Best Novels By Debut Authors 2017 is an impressive list of exceptional talent. To break through the pack of perennial authors, celebratory ghost written tomes, and series installations, one must have a standout narrative, voice, protagonist or notably all the above. The topic has to be prescient – even if historical – and resonate across demographics and continents. Lucky for you, this year is one of the best in quite a while with the diversity of writers, characters introduced, complexity exposed, and perspective explored.
I keep up with new releases and reviews through a few podcasts that interview writers, editors, and critics. A few of the more entertaining and insightful podcasts are Inside The New York Times Book Review, The New York Fiction Podcast, and Studio 360.
I attached an excerpt for each so you can prepare for the adventure that awaits. Click on the cover or the link.
This question of appearance versus reality recurs throughout The Hate U Give. Starr, familiar with perceptions of her neighborhood, community, and herself, code-switches to adapt to her environment and others’ expectations. After the shooting, a new narrative—one that paints Khalil as a drug dealer threatening a cop—surfaces, but an emboldened Starr challenges this simplistic framing of her friend. The novel goes on to raise cogent and credible counter-arguments to the flattening narratives often presented by authorities and echoed by many media outlets in shooting cases involving young black males.
As a book written for teens, The Hate U Give reminds readers of just how often racialized violence is carried out against that age group. And it illustrates how young people of color who might speak out to defend their late friends are unfairly criticized. Thomas’s novel keenly understands the dangers of defaulting to the cop/vigilante versus “thug” framing device: The deceased get put on trial, rather than their killers.
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.
When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.
Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.
Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.
When Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy and for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption.
Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer
Eleanor Oliphant struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully time-tabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
Then everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living–and it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.
In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.