You Are Free: Stories, by Danzy Senna (Riverhead Books)
From the author of the best-selling Caucasia, these stories tightrope between defined states: life with and without mates, children or the reference points provided by race, class and gender. Tensions arise for a liberal couple when their son is admitted into an elite private school; a new mother hosts an old friend, still single, and discovers how each of them pities — and envies — the other; a woman's correspondence with a girl claiming to be her daughter leads her into the what-ifs of the life she hasn't lived. A bravura first collection from an author whose extraordinary talent and relevance continue to grow.
The End of Anger: A New Generation's Take on Race and Rage, by Ellis Cose (Ecco)
Renowned author Cose offers a fresh, original appraisal of our nation at this extraordinary time, tracking the diminishment of black anger and investigating the "generational shifting of the American mind." Weaving material from interviews and ambitious surveys — one of black Harvard MBAs and the other of graduates of A Better Chance, a program offering elite educational opportunities to thousands of young people of color since 1963 — Cose offers an invaluable portrait of America that attempts to make sense of what a people do when the dream, for some, is finally within reach, as one historical era ends and another begins.
Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World, by Catherine McKinley (Bloomsbury USA)
For almost five millennia, indigo — a blue pigment obtained from the small green leaf of a parasitic shrub — has been at the center of turbulent human encounters, prized by slave traders, religious figures and the fashion world. Indigo is the story of this precious dye and its ancient heritage: its relationship to slavery as the "hidden half" of the transatlantic slave trade, its profound influence on fashion and its spiritual significance, which is little recognized but no less alive today. This is a richly told story, brimming with electrifying tales of those who shaped the course of colonial history and world economy.
With the opening line, "My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," Jones unveils a breathtaking story about a man's deception, a family's complicity and two teenage girls caught in the middle. Set in Atlanta in the 1980s, Silver Sparrow revolves around James Witherspoon's two families: his public one — and his secret one. The two daughters meet and form a friendship, but only one of them knows they are sisters. Jones elegantly portrays the fragility of her characters with raw authenticity as they seek love, demand attention and try to imagine themselves as women.
Oil on Water: A Novel, by Helon Habila (Norton)
In the oil-rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta, the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped. Two journalists — a young upstart, Rufus, and a once-great, now disillusioned veteran, Zaq — are sent to find her. As Rufus and Zaq navigate polluted rivers in search of "the white woman," they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants. Assailed by irresolvable versions of the "truth" about the woman's disappearance, dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties, their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable, but other values might yet salvage their human dignity.
Rebecca Walker is a frequent contributor to The Root.