“Andrew’s Brain” | E.L. Doctorow ’52
This is the last novel that Doctorow, the nationally celebrated author of “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and “The March,” published before his death in 2015. It is narrated by Andrew, a cognitive scientist — a self-described “freakishly depressive . . . klutz” — who speaks of himself in the third person. In conversations with his psychotherapist, he recounts a tragic, convoluted life (and love) story that intersects the 9/11 attacks.

“Eyes” | William Gass ’47
Many critics have noted the extraordinary powers of language, its music and rhythms, in the fiction of Gass, whom the New York Times calls “our greatest living champion of the sentence.”

The writer’s sentence-level virtuosity is fully on display in this collection of two novellas and four shorter stories. The pieces range from “In Camera,” one of the longer works, about the reclusive proprietor of a photography shop, to “Don’t Even Try, Sam,” in which the narrator is the aging piano from the classic film “Casablanca.”

“Library of Souls” | Ransom Riggs ’01
The eagerly awaited final installment of Riggs’ trilogy about Miss Peregrine’s “peculiar children” brings the adventures of 16-year-old Jacob Portman to a thrilling conclusion. In “Library of Souls,” Jacob is accompanied by Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, the talking dog introduced in “Hollow City.” Once again, fantasy, suspense, linguistic inventiveness and eerie vintage photographs — 50 new images are found throughout the third novel’s pages — will captivate young readers.

“Sweetbitter” | Stephanie Danler ’06
In this beautifully written, often wrenching and wry humorous novel, Danler’s young heroine arrives in New York City in the summer of 2006, full of unfocused, self-doubting ambition, and finds a job as a “back waiter” in a fine restaurant near Union Square. She begins, clumsily at first, to develop a refined palate even as she struggles to define her own needs, to rely on herself and to make the city her own. Danler is at her best in evoking the backstage rush and urgency of restaurant work, the conflicts and colorful characters, the afterhours bonding and the anxious energies of young people trying to find their existential footing in New York.

“The Fault in Our Stars” | John Green ’00
Green’s sharply written, heart-wrenching story about teenagers with cancer, praised by Time as “damn near genius,” debuted as a No. 1 New York Times best-seller and was adapted into a summer blockbuster. Through the voice of Hazel, the novel’s 16-year-old narrator, “The Fault in Our Stars” juggles witty observation, the dramas linking teens to one another and their parents, descriptions (of Amsterdam, for example) that are lyrical without being overdone, and unflinching scenes of medical crisis. Looming, always, are the biggest of themes: mortality, fear, love, meaning in the face of oblivion.

“Enter Helen” | Brooke Hauser ’01
Hauser traces the career of the famous and sometimes infamous Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan. Based on numerous interviews and extensive research in Brown’s papers, “Enter Helen” is really the story of a tumultuous era of social change — an era that embraced the March on Washington as well as the topless bathing suit, the 1964 World’s Fair and the 1967 Summer of Love, both the rise of modern feminism and the heyday of the Playboy Club, the “career girl” of Cosmo and the liberated woman of Ms.

“What Doesn’t Kill Us” | Scott Carney ’00
An investigative journalist, Carney travels to the mountains of Poland to interview Wim Hof, a Dutch fitness proponent who has developed a strange but remarkable regimen involving hyperventilation exercises and ice baths. Carney made the trip with the goal of exposing Hof as a charlatan. Instead, his experience launched him on a journey during which he interviewed scientists, worked out with extreme-exercise teachers, ran punishing obstacle-course races, had himself assessed by a prominent exercise physiologist and, finally, with a group led by Hof, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro — making the ascent in an unheard-of (and dangerous) 28 hours.

“Seven Ways We Lie” | Riley Redgate (Rioghnach Robinson ’16)
Robinson, who uses the pen name Riley Redgate, published this young-adult novel before she graduated from Kenyon. Her literary debut captures high-school entanglements in the story of seven teenagers who all harbor secrets — and each of whom wrestles with one of the deadly sins. Landing on Barnes and Noble’s monthly list of “most anticipated” young-adult books, “Seven Ways We Lie” was praised by Publishers Weekly for revealing the “hard edges” and “tender underbelly” of high school.

“Say What You Will” Cammie McGovern ’85
A high school senior, Amy has cerebral palsy and can’t walk unassisted or even talk without a computerized voice box. Intellectually gifted but socially isolated, she hits on the idea of replacing adult aides with “peer helpers” so that she can learn about making friends before she goes off to college. Matthew fills in one of these spots, but he is struggling with a wrenching disability of his own. In her first young-adult novel, McGovern tells the story of friendship — and yes, a romance — that unfolds through yearning and confusion, and takes some surprising turns.

“Unbroken” | Laura Hillenbrand ’89
Hillenbrand’s second book and worthy successor to her runaway hit “Seabiscuit,” “Unbroken” tells the story of another ’30s athlete, Louis Zamperini. His legendary running career was interrupted by his World War II Army Air Forces service as a B-24 bombardier. When his plane went down in the Pacific during a rescue mission, he and the pilot survived a record 47 days on a raft, only to be captured by the Japanese Navy and subjected to unspeakable pain for the remainder of the war. The story of survival and forgiveness, which was adapted into a feature film, is both gripping and inspiring.

We recommend: 

“Just Mercy” | Bryan Stevenson

After social justice activist Bryan Stevenson spoke about racial inequality and the justice system to a packed house at Kenyon, his best-selling memoir, “Just Mercy,” flew off the College bookstore shelves. Here is one political science major’s review:

“After listening to Bryan Stevenson’s address at Kenyon, I read his memoir, ‘Just Mercy,’ in one sitting. What could have been simply a dark indictment of our justice system became something quite different in Stevenson’s hands. In every description and demonstration of our failure, there is bottomless compassion, iron resolve and undying hope. Stevenson believes in people — not just in those he defends from injustice, but also in those who inflict that injustice. He believes in the better angels of our nature, that a better nation is possible. By the end of ‘Just Mercy,’ you will believe, too.” — Chris Paludi ’20, Los Angeles

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