Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
In a story with mythic overtones, two boys from Texas decide to ride down into Mexico (on horseback) and find their lives waiting for them. A western, a love story, an investigation of character. McCarthy has invented a style for the telling of the story which represents a mixture of both Hemingway and Faulkner.
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate
Also set in Mexico, this is an offbeat, inventive novel about the progress of a woman's life.
Edwidge Danticat, Krik, Krak
A series of linked short stories following the several generations in the life of a family of women (and men) in Haiti.
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman
Set in the late 19th century, this rich, intellectually stimulating story focuses on Sarah Woodruff, a woman who is about 50 years ahead of her time, a prototype of a liberated woman in an age when women were not expected to be different. Fowles has provided two endings for the novel, which challenge you to examine your own set of values.
David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars
A history of tension between locals and Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of World War II provide the context for a murder mystery, a love story, and a courtroom drama.
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
The story of the life of a remarkably strong and independent black woman who chooses to live life on her own terms. Originally published in the 1930s, this was one of the first novels written by a black woman about the experience of black women. Originally disdained, it is now an American classic.
Lowrey Pei, Family Resemblances
A teenaged girl has to spend the summer with an aunt she hardly knows. It winds up being the summer in which she begins to find out who she really is. Very honest and clear-eyed.
Richard Adams, Watership Down
A group of rabbits have to leave their warren and got out on the road together in search of a new home. Doesn't sound like a very promising idea for a story, right? Guess again. This story has it all. By the end of the second chapter, you won't even think it's strange to be reading about rabbits. A book about courage, about teamwork, about the power of stories.
Gregory Maguire, Wicked
The story of The Wizard of Oz retold from the point of view of the (much misunderstood) "Wicked" Witch of the West. A interesting and thought-provoking re-take on a story we all thought we knew.
Myla Goldberg, Bee Season
A young girl in a devout Jewish family, who is something of a misfit at school and at home, wins her class spelling bee, then the school, then the districts, then the states. The book starts with her own experience and then opens up to her older brother, her father, and her mother, and the impact that the unveiling of her talent has on each them. The story, which is beautifully told, keeps changing in totally surprising ways. It's really a story about the spiritual journeys of each of the members of the family.
Bernard MacLaverty, Cal
A love story set in Northern Ireland, where the political tensions are inescapable.
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Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
An examination of the American medical system as it encounters a very ill Hmong girl. The story is heart-wrenching and inspirational at the same time.
Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch
A documentary about scientists who have tried to figure out how environmental forces shape the evolution of birds in the Galapagos. A terrific example of patient critical thinking extended over a period of years.
Michael Lewis, Moneyball
Even if you don't care much about baseball, this true story – about a man who decides to rely on real information rather than received wisdom and myth - is funny, very well written.
Madeleine Blais, In These Girls Hope is a Muscle
One of the best books ever written about high school sports, this one focuses on a girls' basketball team in pursuit of the (Massachusetts) state championship.