Three debut novels were among the five National Book Award fiction finalists announced on Tuesday.
“All This Could be Different,” by Sarah Thankam Mathews, follows a young, queer immigrant from India. Tess Gunty’s “The Rabbit Hutch” takes place over the course of one week in an affordable housing complex in Indiana. And in Alejandro Varela’s “The Town of Babylon,” a queer Latinx professor moves back to suburban Long Island to take care of his parents.
The other two fiction finalists are “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories,” by Jamil Jan Kochai, which follows characters in Afghanistan and in the Afghan diaspora, and “The Birdcatcher,” by Gayl Jones, which is about a group of Black American artists in Ibiza, including a sculptor whose husband tries to institutionalize her repeatedly for trying to kill him.
There were 25 finalists, spread across five categories. Among the nonfiction finalists were two that examined the world of health care and medicine.
“Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus,” by David Quammen, charts the scientific response to Covid-19, including the race to track its origins and develop a vaccine, and the continuing efforts to understand Covid’s long-term effects. In “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness,” a New York Times best seller, Meghan O’Rourke draws from her experience living with chronic illnesses and from interviews with doctors, public health experts and patients to discuss what she calls “invisible” illnesses like autoimmune diseases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome and long Covid.
The poetry finalists include “The Rupture Tense,” by Jenny Xie, which deals with the history of her family and of China, and with forced memory loss. “Look at this Blue,” by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, considers the history of destruction and violence in the United States toward people, animals and the planet.
“Kibogo,” by Scholastique Mukasonga, was nominated in the translated literature category. Translated from French by Mark Polizzotti, it explores clashes between ancient Rwandan beliefs and Christian missionaries. In “A New Name: Septology VI-VII,” Jon Fosse writes about two doppelgängers; the book was translated from Norwegian by Damion Searls.
Among the young people’s literature finalists are “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School,” a debut novel by Sonora Reyes about a 16-year-old queer Mexican American girl. “All My Rage,” by Sabaa Tahir, follows a working class Pakistani American family from Lahore to Juniper, Calif., where they run a motel.
The winners will be announced on Nov. 16 by the National Book Foundation. Here is a complete list of the finalists.
Tess Gunty, “The Rabbit Hutch”
Gayl Jones, “The Birdcatcher”
Jamil Jan Kochai, “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories”
Sarah Thankam Mathews, “All This Could Be Different”
Alejandro Varela, “The Town of Babylon”
Meghan O’Rourke, “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness”
Imani Perry, “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation”
David Quammen, “Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus”
Ingrid Rojas Contreras, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir”
Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice”
Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, “Look at This Blue”
John Keene, “Punks: New & Selected Poems”
Sharon Olds, “Balladz”
Roger Reeves, “Best Barbarian”
Jenny Xie, “The Rupture Tense”
Jon Fosse, “A New Name: Septology VI-VII”
Translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls
Scholastica Mukasonga, “Kibogo”
Translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti
Monica Ojeda, “Jawbone”
Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Booker
Samanta Schweblin, “Seven Empty Houses”
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Yoko Tawada, “Scattered All Over the Earth”
Translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani
Young People’s Literature
Kelly Barnhill, “The Ogress and the Orphans”
Sonora Reyes, “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School”
Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile, “Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice”
Sabaa Tahir, “All My Rage”
Lisa Yee, “Maizy Chen’s Last Chance”