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May 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Top 10 First Novels
The finest first novels reviewed in Booklist between October 15, 2014, and October 1, 2015, are works of remarkable wit and wisdom, emotional intricacy and keen social insights, exceptional tales set in places as diverse as Brazil, Canada, Iran, Yugoslavia, and the U.S., and dramatizing family trauma, war, and postapocalyptic upheaval.
Shorr tells the dramatic story of legendary Brazilian outlaw lovers, the 1930s bandit leader, Lampião, a man of mysterious powers who is both worshipped and feared, and courageous Maria Bonita.
City on Fire. By Garth Risk Hallberg. 2015. Knopf, $30 (9780385353779).
Set within an exquisitely grungy 1970s New York City, Hallberg’s magnificent novel of mystery and longing interweaves the stories of a punk-rock fan, a musician and heroin addict, a teacher, and a reporter.
Did You Ever Have a Family. By Bill Clegg. 2015. Simon & Schuster/Scout, $26 (9781476798172).
Memoirist Clegg’s mesmerizing and deeply haunting first novel revolves around a tragedy—June Reid loses her entire family in a house fire—and examines how people make bearable what is unbearable.
Disgruntled. By Asali Solomon. 2015. Farrar, $26 (9780374140342).
Solomon’s deft, culturally saturated, intricate, and stingingly witty coming-of-age debut is narrated by young Kenya as she grows up in mid-1980s Philadelphia and copes with the extremes of her radical parents.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James. By Emma Hooper. 2015. Simon & Schuster, $26 (9781476755670).
In Hooper’s enchanting, perceptive debut, Etta, 83, walks away from her Saskatchewan home, heading across Canada to the ocean, befriending a coyote called James, while her husband, Otto, stays home, and his friend and rival, Russell, hurries after her.
Find Me. By Laura van den Berg. 2015. Farrar, $26 (9780374154714).
After barely surviving foster care, Joy is subjected to extreme quarantine while a pandemic rages. Back out in the ravaged world, she embarks on a dark odyssey through decimated landscapes in search of the truth about her origins.
Girl at War. By Sara Novic. 2015. Random, $26 (9780812996340).
In Novic’s important and cathartic tale, Ana Juric is conscripted into the Yugoslav civil war at age 10, rescued by UN peacekeepers, and adopted by an American family. When she enters college, she realizes that she must return to her homeland and confront her violent past.
The Girl from the Garden. By Parnaz Foroutan. 2015. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062388384); e-book (9780062388407).
In this stunning and suspenseful first novel about a prosperous Iranian family besieged by ambition, jealousy, sacrifice, passion, and betrayal, Foroutan draws on her own background to explore Iran’s lore and traditions.
Gold, Fame, Citrus. By Claire Vaye Watkins. 2015. Riverhead, $27.95 (9781594634239).
A catastrophic California drought has precipitated an exodus that Luz, a former model, and Ray, an AWOL soldier, reluctantly join after taking in a strange little girl, setting off on a perilous desert journey in this high-tension, caustically parodic, eco-crisis saga and elegiac tale of scrappy adaptation and epic loss.
My Sunshine Away. By M. O. Walsh. 2015. Putnam, $26.95 (9780399169526).
In Walsh’s distinctive and compassionate exploration of teenage self-absorption, insecurities, and bravado, the rape of 15-year-old Lindy near her suburban Baton Rouge home obsesses her young neighbor, who wants to solve the crime, deliver Lindy unscathed back in time, and win her heart.
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