The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Dial Press, 2008)
I have read several novels that took place in World War II England, but until I read this one I didn’t know that the English island of Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the war. In fact I didn’t know Guernsey was an island, I only knew it as a type of cow. This novel actually takes place after the war, when a London writer makes a connection with a literary society (we would call it a book group) on the island. She is looking for material for her next book and becomes fascinated with the book group’s experience during the German occupation – so fascinated that she moves there herself. The whole novel is written in the form of letters to and from the main character, who starts out rather light-hearted but becomes more serious as the story unfolds. I would have preferred a more traditional format but the premise is unusual and makes a good story.
Make your home among strangers by Jeanine Capo Crucet (St. Martin’s Press, 2015).
This novel, about first-generation Cuban-American college student Lizet, centers around a news story I vaguely recall reading in 1999: the Cuban boy whose mother tried to escape with him by boat to Miami and was eventually taken back to Cuba by his father. In this book Lizet’s mother was the spokesperson for a group trying to keep the child in the U.S., a group whose hopes were ultimately dashed. Everyone in Lizet’s family feels that the rest have abandoned them. Lizet and her sister feel that their Dad has abandoned them by divorcing their mom; her sister feels abandoned by her boyfriend who didn’t marry her when she got pregnant; and they all (especially Lizet’s boyfriend) think Lizet has abandoned them by going away to college in New York. So Lizet’s mom acts out by making up an entirely different family to the Cuban-American protest group, pretending her real family doesn’t exist. Little wonder that Lizet struggles in her first year of college. But she sticks it out and finds her niche as a budding laboratory scientist.