03/25/2013 11:10 am ET

'The Burgess Boys' by Elizabeth Strout: The Book We're Talking About

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Random House, $26.00
March 26, 2013

What is it about?
Though the Burgess boys grew up in small-town Maine, they eventually move to New York City. Their worlds are upended when their sister, Susan, urgently calls them to come home because her son, Zach, has committed what is being deemed a hate crime.

Why are we talking about it?
Strout's last book, Olive Kitteridge, won a Pultizer, so we felt she was an author we should keep an eye on.

Who wrote it?
Elizabeth Strout is the author of Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was also a New York Times bestseller. She has won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, and was also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize.

Who will read it?
Fans of family dramas.

What do the reviewers say?

Entertainment Weekly: "Strout conveys what it feels like to be an outsider very well, whether she's delving into the quiet inner lives of Somalis in Shirley Falls or showing how the Burgess kids got so alienated from one another. But the details are so keenly observed, you can connect with the characters despite their apparent isolation."

Publishers Weekly: "Strout excels in constructing an intricate web of circuitous family drama, which makes for a powerful story, but the familiarity of the novel’s questions and a miraculously disentangled denouement drain the story of depth."

Minneapolis Star Tribune: "It’s easy to recognize yourself and people you know in Strout’s characters; the story clips along as you feel a voyeuristic compulsion to see if the siblings will overcome their own worst tendencies."

Impress your friends:
All of Strout's previous books take place in fictional New England towns based on different parts Maine. A good portion of The Burgess Boys takes place in the fictional Shirley Falls, Maine. Strout herself hails from Portland, Maine.

Opening line:
"My mother and I talked a lot about the Burgess family. 'The Burgess Kids,' she called them. We talked about them mostly on the telephone, because I lived in New York and she lived in Maine. But we talked about them also when I visited her and stayed in the hotel nearby."

Notable passage:
"Bob was a tall man, fifty-one years old, and here was the thing about Bob: He was a likable fellow. To be with Bob made people feel as if they were inside a small circle of us-ness. If Bob had known this about himself his life might have been different. But he didn't know it, and his heart was often touched by an undefined fear."