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Find more Top 10 First Novels
Hidden forces, from undercurrents to regrets, fear, and longing, shape the powerful stories told in the best first novels of the past 12 months, books of remarkable originality, conviction, compassion, and artistry that embody fiction’s vitality and resonance.
Alif the Unseen. By G. Willow Wilson. 2012. Grove, $25 (9780802120205).
Graphic-novelist and memoirist Wilson’s first prose novel combines urban fantasy with the Arab Spring while unleashing jinn into the digital age to tell the story of Alif, a young Middle Eastern hacker-for-hire.
The Dog Stars. By Peter Heller. 2012. Knopf, $24.95 (9780307959942).
Heller’s debut novel is a harrowing yet charming postapocalyptic tale narrated by tough yet sensitive Hig, a fly fisherman, hunter, pilot, and poet who is holed up in an otherwise abandoned Colorado airport with gruff old Bangley.
Forgotten Country. By Catherine Chung. 2012. Riverhead, $26.95 (9781594488085).
Chung’s superb debut examines the complex relationship between Korean immigrant and grad student Janie and her younger sister, Hannah, who abruptly disappears, raising haunting memories of their grandmother’s story about a family curse.
The Infinite Tides. By Christian Kiefer. 2012. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781608198108).
Astronaut Keith Corcoran plunges into a sea of confusion back on Earth after shocking losses, slowly finding his way forward in first-time novelist Kiefer’s cosmic, darkly comic tale.
The Light between Oceans. By M. L. Stedman. 2012. Scribner, $25 (9781451681734).
In Stedman’s stunning debut, a WWI veteran and his wife serving as lighthouse keepers on a remote island off the Australian coast discover a dinghy carrying a dead man and a baby.
Mountains of the Moon. By I. J. Kay. 2012. Viking, $26.95 (9780670023677).
In Kay’s searing and soulful affirmation of the human spirit, Louise Adler survives a life of horrific abuse and deprivation, emerging, finally, from prison willing and able to change her life during a trip to Africa.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home. By Carol Rifka Brunt. 2012. Dial, $26 (9780679644194).
Brunt explores the unlikely friendship between shy, 14-year-old June Elbus—who is reeling from the death of her beloved Uncle Finn, who succumbed to AIDS—and Finn’s lover, Toby. A bittersweet debut of heartbreak and hope.
That’s Not a Feeling. By Dan Josefson. Oct. 2012. Soho, paper, $15.95 (9781616951887).
Josefson’s first novel is set in the cultish Roaring Orchards School for Troubled Teens, in upstate New York, where Benjamin and Tidbit become friends amid strange circumstances that make for a tale of dark humor and deep feeling.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. By Rachel Joyce. 2012. Random, $25 (9780812993295).
In Joyce’s poignant and wise examination of love and devotion, retiree Harold Fry abruptly decides to walk 600 miles across England to save a dying woman he’s been out of touch with for 20 years.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man. By Nick Dybek. 2012. Riverhead, $26.95 (9781594488092).
Young Cal, the Treasure Island–besotted son of a fishing-boat captain, faces life-or-death moral dilemmas in Dybek’s imaginative and suspenseful tale of fathers and sons.
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