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The Roaring Twenties

Sarah Thankam Mathews ’17’s All This Could Be Different explores the challenges of young adulthood in a tumultuous world.

Cover of book, "All This Could Be Different"

The book is a finalist for the 2022 National Book Award for fiction. Penguin Random House

Long before Sarah Thankam Mathews ’17’s debut novel, All This Could Be Different, published in August, reviewers had already dubbed it one of this year’s “buzzy books.” The term has nothing to do with bees (and neither does the book). Instead, it refers to the excitement — the hum — the novel has elicited from the literary community and beyond, and the buzz has only gotten louder.

The book follows Sneha, a recent college graduate exploring identity, independence, and young adulthood in Milwaukee. After graduating into a recession, she takes a job she doesn’t love but that pays the bills; she stays loyal to family she supports from afar; and she falls in love with an enchanting dancer named Marina. As if Sneha’s college town (complete with mentions of the Terrace and lakeside bike rides) isn’t relatable enough, readers can empathize with her internal conflict as a young person striking out on her own while balancing confounding pressures. She tries to compartmentalize a multiplicity that is inherently and inescapably human. “One of the things that I hope the novel sort of gestures toward is that everyone is imperfect, and that does not make them disposable,” Mathews said in a recent interview with Vogue.

All This Could Be Different is a finalist for the 2022 National Book Award for fiction. Mathews is a New York City–based writer and organizer best known for establishing Bed-Stuy Strong, a mutual aid resource founded in 2020 that has since raised $1.2 million to reinvest in the community.

Published in the Winter 2022 issue

Tags: Alumni, books

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