7 books that deliver an unexpected mystery

Having been raised by my grandparents and great aunt, my early years were mostly filled with oral storytelling. Many tales my family shared bordered on the fantastical and incorporated magical elements or relied on the unexpected. In one story, crickets were transformed into silver coins while in others, people levitated or transformed into human-animal hybrids.

When I decided to write a book, my goal was to capture some of the wildness of my childhood. In the twenty-five flash fiction stories that compromise Mathematics for the self-disabled, the reader is invited to witness the mysterious coming of age of Tatum Vega, a Chicana living in San Antonio, Texas. The book explores mysticism, loss of home and family, dream travel, romance, and self-agency from one angle. In order to shape my book, I had to tap deep into my imagination and accept surprises.

Imaginative storytelling still delights me. The following books excel at creating mysterious spaces for the reader to explore.

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

Winner of the National Book Prize, Hell of a book is stellar on many fronts. Parallel narratives are the most appealing to my sensibility. One is rooted in the daily reality of a famous author on a book tour. The other narrative is a more cerebral examination of childhood, fluidly interacting with time and space. The vagueness of the story makes the reader feel half-drunk and wonder what is real.

Drive your plow over the bones deaths by Olga Tokarczuk

The narrator by Olga Tokarczuk Drive your plow over the bones of the dead unlike any protagonist I’ve met in literature. An older woman, living alone with dogs in rural Poland, the protagonist’s action is guided by astrology and her love of animals. It would have been easy for a character obsessed with celestial objects to be frivolous, but instead, Tokarczuk upends reader expectations and delights with a thriller that feels like a beautifully weird dream about karma and revenge.

When judgment comes by LaTanya McQueen

Among today’s most informative and original books are those that intertwine racial tensions with ghostly spirits from the afterlife. When judgment comes is the story of a wedding weekend that cleverly explores how everyday life cannot function without considering historical tragedies. McQueen deftly delivers mirages of the past that inform the present and characters that dare not speak the whole truth out loud. It’s a gripping novel about what people of color sacrifice to maintain their sanity and support themselves in an unjust system.

leave the world behind by Ruman Alam

No book in adulthood has moved me as much as Alam’s Leave the world behind. A catastrophic event occurs in this novel, but the reader and characters must piece together what exactly happened. Life as we know it is over, but we are left to speculate how much time remains. Reading the first thirty pages, I was convinced that someone was trying to break into my apartment. Reader, they were not! Even still, I couldn’t sleep because Alam understands the fringes of the imagination almost too well.

The only good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The only good Indians opens on the anniversary of a tragic hunt and follows four characters in different states. This horror novel explores family legacies, a cultural relationship with animals, and how past actions haunt future generations. Jones masterfully builds the suspense to the point where I felt my heart in my throat as a character dribbled a basketball. The rhythmic echo of the ball sounded like a threat. The pace and mystery of the novel hooked me until the end.

The perfect nanny by Leila Slimani

This thriller about a nanny in France was ubiquitous when it was released in the United States. Without a doubt, it landed with so many readers because it tackles so many societal ills in such an engaging narrative. The nanny and the mother who employed him form an exquisite duo of protagonist and antagonist. Tensions arise between them regarding domesticity, ageism, racism, class, power and ambition. The first line of the book spells out the horrible ending but yet the novel offers so many satisfying surprises while artfully examining the boiling point of people that society only tolerates.

confession by Kanae Minato

In the first pages of confession, a schoolteacher reveals that not only has her only child been murdered, but the killers are sitting among the students in her class. Sentence by sentence, the author carefully strips the reader of comfort while weaving a hypnotic tale of mischief. In less skilled hands, the opening reveal would deflate the novel’s tension, but Minato only heightens the plot as the novel shifts perspective and the reader begins to learn that everyone has a truth. different.

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