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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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The Woman Upstairs

by Claire Messud |

REVIEWED BY KIM HUBBARD

NOVEL

Think of her as the woman who leans out: the A student who puts others’ needs first, plays by the rules in love, teaches instead of doing. In Messud’s engrossing novel, she’s Nora Eldridge, a single, childless, frustrated artist who quietly cringes when the father of one of her Cambridge, Mass., third graders calls her “the Gerber baby of schoolteachers.” Then the exotic Shahid family comes to town, and Nora, captivated in turn by Reza, his artist mom, Sirena, and Sirena’s seductive husband, sees her muted existence turn Technicolor. Through the ensuing drama, which includes one of the more shocking betrayals in recent fiction, Messud raises questions about women’s still-circumscribed roles and the price of success. “To be the fittest at artistic survival,” Nora decides, “requires ruthlessness.” Can she muster it? “Just watch me.”

People PICK

The Humanity Project

by Jean Thompson |

REVIEWED BY MEREDITH MARAN

NOVEL

“Why did Linnea have to have these people in her life, taking up space and inflicting their stupid selves on her?” Linnea, 14, is a normal dysfunctional teenager living in a normal dysfunctional family in Ohio—until she goes to school one day and a shooter holds a gun to her head. Linnea’s post-traumatic breakdown is more than her mother can handle, so she’s shipped off to live in California with her unfit father and the circle of eccentric characters who surround him; while there, she falls in with Conner, an older boy who breaks into houses for fun and profit. In one of many paradoxical plot twists, it is Conner who ultimately leads Linnea to a kind of redemption. National Book Award finalist Thompson (The Year We Left Home) has crafted an incisive yet tender novel—a disturbing portrait of a thoroughly modern, fractured family stumbling toward grace in difficult times.

Somebody to Love

by Kristan Higgins |

REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

NOVEL

Romance novels are often stereotyped as formulaic bodice-rippers, but, as Higgins proves here, they can offer strong storytelling and a refreshing, sarcastic edge. Parker Welles is a single mom and children’s book author who’s forced to move to Maine when her father plunders her trust fund. Though her internal dialogues with her books’ characters are silly, Parker comes across as funny and flawed, and her love affair with the studly James Cahill unfolds with genuine emotion. Her story is thoroughly entertaining.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO KIM HUBBARD: bookseditor@peoplemag.com