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Find more Top 10 First Novels
Reviewed in Booklist from November 2019 through October 2020, these stellar debut novels will transport readers as they reckon with themes of love, grief, inheritance, and survival.
Almond. By Won-pyung Sohn. Tr. by Sandy Joosun Lee. 2020. HarperVia, $25.99 (9780062961372).
In what might be the first novel to feature a protagonist with alexithymia—an inability to identify and express one’s feelings—Sohn’s affecting debut introduces 15-year-old Yunjae as he risks communication and connection following intense loss.
The God Child. By Nana Oforiatta Ayim. 2020. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781408882429).
An expat in late-twentieth century Germany and England, Maya, the granddaughter of a Ghanaian king, chafes at the casually patronizing racism expressed by classmates and teachers in this beautifully told story of family secrets and conflicting cultural expectations.
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982. By Nam-Joo Cho. Tr. by Jamie Chang. 2020. Norton/Liveright, $20 (9781631496707).
Credited with helping to “launch Korea’s new feminist movement,” Cho’s debut divulges the fragile mental state of her titular character, who has developed the disturbing tendency to suddenly become other people she’s known.
Lake Life. By David James Poissant. 2020. Simon & Schuster, $25 (9781476729992).
When plans to sell a beloved lake house are revealed, the bonds holding together a dysfunctional family unravel over the course of a single weekend in Poissant’s heartbreaking, hilarious, and unforgettable story.
Love after Love. By Ingrid Persaud. 2020. Random/One World, $27 (9780593157565).
Beautifully written, and told in Trinidadian dialect, Persaud’s moving novel of an unconventional family brings her characters and a richly realized Trinidadian setting to vivid life.
The New Wilderness. By Diane Cook. 2020. Harper, $27.99 (9780062333131).
Determined to save her ailing young daughter from the City’s toxic smog, Bea participates in an experiment involving people living in the Wilderness State as nomadic hunters and gatherers in this stunningly incisive and suspenseful dystopian tale.
Real Life. By Brandon Taylor. 2020. Riverhead, $26 (9780525538882).
Taylor translates biochemistry grad-student Wallace’s thoughts and conversations with a rare fluidity and creates breathlessly sensuous scenes in his exciting and resonant debut, in which he also applies a microscope to knots of race, class, and love.
The Resurrection of Fulgencio Ramirez. By Rudy Ruiz. 2020. Blackstone, $27.99 (9781982604615).
With an atmospheric setting, fascinating characters, and charming magical realism, Ruiz transports readers to the U.S.-Mexican border during the 1950s in this story of a man’s discovery that a curse might be preventing men in his family from holding on to love.
These Ghosts Are Family. By Maisy Card. 2020. Simon & Schuster, $24 (9781982117436).
Card invites readers to imagine themselves as a series of characters in the moments before a major family revelation upends their identities in this cross-generational novel that reckons with the ghosts of slavery’s legacy.
The Wanting Life. By Mark Rader. 2020. Unnamed, $18 (9781944700997).
At the end of his life, Father Paul Novak and his sister fly to Rome, where Paul retraces the momentous story of his long-ago year studying scripture there. With indelible images, emotional nuance, and wisdom, Rader explores faith, regret, shame, fear, and love.
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