A guide to the 2019 National Book Award nominations

The National Book Award nominations for 2019 are in, and EW has you covered.

Over the past week, the National Book Foundation has released the longlists for each of the award’s five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, and Poetry. Many of the titles recognized, as it happens, are EW favorites — and we’ve been covering them accordingly.

For those looking at this massive group of 50 books and not knowing where to start, we’re here to help. Below, check out EW’s coverage of the nominated books we’re most excited about, and get caught up on what you need to know so you’re ready to discuss them at your next book-club meeting.


Earlier this summer, EW featured five authors on our Hot Summer Debut Authors roundtable. Excitingly, two were named National Book Award nominees this week: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, for her clever divorce novel Fleishman Is in Trouble, and Sarah M. Broom, for her intimate New Orleans memoir The Yellow House. EW’s Leah Greenblatt reviewed Fleishman, calling it “genuinely, unexpectedly profound,” and you can also watch an exclusive spotlight on Broom discussing her process writing The Yellow House.

Two more first-time books that you need on your radar offer gorgeous, at times devastating windows into unique cultural experiences: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a lush novel centered on a queer Vietnamese immigrant coming of age in America, and Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth, a literary thriller tracing the fallout of two girls’ disappearance on a remote Russian peninsula. Check out our reviews.


These powerhouse novels were as brilliant as they were successful, each landing a coveted spot on the New York Times best-seller list. Colson Whitehead managed the impossible by not only living up to the expectations set by his 2016 phenomenon The Underground Railroad — which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award — but perhaps even exceeding them with The Nickel Boys, a searing account of life under Jim Crow, set at an abusive reform school. EW’s David Canfield profiled the author ahead of the novel’s release, and it’s gone on to sell over 100,000 physical copies in the U.S. alone.

Marlon James also set quite a task for himself with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first epic novel in a fantasy trilogy originally pitched as the “African Game of Thrones,” but which reads entirely like its own fascinating, maddening, immersive creation. The author revealed to EW’s Seija Rankin that one of his big inspirations for the book was, of all things, the Showtime relationship drama The Affair, and in our review, we dubbed the novel a “revolutionary book.” (Michael B. Jordan acquired the series for cinematic development shortly after it published.)

Finally, on the nonfiction side, there’s Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, a stunningly reported account of a long-unsolved crime in Ireland, and the decades of trauma the author unearths in the process of investigating it. It’s a literary page-turner that doubles as an illuminating historical take on The Troubles, but one reason why it was named one of EW’s 10 best books of 2019 (so far) back in June.


Maybe this group wasn’t as commercial, but EW couldn’t recommend them more highly. Perhaps no novel in 2019 more effectively and urgently spoke to the current political climate than Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans, a crime saga set in California’s Yucca Valley that follows a Muslim-American family and their surrounding community after the patriarch is killed in an apparent hit-and-run. Read our review.

Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise sparked debate in the best way over its twisty structure and provocative ending. The sharp story of life at a performing arts high school in an unnamed Southern city quickly veers into something much more daring, and while some readers balked at the shake-up, as our review raves, it’s a gonzo literary performance that demands a close read.

And EW’s Leah Greenblatt couldn’t get enough of Helen Phillips’ The Need, an ingenious horror novel that meditates on the stark realities of motherhood. While we can’t promise a breezy page-turner, we can promise it’ll give you chills.


It’s been a great year for YA, and while there are some novels we’re bummed to see miss the cut (no Angie Thomas?!), still many more included here are among our favorites of 2019.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s work can be hard to recommend without warning, given its brutal honesty and graphic intensity, but the power of her poetic memoir SHOUT cannot be denied. It’s a follow-up of sorts to her YA classic Speak, and contains that same moral urgency that needs to be read to be believed.

EW also has excerpts of a pair of nominees: Pet, the mystical YA debut of Akwaeke Emezi, whose first book Freshwater published last year to great acclaim, and Look Both Ways, the latest lyrical achievement from genre superstar Jason Reynolds.

Of course, this only begins to cover a massive nominations slate, so be sure to check out the full list. And get reading!

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