Literary Links: One Read Finalists 2024

by Kat Stone Underwood and Lauren Williams, One Read co-chairs

Charlotte McConaghy’s “Migrations,” our community’s 2024 One Read selection, follows environmentalist Franny Stone as she tracks the world’s last flock of Arctic terns on what might be its final flight. This work of climate change fiction narrowly beat out the delightful coming-of-age novel “The Chinese Groove” by Kathryn Ma in a public vote. This year our reading panel considered an extremely varied list of finalist books, all nominated by community members. Some titles address timely topics like racism and immigration and others provide escape with unlikely road trips and oddball whodunits. Get ready to add to your to-be-read list!

What Strange Paradise book coverFirst up is “What Strange Paradise” by Omar El Akkad. We meet Syrian 9-year-old Amir when the migrant vessel he is on wrecks against the shore of a small island. The only survivor, Amir is luckily rescued by a local teenage girl named Vanna. Despite neither of them speaking the other’s language, Vanna is determined to help Amir. The tale alternates between the pair’s attempt to escape the authorities and the story of how Amir came to be on the ship.

Light From Uncommon Stars book coverIn the genre-defying novel “Light From Uncommon Stars” by Ryka Aoki, the cursed violin master and teacher Shizuka Satomi has her plans disrupted when she encounters Lan Tran, an interstellar refugee who has made a life for herself and her family selling donuts in California. Which could be good or bad considering Shizuka’s task is to deliver the soul of a young violin prodigy to the devil in order to escape her own damnation.

Underground Airlines book cover In “Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters, we follow Victor who is working undercover for the U.S. Marshals Service. In this alternate history, the Civil War never happened and slavery remains legal in four states. Victor, a Black man, is tasked with tracking down a runaway named Jackdaw. Secrets keep this thriller moving at an invigorating clip while the author explores topics such as race in a unique way.

Life is So Good book coverMoving from alternate to actual history, let’s look to “Life Is So Good” by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman, a memoir telling the extraordinary journey of George Dawson, who learned to read at the age of 98. Dawson lived for over a century and recounts his experiences as an eyewitness to 20th-century America. While he has had more than his fair share of tragic experiences, he never allows that to stop him from seeing all that is good in life.

The Escape Artist book coverAnother compelling true story, one so incredible that many readers may ask themselves why they’ve never heard of its central figure, is “The Escape Artist” by Jonathan Freedland. Rudolf Vrba was the first known Jew to break out of Auschwitz, carrying with him an impressive mental accounting of the daily numbers of arrivals and deaths, as well as the deep belief that revealing the horrific truth would lead world leaders to life-saving action.

Maiden Voyages book coverMaiden Voyages” by Siân Evans takes readers on a much more lighthearted historical journey – an exploration of how transatlantic ocean travel impacted womens’ lives during the first half of the twentieth century. While Evans does dish about seafaring celebrities and millionaires, the most captivating narratives describe the working class women below deck, crew members who found purpose and a semblance of freedom on the ocean.

The Mostly True Story of Tanner and LouiseWe leave behind the open seas to take a romp of a road trip with Colleen Oakley’s “The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise.” After an injury derails 20-something Tanner’s college soccer career, she reluctantly moves into 84-year-old Louise’s house to act as a chauffeur and caretaker. When deeds and shady characters from Louise’s past resurface, the two go on the run from the law. This is a heartwarming story of unlikely friendships, aging, morality and the weight of what it means to be a woman.

THe Maid book coverFinally, “The Maid” by Nita Prose is a quirky murder mystery narrated by neurodivergent, naive and awkward Molly. Molly works in a luxury hotel, taking satisfaction in rule-following and returning rooms to rights. When she finds one of the hotel’s wealthiest – and arguably most infamous – guests dead in his bed, she is suspected of his murder. Heartwarming hijinks ensue!

Join the library and the One Read Task Force in September as we explore the topics and themes in “Migrations” – including climate change, family secrets and the fascinating lives of birds – through art, music, discussions, films and more. Visit later this summer for details.

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