Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment. Her mentor from grad school offers her a chance to write for a prestigious magazine about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Elinor grew up near the Bakken, raised by an overbearing father and a distant Korean mother who met and married when he was stationed overseas. The longer she pursues this potentially career-altering assignment, the more her past intertwines with the story she’s trying to tell, revealing disturbing new realities that will forever change her and the way she looks at the world.
After the tragic death his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house-a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where “things happen.”
A dazzling debut novel–the story of a turbulent, unlikely romance, a harrowing account of the lasting horrors of the Second World War, and a searing examination of one man’s search for forgiveness and acceptance.
Ever since she was adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage, Paloma has had the best of everything-schools, money, and parents so perfect that she fears she’ll never live up to them. Now thirty years old and recently cut off from her parents’ funds, she decides to sublet the second bedroom of her overpriced San Francisco apartment to Arun, who recently moved from India. Paloma has to admit it feels good helping someone find their way in America-that is until Arun discovers Paloma’s darkest secret, one that could jeopardize her own fragile place in this country. Before Paloma can pay Arun off, she finds him facedown in a pool of blood. She flees the apartment, but by the time the police arrive, there’s no body-and no evidence that Arun ever even existed in the first place. Paloma is terrified this is all somehow tangled up in the desperate actions she took to escape Sri Lanka so many years ago. Did Paloma’s secret die with Arun or is she now in greater danger than ever before?
Twenty-year-old Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from Manzanar, the California concentration camp where they have been “interned” by the US government since the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The life the Itos were forced to leave behind is gone; instead, they are being resettled in Chicago, where Aki’s older sister, Rose, was sent months earlier as a forerunner of the new Japanese American neighborhood near Clark and Division streets. But on the eve of the Ito family’s reunion, Rose is killed by a subway train. Officials are ruling Rose’s death a suicide, in part because the coroner’s examination revealed Rose had recently had an abortion. Aki cannot believe her perfect, polished, and optimistic sister would end her life-nor can she imagine Rose carelessly getting pregnant. Her instinct tells her there is much more to the story, and she knows she is the only person who could ever learn the truth.
When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to be perfect in other people’s eyes. If Anna ever wants to move forward, she has to learn to listen to her own heart, but that’s not easy when her greatest fear has always been disappointing others. Her solution is to create a low-stress environment, with no expectations to fulfill, where she can experiment with being herself and going after what she wants.
The unnamed narrator is the eldest of two daughters who grew up in Vancouver with her mother, away from her father in China, who’s now sick. She’s twenty-four and realizing she has never told her father that she loves him. The stories and experiences that unfold through his subsequent death and memorialization are lessons and curiosities of intimacy and affection. They are real, raw, and poignant meditations on how life and love can sometimes best be discovered in dying.