Grisham Rides Again! The Best-Selling Fiction of 2002

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2002 might start out like it’s looking like same-old same-old, with John Grisham leading things off, but after that things change and the year’s bestsellers including a bunch of impressive author debuts. Let’s review, shall we?

5 American Son

The story of the immigrant parent looking for a better life for their children is an old one but American Son provides a twist. The pressures on the two children born to a neglectful American father and a timid Filipino mother are more nuanced than what we usually find in literature and certainly in movies. The main character has no dramatic rebellion and supports his mother’s dream for him and yet we can still see and understand how we falls farther and farther into the life of delinquency and violence that is the only outlet for immigrant youth in the slums of America’s cities. We can’t call American Son entertainment exactly, but if you’re looking for something a little dark that will drag you into its world, this will do the trick.

4 The Shelters of Stone

The Shelters of Stone is the fifth book in the Earth’s Children series, the previous installment having been published in 1990. The earlier books were all published within five years of each other but apparently people held onto interest long enough that even twelve years later this book made the bestseller list. The story takes place in the late Stone Age, when humans and Neanderthals are likely to have co-habited the Earth. We follow the journey of a smart and sexy young couple as they travel what would later be Europe, meeting new people and casually inventing things that archeologists will later discover from the period. What’s most amazing is how meticulously researched and historically accurate this book is, while still holding audience fascination as well as the steamiest soap opera.

3 The Nanny Diaries

This book falls into that wonderful genre of not-quite-chick-lit, where a book is light and easy to read but with a story that would hold together even if you took out the handsome love-interest. In fact, under a layer of self-effacing and everyone-else-effacing humor, Nanny gives us plenty of food for thought about elitism and class structure in America and even more about parenting. The social satire can be pretty heavy handed but you never feel too bad for Nanny, since she grew up in a world about as wealthy as the one she’s working in now and we only have cameos from the nannies who are truly struggling to make ends meet, who are supporting families, or who are immigrants just learning to make their way in NYC. Without ignoring those stories, the Nanny Diaries chooses to focus instead on the way children suffer in a culture where parenting is something you hire out. And despite all of that, it’s still an entertaining and really funny read. We’re talking giant Teletubbie suit funny. Does it get better than that?

2 The Lovely Bones

Although this wasn’t Alice Sebold’s first book it was her first novel and was a huge hit. It is narrated from heaven by a fourteen year old girl named Suzie who has been raped and murdered. Through her we found out about the investigation and how her family reacts to the event. Although there is an element of mystery and the murdered narrator does sometimes appear to friends and family she left behind, this is not a suspense thriller or a ghostly horror. Considering its pretty gruesome subject matter it manages to stay pretty upbeat. Although Suzie watches her family as they struggle and fall apart as they struggle and all but fall apart searching for closure, she still keeps her fourteen year old curiosity for what life is going to be like, even if in this case it’s for what life would have been like.

1 The Summons

We can’t quite figure out what makes this a legal thriller, but since it’s Grisham we’ll call it that anyway. Don’t expect any courtroom drama however. Instead, the main character is a lawyer and his late father was a judge. This is still a step back to Grisham’s traditional area from his last two novels, A Painted House and Skipping Christmas, which were a coming of age story and a holiday morality tale respectively. So although The Summons wasn’t Grisham’s best, it had a certain freshness since it’s been awhile since he gave us one of his usual tales of suspense and corrupt machinations. That could be what got it onto the bestsellers list.


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