Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad, returns with a novel that is more straightforward, but just as rich: a tale set in New York before and during World War II, featuring Anna Kerrigan, who becomes the first female civilian diver in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. It is historical fiction, but also suspense, as Anna pursues the mystery of her father’s disappearance.
Below, you’ll find a variety of readalikes for Manhattan Beach, books that are set in New York, or during WWII, or that feature strong female protagonists, or all three! There are adult novels, a teen novel, and a few nonfiction books as well.
The Radium Girls: the dark story of America’s shining women by Kate Moore (2017): During World War I, many young women worked in factories painting glow-in-the-dark watch dials with radium. Their employer knew the danger, and a group of the women later sued – and won, after a long battle, and too late for some. “A must-read for anyone interested in American and women’s history, as well as topics of law, health, and industrial safety.” –Library Journal
Dead Wake: the last crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015): The sinking of the Lusitania is one of the “most dramatic and most remembered maritime disasters of the twentieth century” (Booklist), and Larson maintains a taut, thriller-like pace and tone throughout his telling, despite the fact that readers know the ending. Larson uses multiple perspectives to tell the tale: from passengers and crew on the ship itself, from the German U-boat that sinks it, and from government offices in Washington, D.C. and London.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014): This WWII novel set in France and Germany was in high demand for many months, but copies are available now. In short sections, it flips back and forth between two characters’ stories: young, blind Marie-Laure, whose father is in charge of protecting one of the treasures of the Museum of Natural History during wartime, and Werner, who is plucked from an orphanage because of his love for and facility with transistor radios, and put to work for the German war machine. Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths cross late in this stunning, empathy-building book.
Fever by Mary Beth Keane (2013): Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary, was an Irish immigrant to New York in the early 1900s. After illnesses and deaths in the families for which she cooks, it is discovered that Mary is a carrier of typhus, but does not suffer from the disease herself – at the time an unheard-of and, to Mary, preposterous condition. She continues to cook, as it is what she loves most and does best (and it pays much better than laundry). A complicated tale in which Mary, and New York, are presented in all their complicated glory.
Sutton by J.R. Moehringer (2012): Notorious New York bank robber Willie Sutton receives a Christmas Eve pardon in 1969, conditional on giving an interview to a reporter and a photographer. He drags these men from place to place around the city, telling stories that don’t always match up with published accounts. “History lovers will enjoy this fictional biography of a modern icon of crime.” –Library Journal
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (2011): Bookended by a prologue and epilogue in the 1960s, Rules of Civility takes place in late 1930s New York, where Brooklynite Katy Kontent meets Midwesterner Eve
The Poisoner’s Handbook: murder and the birth of forensic medicine in jazz age New York by Deborah Blum (2010): In New York in the 1920s, the city’s first Chief Medical Examiner and his colleague, a toxicologist, began identifying poisons and chemicals as causes of death; the book is divided by type of poison, case by case, including a chapter on wood alcohol – popular during Prohibition. Perfect for those interested in science, history, and true crime.
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum (2005): A split narrative features Trudy, a German history professor in Minnesota, and her mother Anna, who lived in Weimar, near Buchenwald, during WWII. Anna never talked to Trudy about her experience during the war, and Blum reveals why. Her characters are marvelously complex, reflecting the difficult choices they were forced to make in terrible times.
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (2003): Set in the Adirondacks in 1906, A Northern Light is the story of Mattie Gorky, who dreams of being a writer, but who promised her mother on her deathbed that she would take care of her family. Mattie works at a summer resort to earn money, but when a guest’s body is discovered, the story becomes a murder mystery as well.