16 Books to Watch for in January 2012

A coming-of-age novel about a mesmerized Muslim boy, a literary thriller set in North Korea, a rollicking account of one woman's search for a new best friend, and more. Start off the new year by cozying up to one of these captivating reads.
The Fallback Plan
Photo: Lara Robby/Studio D

The Fallback Plan

224 pages; Melville House
In Leigh Stein's debut novel, The Fallback Plan (Melville House), Esther Kohler, who once swore she'd rather live in a car than move back in with her parents, has returned to her childhood home for a long, lazy summer. An unemployed college graduate, her only goal is to develop a chronic illness—nothing disfiguring—but "of all the plans I could have made for how to spend the rest of my life, this seemed the most desirable because it required the least of me. It was a form of surrender." Instead she embarks on a schedule of rereading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and hopping fences with friends Pickle and Jack. (Despite his part-time job at Best Buy and years in treatment centers, Jack remains the fantasy James Dean to Esther's Natalie Wood.) And when her mother commits her to babysitting for the Browns, a young couple still coping with the recent loss of their second daughter, Esther becomes ensconced in the family's daily life—making up fanciful imaginary worlds with 4-year-old May; witnessing mother Amy's private, all-consuming grief; and serving as father Nate's confidant. In cheeky, self-assured prose, Stein shows Esther reluctantly leaving childhood, dragging her feet through the muck of responsibility and sorrow that comes with growing up.
— Abbe Wright