The 17 Best Fiction Books Of 2017 Prove It Was A Knockout Year For Feminist Lit

by Melissa Ragsdale

While 2017 has been pretty wild (to put it mildly), there's been one glorious silver lining: there has been some truly incredible new fiction released in 2017.

In her National Book Award acceptance speech, Sing, Unburied, Sing author Jesmyn Ward spoke about the negative feedback she's received over the years from detractors who believed her work was not "universal" enough. "They said, 'Why should I read about a 13-year-old poor black boy? Or his neglectful, drug-addicted mother? What do they have to say to me?'" Ward said. "And you, my fellow writers and editors and publishing people and National Book Foundation folks, read my work and you answered, 'Plenty.' You looked at me and the people I love and write about, you looked at my poor, my black, my Southern children, women, and men, and you saw yourself."

Ward's speech encapsulates what I find most profound and wonderful as I look back at this year's books. 2017 was filled with books that transported us into the minds and hearts of a wide range of identities. At the same time, each one of these books has touched its readers on an intensely personal level, holding up a mirror to our most intimate selves. Here are the best fiction books of 2017:

'Sing, Unburied, Sing' by Jesmyn Ward

Set on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the winner of the National Book Award for fiction tells the story of Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, who live with their grandparents and with their drug-addicted mother. The novel travels back-and-forth between Jojo's perspective and his mom's perspective, and it's a haunting reminder that everyone's experience — even of the exact same moments — is always entirely different.

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'Salt Houses' by Hala Alyan

In this beautiful debut novel, readers follow a single family across six generations, coming to intimately know each member as we engage them across the course of their lives. At the start, the family makes their home in Palestine, but as the novel progresses politics, war, and other circumstances lead them to create new lives in Jordan, Kuwait, France, the U.S., and Lebanon. An emotionally-charged, character-fueled story that powerfully explores the meaning of family, identity, and home.

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'Her Body and Other Parties' by Carmen Maria Machado

2017 blessed us with some absolutely remarkable short fiction, and this one is perhaps the best collection of them all. This knock-out debut from Carmen Maria Machado is filled with stories that are strange and haunting, yet chillingly familiar. Read Machado's story "The Husband Stitch" online and prepare to have your breath stolen from your body.

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'Exit West' by Mohsin Hamid

This dazzling book will get your heart racing and your mind spinning. When their country explodes into war, Nadia and Saeed, a new couple, are suddenly forced to leave their now-dangerous homeland via a secret series of magical doors that transport them to different places in the world. This is both a chilling exporation of the refugee experience and a heartbreaking look at the swift rise and slow fall of a romantic relationship.

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'What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky' Lesley Nneka Arimah

What truly amazes me about this debut collection from Lesley Nneka Arimah is the breadth of story that she manages to pack into a few pages. Each one of these stories will take you hostage until you've read every last word, and then stick to your soul. P.S. If you haven't heard Levar Burton read the titular story yet, be sure to check it out on his podcast 'Levar Burton Reads.'

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'What We Lose' by Zinzi Clemmons

In this stunning debut novel, readers follow Thandi, a young woman caught in-between the worlds of her American identity and her South African roots. Upon the loss of her mother, Thandi finds herself in search of an anchor. This is a personal and encapsulating novel that will envelop you with every page.

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'The Ministry of Utmost Happiness' by Arundhati Roy

This was The God of Small Things author Arundhati Roy's first fiction book in 20 years, and it is, in a word, exceptional. Celebrated as a testament to intersectionality, this story spans across India over many years, braiding together the stories of a wide variety of characters.

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'All Grown Up' by Jami Attenberg

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll confront your own existential crisis as you read Jami Attenberg's All Grown Up. Andrea is a 39-year-old childless, unmarried woman living in New York City, and in this book, you'll dive headfirst into her word: the sexual encounters, the fraught relationships with art, the inner dilemmas about what comes next and where her life is going.

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'The Leavers' by Lisa Ko

This searing novel is one that you're not likely to forget. One morning, eleven-year-old Deming Guo's mother leaves for work and mysteriously disappears. He's adopted by a white couple, and years later as an adult, sets out to learn what really happened to his mother.

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'An Unkindness of Ghosts' by Solomon Rivers

This debut novel will absolutely take your breath away. Set on the HSS Matilda, a spaceship with a vicious class system not unlike the antebellum South. Aster is at the bottom rung, considered to be less than human. As she investigates the mysterious circumstances of her mother's death, Aster discovers that there may actually be a way to escape.

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'Manhattan Beach' by Jennifer Egan

The latest from Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan is a departure from her normal fare. A historical fiction novel centered on the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Manhattan Beach follows Anna Kerrigan as she attempts to unravel the mystery that surrounds her missing father and a man named Dexter Styles.

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'Pachinko' by Min Jin Lee

Modeled after the complicated Japanese game Pachinko, this epic novel tells the story of one Korean family across generations — starting in the 1900s with Sunja, whose unplanned pregnancy sets off a series of events that effects her family for decades to come.

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'Fierce Kingdom' by Gin Phillips

This novel will raise the hair on the back of your neck, perhaps permanently. When a gunman takes hostage of a zoo, a mother and her son find themselves trapped — hiding and running for their life — for three straight hours. Fair warning: Your heart will be lodged in your throat for the entirety of their ordeal.

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'The Stone Sky' by N.K. Jemisin

It's rare that I put the third book in a series on a list, but the phenomenal conclusion to N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is worth telling everyone about. In a world in which apocalyptic-level events are common, the potential destruction of human kind is imminent, and a mother and her daughter are caught in the middle of it all.

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'Little Fires Everywhere' by Celeste Ng

In this engrossing book, Celeste Ng tells a story that will wrap you up completely for a weekend. Set in the Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland, the book follows the Richardson family, all of whom are drawn mother-daughter pair who begin renting their second home. But when a town scandal becomes a personal problem for both families, allegiances are challenged and secrets are opened to the world.

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'The Power' by Naomi Alderman

This astounding speculative novel imagines a world in which women suddenly have the power to cause immense pain and even death via an electric shock that runs through their bodies. This ability upends the power structure of the world, and sparks a string of events that will make you question everything that's happened in our reality, too.

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'Lincoln In The Bardo' by George Saunders

In this imaginative, heart-wrenching historical fiction novel, acclaimed short story writer George Saunders tells the story of Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, who, after death, finds himself in a strange sort of purgatory — the bardo — where a battle breaks out among the dozens of ghosts over his soul.

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