It's technically a young-adult novel, but I can't imagine any adult not being sucked in by the premise of Katie Coyle's debut, Vivian Apple at the End of the World. The eponymous heroine is the freethinking teenage daughter of two extremely devout parents who are convinced the rapture is on its way—and when she comes home one day to find them gone and two holes in the roof, she might just be convinced. Vivian, her best friend, and a handsome stranger set out on a cross-country road trip through a crazed, post-apocalyptic America, dodging crazy cultists, punishing gas prices, and paranoia to figure out what, exactly, happened to her folks. The results are funny, poignant, and already set up for a sequel (and given the buzz the book is getting, maybe a screen large or small near you).
Appearances: January 6, Books Inc. Opera Plaza
A different kind of intense journey takes place in Catherine Lacey's Nobody Is Ever Missing, in which unsatisfied NYC protagonist Elyria takes a one-way flight to New Zealand, without telling her family or husband. Hitchhiking through the countryside and sleeping in public parks, her mind begins to unravel, and the risks she's taking threaten to catch up with her. The book's prose is urgent, often punishing, but not without a mordant sense of humor.
Appearances: December 18, Green Apple Books
Finally, you may not read a book this year more haunting than Suki Kim's Without You, There Is No Us, a devastating look behind the curtain of North Korea. Kim, an American who signed up to teach English to the children of Pyongyang's elite, had to go to great lengths to conceal the notes and photos she took for the book, as she was constantly spied on. Her growing affinity for her students (and growing hints at worlds they know nothing about, from surfing the Web to voting in an election) seems to be helping, until Kim Jong-Il dies, and she wonders if she never knew her charges at all. It's a penetrating look at a horrific society in which everyone is lying, sometimes to themselves.