling, with complex characters and a darkly humorous undercurrent to boot. However, even though both comedian Amy Poehler and author and creativity guru Elizabeth Gilbert wrote blurbs telling me that I should like it, I had trouble with this one. Why? I kept asking myself as I turned the pages. And here's the thing: Never before have I read anything that so fully deserves to be tweeted about with the hashtag #firstworldproblems. What would anyone who does not live in North America, safe with our illusion of security and plenty, besieged by our quest for more of everything we don't need, think of a book whose plot centres on a group of siblings waiting for their inheritance so they can do things such as pay for their twins' private school, get out of debt before their partner finds out they are at risk of losing the summer home or run away from the ennui that living with too much can produce? Perhaps that's the point, and D'Aprix Sweeney was simply too clever and subtle at conveying it for me to feel any heaviness of hand? But I'm just not sure. And so I felt a little empty when I turned the final page. Should you read it? Someone in your book club has probably already picked it, so, yes. But please do me a favour and let the discussion be about something other than the ways in which you can identify with these characters and more about the ways in which we can all be more, while consuming and wanting for less of what we already have.
Losing the Light
By Andrea Dunlop, Washington Square Press, 336 pages, $20
One of the best things to read about in commercial fiction, as far as I'm concerned, is young love. But it's even better when observed through the lens of time. In Andrea Dunlop's debut novel, Losing the Light, the story of Brooke Thompson is told, in past and present. Her story is captivating and thrilling, and will fill you with longing for days gone by – perhaps. Or perhaps it will just make you feel grateful that those days filled with unfulfilled desire, desperate yearning and a little bit of fear about what the future will bring are finally over. Either way, it will make you feel something. Dunlop's writing is effervescent, but wise. This is an easy read, but for intelligent people looking for a page-turner, not for those ever on the lookout for "something light." The story, which is as much about love, lust and longing as it is about the intricacies and potential pitfalls of close, obsessive friendship, also offers a truly lovely depiction of France. It's a place that has been written about before, countless times, but there's a reason for that, isn't there? Paris really is one of the best cities in the world to set a story about youth, art, beauty and romance that knows no reason. "Does he comprehend the impact he had, purposefully or not, on my young life?" Dunlop writes close to the start of the novel. A seed of intrigue is planted here, in the form of an unexpected murder mystery that offers balance and even more of a reason to keep turning the pages.
The Forgetting Time
By Sharon Guskin, Flatiron Books, 368 pages, $29.99
Janie Zimmerman is a single mother with a difficult, spirited child for whom she will do anything – which is not so uncommon: Most mothers would prostrate themselves in front of a train for their offspring, and single parents of only children often share a special bond. But Janie and Noah are different because Noah's high needs often lead them both to the point of desperation. And yet no matter what avenue she tries, Janie is unable to find a diagnosis or a solution to her son's many fears or an explanation for his strange, alienating habits. Such as this one: He often tells her he wants to go home, even when he is at home, and he often tells her he wants his mother, even when she's holding him in her arms. When he starts talking to his preschool teachers about books he has never read and then guns he has never shot or even seen, Janie is forced to accept the fact that if she doesn't find out what's wrong with Noah, he could be removed from her care. Her search for help leads her to Dr. Jerome Anderson, a psychologist reaching the end of his own life who once gave up everything to study young children who recall details from their previous lives. At once a mystery and a treatise on the things we will do for our children (everything, anything) and the slow-release pain of loss, The Forgetting Time also fascinates with details from real-life studies into potential past-life cases Guskin has incorporated into the novel.