Emma Donoghue’s powerful story starts with a mother and son living in an 11 x 11-foot Room (Back Bay, $14.99). Until he’s five, this space is the only world the boy, Jack, knows, and Donoghue lets him narrate what life is like with his Ma and the only other person Jack has ever known, the nocturnal visitor, Old Nick. When Jack and his mother are at last freed from their captivity, Jack’s compelling, unique voice makes the shock of discovery visceral. While Donoghue’s premise is grim, this is a story of love, endurance, and survival that’s by turns scary, insightful, and even funny. Jack is a character you won’t forget.
On the first night of her European tour, Isabel Merton, an internationally renowned pianist, meets Anzor Islikhanov, a liaison from the unrecognized Chechen government. Both are itinerants by necessity, and both are single-minded in their focus—she lives for her art, he for his country. Appassionata (Other Press, $14.95) is the story of their romance as it unfolds across the great European cities. It is also, in its philosophical exploration of music’s relevance in a world fragmented by politics and war, a novel of ideas. The most transcendent scenes take place in the concert hall; the author, Eva Hoffman, is a trained pianist, and every musical moment is breathtakingly authentic.
Citrus County (McSweeney’s, $14) is a story of disaffected American teenagers and young love, but if you think you’ve read this story before, think again. John Brandon’s humid, overgrown, idiosyncratic vision of dystopic Florida suburbia finds Toby, a likeable but deeply flawed loner, Mr. Hibma, a geography teacher who hates teaching, and Shelby, just moved to the area with her father and sister, caught up in a chain of events brought upon them by one person’s impulsive act. Strong characters, quirky observations, and solid writing make this a standout novel and Brandon an author to pay attention to.