Fictional Truths

Four novels with nothing in common except storytelling done well.

Girlchild, by Tupelo Hassman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Despite unreliable—or worse—adults and generational scars, Rory Dawn finds small graces growing up in a Reno trailer park: an old Girl Scout handbook; flowers her mother coaxes from the desert soil; a school librarian’s kindness. She threads her way to her grandmother’s hope for her: “Someone’s got to make it and it has to be you.”

Nanjing Requiem: A Novel, by Ha Jin. Pantheon.

This fictional portrayal of the 1937 Japanese invasion of Nanjing, China, incorporates real history, including the story of Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary and the dean of Jinling Women’s College. Vautrin helps shelter 10,000 people, who struggle for food and water and suffer assaults by Japanese forces. A harrowing story of brutality and sacrifice.

The Land of Decoration, by Grace McCleen. Henry Holt.

Judith McPherson, a lonely 10-year-old girl, lives with her widowed father and awaits the end of this world predicted by their fundamentalist sect. With candy wrappers and other discards, Judith creates another world in her room, the Land of Decoration. Then she discovers her seemingly God-given powers to make miracles happen, and chaos threatens.

Silver Sparrow, by Tayari Jones. Algonquin Books.

Out soon in paperback, this story is told from the perspective of the two teenage daughters of a bigamist—one from his “secret family” and one from his public one; one growing up knowing she’s living in shadows and deception, the other unaware of the lies undergirding her life. A nuanced portrait of young women in extraordinary circumstances, their mothers, and their shared family members’ complicity in deception.

-—Compiled by Julie Polter

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