within an engrossing page-turner about endurance and hope. —Patricia Smith
By Anna Pitoniak.
Jan. 2017. 320p. Little, Brown/Lee Boudreaux, $26
(9780316354172); e-book, $12.99 (9780316354189).
Recent college grads Julia and Evan, who
alternate chapters narrating Pitoniak’s debut,
have just traded New Haven for New York.
Without any distinct post-college plans, Julia thinks moving in with Evan is as good as
anything else. Evan, on the other hand, has
landed a coveted spot at a highly respected
hedge fund, one of the few, he’ll soon learn,
that’s safe in the about-to-happen 2008 market crash. Quickly, Evan is working around
the clock, attracting the attention of a boss
whose elusive praise is wildly sought-after
by his competitive colleagues. Julia, working
“only” normal hours, is lonely and disappointed, if not surprised, by how quickly
playing house has become anything but fun.
When Evan gets involved in a deal that he
suspects, then knows, isn’t above-board,
and Julia seeks fun and comfort elsewhere,
Pitoniak keeps the pace moving at a steady
clip. Through Julia, preppy, privileged, depressive, and Evan, a Canadian country
boy running from his roots, Pitoniak’s well
plotted, character-driven, interior-focused
novel captures the knowable angst of the
unknowable possibilities of modern young
adulthood. —Annie Bostrom
YA/M: Julia and Evan are barely older
than the teenagers who might like a peek
at the abruptly adult lives they lead after
By Mindy Tarquini.
Nov. 2016. 320p. SparkPress, paper, $16.95
(9781943006014); e-book, $9.95 (9781943006021).
Eugenia knows where she has been all too
well; she is not sure where she is going to
end up. Thirty-three years old and living
with her mother in South Philly, Eugenia
has the unique ability to remember all of her
past lives, but she is only interested in what
her as-yet-unknown future holds. She thinks
her current life is too easy, and she is craving
more, when she meets Friedrich, a man who
shares her strange talent, as his concentra-tion-camp tattoo from a past life proves. The
two form an unlikely friendship that always
dances around more, and suddenly Eugenia’s
life is exciting. Instead of wishing for something better in her next life, she is engaged
in the present, able to tackle things she never
thought possible and in sight of the life she
has always wanted, this time around. Tarquini charms her audience with heady wit
and laugh-out-loud humor, especially where
Eugenia’s hilarious Italian American family is
concerned. This is a fast-reading, enjoyable
journey through past and present that many
readers will enjoy. —Carissa Chesanek
Continued on p. 32
These 10 superlative debut novels, all reviewed in Booklist between October 15, 2015, and October 1, 2016, explore America, past and present, the horrors of war and natural disasters, the frustrations of family, and love in its many forms. —Annie Bostrom
After Disasters. By Viet Dinh. 2016. Little A, $24.95 (9781477849996); paperback, $14.95
Set in the aftermath of the real-life cataclysmic earthquake in Gujarat, India, Dinh’s novel
explores the efficacy of international aid, the price of survival, and the cost of love in an
ever-shifting global world.
The Girls. By Emma Cline. 2016. Random, $27 (9780812998603).
In Cline’s impressive debut, it’s 1969 in Petaluma, California, and bored teenager Evie is
introduced to a “family” of hangers-on surrounding a charismatic musician.
Grace. By Natashia Deón. 2016. Counterpoint, $25 (9781619027206).
Through her narrator, deceased 17-year-old slave Naomi, Deón dramatizes alliances
formed by women in a violent place and time with adroit characterizations, a powerful
narrative voice, and propulsive plotting.
A Hard and Heavy Thing. By Matthew J. Hefti. 2016. Tyrus, $16.99 (9781440591884).
In his intense, compelling debut, Hefti, himself twice deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq,
tells the story of two lifelong friends who decide to join the army to fight in Afghanistan
after 9/11 but are sent to Iraq instead.
Hide. By Matthew Griffin. 2016. Bloomsbury, $26 (9781632863386).
Griffin follows the relationship between two gay men living on the fringes of society, in
constant fear of being found out, through the decades, recalling in flashbacks how they
met and stayed together, and capturing the quotidian moments of life.
The Mothers. By Brit Bennett. 2016. Riverhead, $26 (9780399184512).
Bennett’s debut novel, set in the U.S. Marine Corps base city of Oceanside and narrated in part by a chorus of elder church women, examines the consequences of secret
decisions born of pain and fear as they play out in the lives of three young people.
The Nest. By Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. 2016. Ecco, $26.99 (9780062414212).
In her novel centered on a disappeared inheritance, Sweeney, with a flair for realistic
and funny dialogue, vividly portrays each of the four dysfunctional adult Plumb siblings:
suave Jack, artsy Bea, playboy Leo, and meek Melody.
The Nix. By Nathan Hill. 2016. Knopf, $27.95 (9781101946619).
Cartwheeling among multiple narrators, Hill’s accomplished, many-limbed debut novel
spins the galvanizing stories of three generations derailed in unexpected ways by WWII,
the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War.
The Translation of Love. By Lynne Kutsukake. 2016. Doubleday, $25.95
Kutsukake uses the fact that half-a-million Japanese citizens sent letters to General
MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan following WWII as a framework for this
memorable account of ordinary people struggling to recover from the devastations of war.
Work like Any Other. By Virginia Reeves. 2016. Scribner, $25 (9781501112492); e-book
Set in Alabama just as electricity is beginning to transform the countryside, Reeves’
deeply affecting debut follows the fates of two men after they’re caught illegally tapping into the grid.
TOP 10 FIRST NOVELS