1. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (Hachette)
“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter,” recalls Land in her wrenching memoir, in which she recounts leaving her abusive relationship, becoming a single mother, collecting public assistance, living in a dank studio apartment, and working as a part-time house cleaner in her struggle to survive. Land is perceptive and observant as she decodes the domestic dynamics of her clients and captures the vast gulf separating America’s upper middle class from its poor. Land, who eventually got an education, is compassionate as she recounts the indignities and shame of living in poverty, and in the end, hers is an incredible story of determination.
2. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (Riverhead)
Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee recast American history in 1970 by exposing in detail the injuries of Native American displacement, and now Treuer dramatically picks up where Brown left off with this beautifully written narrative of the century. Treuer, who is Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, draws from his talents as a fiction writer and memoirist, his training as an anthropologist, and his personal experience. In this prismatic book he investigates the destructive effects of federal policy, the politics of tribal government, and the youth culture, and reveals the resilience that has led to bold, inventive new activism. Treuer’s important The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee should soon be a classic.
3. Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison -- Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High-Stakes Diplomacy, and the Extraordinary Efforts It Took to Get Me Out by Jason Rezaian (Anthony Bourdain/Ecco)
Washington Post readers would be familiar with bylines of Tehran bureau chief Rezaian, and Anthony Bourdain brought the dual-national U.S. native to television in an episode of his series Parts Unknown. But what really brought Rezaian to international attention was his seizure by the Iranian police, who refused to release him. As he explains in his riveting memoir, he told himself stories while in solitary confinement and chronicles his days in captivity, injecting stories drawn from his own family history and that of his wife, then a correspondent for the UAE-based The National. Rezaian credits Post editor Martin Baron for staging the successful campaign for his release and, on a bittersweet note, recognizes the late Bourdain, who was also a big advocate for his freedom. Prisoner is one of the final books published as Anthony Bourdain/Ecco.
4. Talent by Juliet Lapidos (Little, Brown)
Anna Brisker loves her Pop Tarts and isn’t really into her dissertation, which is supposed to be “an intellectual history of inspiration,” at Collegiate University (think Yale). From there, Lapidos delivers an extremely smart debut novel. Talent is part literary detection, part satire of academia, and part wry but tender coming-of-age story. Lapidos, an editor at the Atlantic, and before that the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, connects Anna with the disinherited niece of a once-famous author whose notebooks stir her ambition to finish her thesis and redeem herself – in the eyes of her snobby parents and priggish adviser – but also lead her to reconsider all of her life choices and the point of literary criticism.
5. 99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking)
In his picaresque, engaging coming-of-age novel set in contemporary Afghanistan, Kochai focuses on a boy who returns to his home for the summer and sets off with his cousins on a 99-night search for the family guard dog who bit off his finger and ran away. The journey through Afghanistan circles through the labyrinth of streets and the varied landscape of his province, and into stories of the U.S. occupation, the Taliban, and the nation’s rich history. The boy’s journey sets up the narrative – which is full of celebration and tragedy, humor and pathos – but this excellent novel is propelled by the singular voice of this boy returning home to realize that as he has changed, so has his country.