Margaret Attwood's The Testaments, a book that's only slightly more dystopian than Milkman, is a worthy sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. It gives an interesting perspective on the Aunts, the highest-ranking women in Gilead. I want to avoid spoilers.
Lisa See's The Island of Sea Women tells about the Korean island of Jeju, where women divers who collected shellfish were the main breadwinners until recent decades. The divers form a close-knit community of women responsible for each other's lives in dangerous dives. Girls and women develop close friendships. The main characters go through World War II, the Korean War, and anti-Communist witch hunts. As usual, See's work feels authentic.
Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads sing is the beautifully wrought story of a poor white girl in a small coastal town in the South. Everyone abandons her except an old African American couple who buy the shellfish she collects. She is brilliant, and nature is her refuge.
What is goodness? That's one of the questions in Ann Patchett's The Dutch House. It's the story of how a girl and boy in Pennsylvania grew up after their mother left them without saying goodbye so she could work with the destitute in India. Her friends keep saying that she is such a good person. The son, who never knew his mother, begs to differ. He is the narrator. His older sister, who devotes herself to him, is the one who their mother's departure hurts the most. I don't always like family dramas, but this one moved me greatly.
The nature of goodness, happiness, and suffering are the subjects of Aminatta Forna's Happiness: A Novel. Forna is a Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer. The book is set in London. The main characters are an American woman who is studying urban foxes and a Ghanaian psychiatrist who has spent much of his life working with war refugees. His perspective on suffering is well worth reading. The characters are as interesting as they are deep.
Canadian writer Sharon Bala's The Boat People is a tale about Tamils persecuted in Sri Lanka who escape to Canada but are received with suspicion and confined for long periods of time. It's fiction: In recent years, Canada hasn't treated migrants this badly, though Canadians have mistreated Asian migrants in the past. I wish I could say the same about the United States.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is the story of an Indian Muslim family that has migrated to the midwestern United States. The older daughter, who longs for education, is hampered by her strict father and frustrated because she can't do what other girls her age are doing. There are strong ties between her and her brother, who also does not want to conform.
There, There by Tommy Orange is the story of Indians (the term he chooses rather than Native American) who live in Oakland and struggle with poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and drugs. Many characters struggle successfully and affirm the value of being Indian. One character says that Urban Indians have been ignored and misunderstand by white people who believe that "real Indians" live on the land, meaning reservations and other rural areas. Indians in cities are living on the land: Cities, too, are part of the land, Orange's characters assert.
I also discovered some fine lesbian novelists. Penny Mickelbury has written a number of books, including Wings to Fly Away, a moving novel about a woman escaped from slavery who has come to Philadelphia and the community she finds there. Death's Echoes is a good detective story set in Washington, DC, that begins with white supremacists murdering a group of African American Muslim women. The detectives are a white lesbian cop and her partner, an African American lesbian top reporter.
Cheryl A. Head writes detective stories set in Detroit. In Catch Me When I'm Falling, her African American lesbian detective investigates a series of murders of homeless people. The book feels authentic: Head clearly has learned a great deal about the lives of homeless people.
Elena Graf has written a well-researched series set in Weimar Germany, then moving into the Nazi era. Her main character is a lesbian aristocrat who falls in love with a nun. The first novel is called Occasions of Sin. The aristocrat is believable, which means that she is snobbish, somewhat like Gentleman Jack. The depictions of nuns are sensitive and realistic.
Ann McMan writes truly humorous lesbian novels. Her most recent, Beowulf for Cretins, is about a college English professor.
I am writing a separate review of the nonfiction I have read this year.