R. O. Kwon
The story of a young, guilt-ridden woman’s descent into the arms of a terrorist cult, R.O. Kwon’s daring and incisive first novel features all the hallmarks of a master: sure-footed prose, complex political and intellectual thought, and exceptionally well-rendered characters. The Incendiaries is a must-read.
My Sister, the Serial Killer
Korede’s sister keeps killing her boyfriends, which Korede has become especially adept at covering up. But when the guy she likes asks for her sister’s number, she’s forced to confront the woman she’s spent her life protecting. A challenging, strange, and incredibly fun novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer, it’s safe to say, won’t be like most of the books you’ve read lately.
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
The author of Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu’s first work is a mind-bending romp through space-time. A young time machine technician named Charles Yu navigates a world full of unbelievable (or science fictional) technologies, where the sudden appearance of a book, apparently written by himself, throws him into a strange, head-trippy adventure.
The Old Drift
The Old Drift is a family saga, a magical realist epic, a history of Zambia, and a remarkably accomplished first novel. Beginning in 1904 and concluding in the future, Namwali Serpell’s freshman effort is unbelievably great—a confident, dizzyingly complicated, and rapturously engrossing piece of fiction, destined to become a literary classic.
The Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Set in Barcelona in the 1940s and telling the story of a mysterious library called the cemetery of lost books, Zafón’s first adult novel (he’d written a few YA titles before this) has become a widely regarded masterpiece and spawned three sequels, including the recent The Labyrinth of the Spirits. An impossibly fun and enigmatic yarn, The Shadow of the Wind is a contemporary classic.
The Most Fun We Ever Had
A man and woman meet in the 1970s, get married, have kids. Beneath the veneer of that seemingly straightforward premise lays a generation tale of a family. Marilyn and David’s four daughters navigate the bewildering world of 2016 in decidedly different ways. An epic tale while also remaining intimate and exacting, The Most Fun We Ever Had introduces the reading world to a wonderfully assured and insightful new voice.
A startling debut novel set in an America in which women are only permitted to speak 100 words per day, Christina Dalcher’s Vox literalizes the issue of silencing women today, spinning it into a haunting wake-up call for our deeply troubled times. In it, a cognitive linguist fights against the Pure Movement that’s brought about the horrifying misogynistic rule. At first, she suffers through the electric shocks that come when a woman surpasses her allotted word limit. Then, she goes after the President. A must-read from a voice who needs, like so many, to be heard.
We Cast a Shadow
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
From its tantalizing premise—in a near-future Southern American city, a father considers putting his biracial son, who has a black birthmark that continues to grow, through a procedure known as demelanization to turn him white—to its beaming, bustling lyricism, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow is one masterpiece of a debut.
Yaa Gyasi’s debut follows two women—one a slave, the other a slave trader’s wife—and their lineages—one in America, the other in Ghana—examining slavery’s disturbing history and the tragic way its demoralizing force reverberates long after its initial perpetrators and victims are gone. Homegoing is an astounding novel of miraculous talent and remarkable moral range, certainly one of the best books of 2016.
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
The story of a young writer’s coming-of-age is the kind of concoction in which Jansma gets to poke fun at the conventions of the genre while still embracing the genre itself. From risqué debutantes to writing workshops, Jansma covers the gamut of burgeoning-male-writer clichés, yet its self-awareness coupled with the narrator’s charms prevent it from becoming obnoxious or too in love with its own cleverness. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards a delightful and poignant novel from a savvy young novelist.
Imagine how difficult it must be to have published your first novel. The old cliché that once your foot’s through the door you’ve permanently made it is, obviously, completely untrue, and in fact most first books come and go unceremoniously, with little fanfare. The following debut novels are ones that have really moved me, compelled me, and in general felt especially deserving of acknowledgment and recognition. Some of these books have received some wide acclaim, and some haven’t gotten the attention and the accolades they absolutely deserve. I truly hope all of these writers have long and flourishing careers in literature.
Featured Image: David Lezcano/Unsplash