“Such a Fun Age,” by Kiley Reid. (Penguin Audio, unabridged, 10 hours.)
Kiley Reid’s remarkable first novel presents 25-year-old Emira Tucker, college-educated but utterly at sea about what to do with her life. Emira, who is African-American, is working as a babysitter for the Chamberlains, a wealthy white couple: Peter, a newscaster, and Alix, a sharp operator now writing a book on female empowerment. At the couple’s request, Emira takes the couple’s 3-year old daughter to an upscale grocery store late at night, where she is accused of kidnapping the child. The confrontation, finally dissolved when Peter arrives, is filmed by a stranger who wants her to post the clearly racist incident on social media. Horrified, Emira persuades the young man to delete the video, though he insists on sending it to her phone. In time Emira and the videographer become a couple — though with growing complications. That’s the setup — and out of it comes a disturbing but witty tale of oblivious privilege, self-congratulatory racial acceptance and an engrossing plot with surprising twists. Nicole Lewis narrates the book superbly, capturing the personalities of the increasingly complex characters and bringing snap and beat to the banter tossed about by Emira and her girlfriends.
“Uncanny Valley,” by Anna Wiener. (Macmillan, unabridged, 8¾ hours.)
Anna Wiener worked an underpaid job in a New York literary agency, until, looking for a salary she could live on, she moved to a startup developing an e-reader. Let go for being “too interested in learning, not doing,” she moved to Silicon Valley where, at 25, she found something close to an alien life form: men younger than her running multimillion-dollar startups, software and entrepreneurial gurus who, looking through a lens of algorithm, saw human beings as entities made up of measurable, manipulatable elements. Their aim, it struck her, was to create a “world of actionable metrics, in which developers would never stop optimizing and users would never stop looking at their screens.” In her memoir, Wiener writes with real wit about this milieu, and, less amusingly, about soaring rents, the transformation of American sensibilities, and her own increasing sense that she was playing a part in creating a world she did not like. Suehyla El-Attar narrates the book in a voice that is suitably young, reflecting the author’s spirit and humor.
“American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins. (Macmillan, unabridged, 17 hours.)
Jeanine Cummins’ controversial novel begins at a family party in Acapulco with Lydia and her 8-year-old son, Luca, hiding in terror as cartel assassins kill the 16 other guests. Among them is Lydia’s husband, a journalist, who had written a hard-hitting article on the cartel boss, a seemingly cultivated man who had befriended Lydia in her bookstore. Fearing for their lives, mother and child begin a terrifying journey to find refuge with a relative in the United States, proceeding by foot and on the boxcars of “La Bestia” with other migrants. Treachery, robbery, extortion, violence, deprivation and deadly pursuit by the all-seeing cartel’s henchmen mark the trip, but so does unexpected kindness and friendship with two teenage Honduran sisters fleeing gang exploitation and rape. Cummins, who has been at the center of a literary storm, reads her own afterword and Mexican actor Yareli Arizmendi (Rosaura in the 1992 movie “Like Water for Chocolate”) delivers the body of this suspenseful story in a low-pitched, brushed-gold voice.
Katherine A. Powers reviews books for the Wall Street Journal, the Star Tribune and elsewhere. She writes this monthly column for the Washington Post.