Spring is getting closer every day, and with all that excitement bubbling up, perhaps your attention span is short circuiting. No need to worry—the editors of BookPage have just the ticket in the form of five quick but stunning reads.
The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka is a master of the short novel, and her National Book Award finalist, The Buddha in the Attic, is an epic saga written with brevity. In just 144 pages, Otsuka captures the lives of a group of Japanese women who immigrate to America, meet their husbands (many of whom lied about their ages and occupations), find work as farmers and maids, navigate the racist and classist minefields set by their white employers, raise children and scratch out a living, only to disappear suddenly as the United States enters World War II. The story is relayed by a first-person plural narrator who encompasses dozens of experiences, and it unfolds in a series of snapshots that coalesce into an astonishing mosaic of Japanese American life at the beginning of the 20th century. You can sense the mountain of research that Otsuka distilled into each beautiful sentence. It’s innovative, surprising and deeply moving.
—Christy, Associate Editor
The Body in Question
A courtroom drama that spotlights the jurors’ sequestration instead of the case itself, Jill Ciment’s The Body in Question enraptured me from the start. The protagonist, a middle-aged photographer whose life is consumed by caring for her much older husband, views the jury’s three-week isolation as a respite from assisting him. Her liberation leads to an affair with another juror that, though initially secret, begins to bleed into their surroundings with far-reaching consequences. At 192 pages, The Body in Question keeps readers engaged with fast-paced developments and characters who are eccentric in their ordinariness. Ciment’s sparse writing enhances the mundanity of sequestration, even when a case is as monumental as this one. Though the subject matter is complex, the narrative progresses without judgment, in the same way a jury must consider only the facts laid before them before reaching a verdict.
—Jessie, Editorial Intern
A comic book moves more quickly than other types of literature, so even though AJ Dungo’s graphic memoir is actually quite long, the total time readers spend with the book isn’t. In Waves is powerful, as Dungo blends moments from surfing history with memories of falling in love with and then losing his partner to cancer. The sections on their time together will absolutely wreck you, but as those dark waters ebb and flow, the story of surfing offers levity, revealing the sport’s legacy as a refuge for Hawaiians. An especially helpful dose of hope comes from the friendship between surf legends Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake: “Duke represented the blissful nature of surfing. Tom personified the idea that surfing could provide comfort to those who felt broken.” In Waves engages with both the depths of Dungo’s grief and the safe haven of surfing, offering a quick dip that will leave readers a bit battered by the waves.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
A Spindle Splintered
We are currently living through an absolute gold rush of sci-fi and fantasy novellas, and among all those tiny universes, Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered contains a multiverse. It’s a Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and “Sleeping Beauty” mashup that’s just as fun as it sounds and way smarter than it needs to be. It follows Zinnia Gray, a young woman with a rare condition that will cause her to die before her 22nd birthday. During her “Sleeping Beauty”-themed 21st birthday party, Zinnia jokingly pricks her finger on a spindle and ends up in a fairy-tale world, complete with a princess on the verge of succumbing to her own curse. You can sense Harrow’s glee on every single page, especially when she drops references and jokes tailor-made for a specific type of Tumblr-using, fandom-obsessed, very online reader. But this novella is as poignant as it is pop-culture obsessed, spinning a tale of sisterhood that defies the bleakness of every reality.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
A Psalm for the Wild-Built
Have you ever gone on a walk with a friend in nature and ended up in a highly personal or philosophical conversation? That’s sort of what reading Becky Chambers’ novella is like. It’s a thoughtful fable that effortlessly incorporates profound questions—such as, why does human life need a purpose?—into what is essentially a road-trip story about a monk and a robot. The novella’s first half is so charming and soothing that by the second half, when Chambers’ protagonists are forging paths through the literal and metaphorical weeds, you’ll find yourself hanging on their every word. It all works because Chambers never loses the trees for the forest. In one moment, her characters will be discussing whether death is necessary to give life meaning, and in the next, they’ll be discussing the point of onions. Imaginative and comforting, A Psalm for the Wild-Built is a sheer delight.
—Stephanie, Associate Editor