Novellas: Small Commitment, Big Payoff

What is a novella, exactly?   If you start poking around for definitions you will find a wide range of conflicting criteria (mostly surrounding word count) but what it really comes down to is that a novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel.  They are found in every genre and are a great choice for readers who want a satisfying read but are either pressed for time or not quite ready to commit to a 700-page doorstopper.

What I like best about novellas is the precision of the writing. Authors who write novellas, and do it well, can build an entire world in pages, sometimes just paragraphs, setting the tone and the foundation for stories that are as economical as they are affecting.  Here are some outstanding novellas, all of which clock it at fewer than 200 pages:

In All Systems Red, a security droid hacks its own governing module, watches interstellar soap operas, and reluctantly does just enough work to avoid detection by the Company and the humans it is hired to protect.  While generally disdainful of humanity, it remains troubled by evidence in its memory bank suggesting it played a part in a massacre in which many lives were lost.  Winner of multiple awards, this is the first in the humorous, thoughtful and compulsively readable Murderbot Diaries series.

Readers have been raving about the Wayward Children series, starting with Every Heart a Doorway. A clever take on the portal fantasy trope, it focuses on children who have gone through every manner of doorway, staircase, or rabbit hole into a magical land but are unable to readjust to “normal” life when they find themselves spit back into reality.  Having been forced back to the mundane world after her own magical journey when she was a girl, Eleanor West now runs the School for Wayward Children, a place that offers sympathy and understanding to those looking for a way back to the worlds where they belong.  Fresh, inventive, and slightly dark, there are four novellas in the series so far.

Conformity and cultural norms are the central themes to Convenience Store Woman. Keiko Furukura has learned through careful observation and mimicry how to speak and behave “properly” so that she doesn’t stand out.  A part-time job in a convenience store brings a comforting predictability and structure to Keiko’s life, but after 18 years her family is increasingly concerned about her status as a single woman without a respectable career.  A new employee at the store with issues of his own might offer a solution, but does Keiko’s life really need to be fixed?   This is a thought-provoking piece of social commentary with some surprising twists and turns.

The Snow Hunters follows Yohan, a refugee from the Korean War who lands in Brazil and becomes an apprentice to a tailor.  As he establishes himself in his adopted homeland, we gradually learn more about Yohan’s circumstances during the war and what led him to make the choices that led him there.  Highly recommended for readers who enjoy quiet, introspective stories and gorgeous, literary narratives.

Find these and other suggestions here.

~ posted by Summer H.

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