State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: A Minnesota-based medical researcher is sent by her pharmaceutical company employer to the Amazonian jungle to find a missing co-worker and check on a research project. That should already sound intriguing–now throw in Ann Patchett’s seasoned and skillful writing, and you’ve got a subtle but thrilling medical mystery.
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai: A charming and un-put-downable novel about Lucy Hull, a feisty young librarian, and her favorite patron, a ten year-old boy named Ian who devours any book she puts in front of him. When Ian hatches a plan to escape from his overbearing parents, Lucy decides (somewhat misguidedly) to help out and the two end up on a wild road trip.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: A dystopic fairy tale set in the near future that revolves around video games and 1980’s marginalia? Of course it’s one of 2011’s best! Cline has written a propulsive, thrilling and charming novel that follows the adventures of high school student Wade Watts as he tries to find (along with everyone else) a prize hidden by a reclusive, now-dead billionaire on a planet in a computer-created world.
The Adults by Alison Espach: Wry teenager Emily Vidal is the very funny and perceptive narrator of Espach’s excellent sophomore novel about suburbia (amongst other things). The books starts sharp: Emily witnesses the suicide of a neighbor and tries to work out how she should treat his surviving family members, especially a son her age. In Emily’s orbit, her father is going through a mid-life crisis and, though her parents are divoring, her mother insists on throwing a fiftieth birthday party for her soon-to-be-ex. Espach peppers the pages with supremely quotable lines and wonderful descriptions that make The Adults easily one of the best books of 2011.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: While this is a very good and highly touted book, it is not a perfect one; however, in a year where a lot of novels fell short of expectations (Jeffrey Eugenides & Haruki Murakami, I’m looking at you), Harbach manages to deliver an original and engaging story about baseball, college and life that any reader would enjoy.