March is Women's History Month—which means it's time for our third annual "women to watch" list. We've pored over galleys to come up with 14 women writers whose ambitious debuts—or accomplished breakthrough books—are sure to make waves among book lovers this spring and summer.
The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau, March)
There's a new face on the literary suspense beat: Missouri author Laura McHugh, who drew on her experience of moving to the rural Ozarks as a preteen for her astonishing debut, The Weight of Blood. Two generations of disappearances haunt the small town of Henbane, but only 17-year-old Lucy seems interested in solving the mysteries. Will she learn that some secrets are better left buried?
Astonish Me (Knopf, April)
Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate Shipstead saw her 2012 debut, Seating Arrangements, become a national bestseller, but this accomplished second novel is certain to secure her place as a major literary voice. Spanning decades in less than 300 pages, this is the polished story of a ballerina whose passion for dance—and for her Russian instructor—shapes her life in surprising ways. Full of insight into the artistic mind and the human condition, this is a story that readers will embrace.
KAUI HART HEMMINGS
The Possibilities (Simon & Schuster, May)
It has been seven years since the publication of Kaui Hart Hemmings' debut, The Descendants, which became an Alexander Payne film starring George Clooney. In her second novel, Hemmings eschews the lush setting of her native Hawaii for the ski resort town of Breckenridge, but she's continuing her exploration of family bonds and the weight of grief. We expect readers will be just as enthralled by this honest, heart-tugging story about parents and children, about growing up and letting go.
The Untold (Amy Einhorn, June)
Fans of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang and Gil Adamson's The Outlander will thrill to Collins' debut, which introduces a bold new voice in Australian fiction. Inspired by the true story of Jessie Hickman, a notorious Australian outlaw, The Untold is set in the 1921 Outback, where Jessie is attempting to escape her past and atone for her crimes, all amid the terrible beauty of the landscape.
The Book of Unknown Americans (Knopf, June)
Chicago author Henríquez has earned praise from the likes of Sandra Cisneros and Ben Fountain for her previous novel and short story collection, but she's yet to become as well known to readers. She's poised for a breakthrough with The Book of Unknown Americans, the tale of two immigrant families in Delaware. The Toros, from Panama, are relatively established in the neighborhood when the Riveras arrive from Mexico. When the Toros' son falls in love with the Riveras' beautiful daughter, Maribel, their fates become intertwined.
Everything I Never Told You (Penguin, June)
Ng is a winner of the Pushcart Prize—and of the University of Michigan's Hopwood Award, which counts Mary Gaitskill, Frank O'Hara and Elizabeth Kostova among the past winners. Her elegant first novel follows the Lee family in 1970s Ohio after their favored daughter, Lydia, is found drowned.
The Quick (Random House, June)
Owen is just 28 years old and in the middle of pursuing her Ph.D. in English literature—but her first novel could be one of the biggest hits of the summer. Set in 1892 London, it has the same balance of historical/literary/supernatural that marked past bestsellers like Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Siblings James and Charlotte Norbury drift apart after James leaves their moldering Yorkshire estate to become a poet in London. But when James disappears without a trace, Charlotte must travel to the city to find him, and she uncovers a supernatural conspiracy in the process.
My Salinger Year (Knopf, June)
Poet Rakoff follows up her 2009 novel, A Fortunate Age, with a memoir of the mid-1990s year she worked as an assistant at one of the most storied literary agencies in NYC. After learning how to turn on her decades-old Selectric typewriter and adjust the playback speed on her boss' Dictaphone, Rakoff learns that she'll be in charge of answering the fan mail of the agency's top client: the reclusive J.D. Salinger. While it may be the Salinger cameo that initially draws readers in, it's Rakoff's effortlessly elegant, unhyperbolic prose and poignant coming-of-age story that will keep them engrossed through the very last word.
Life Drawing (Random House, July)
Mature marriages don't get a lot of play in fiction, but Robin Black brings one vividly to life in Life Drawing, the debut that follows her acclaimed 2010 story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. Authors like Karen Russell and Alice Sebold have already praised this tale of an artistic couple—Augusta ("Gus") is a painter, while Owen is a writer—who find that the secrets and betrayals of their decades-long marriage are stirred up by the beautiful divorcée who moves in next door.
Friendship (FSG, July)
Former Gawker editor Emily Gould (who now is the co-proprietor of Emily Books) is known for her frank-to-a-fault writing—and the much-written-about (by Gould as well as others) flop of her 2010 memoir/essay collection, And the Heart Says Whatever. Fans and foes alike will be waiting to see what happens with her first novel, Friendship, the sharply observed story of Bev and Amy, longtime best friends who have just hit their 30s. When Bev becomes pregnant, the divide that had been gradually opening between their two lifestyles suddenly seems stark and unbridgeable.
The Queen of the Tearling (Harper, July)
The female George R.R. Martin? That's the buzz on newcomer Erika Johansen, a graduate of, you guessed it, the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The 36-year-old writer sold her trilogy for seven figures early last year, and Warner Brothers has optioned the film rights. It's the story of Kelsea Glynn, heir to the throne of Tearling, who, after years living in hiding, must return and challenge the Red Queen for her rightful place as leader. Though the setting feels medieval, The Queen of the Tearling is actually set 300 years in the future, in a world where technological advancement has been destroyed.
Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead, July)
One of the "5 Under 35" authors chosen by the National Book Foundation, Yanique draws from the rich history of her native Virgin Islands for this multigenerational saga that begins in the early 1900s. Two sisters are orphaned after a shipwreck and must make their way from rags to riches with only their wits—and their remarkable ability to make men fall at their feet.
CARRIE LA SEUR
The Home Place (Morrow, August)
A Montana environmental attorney might seem like an unlikely novelist, but La Seur, who has studied at Oxford and Yale, draws on her seven-generations-deep Montana background to create the immersive setting of her first novel. Alma Terrebonne thinks she has escaped her small-town past, but finds herself called back to Montana when her sister dies in what appears to be an accident. Once Alma returns, however, she finds that there may be more to the story.
Small Blessings (St. Martin's, August)
Described as "one part Maeve Binchy, one part Woody Allen," this debut from a 66-year-old NPR feature reporter is set in a Southern academic community, where professor Tom Putnam and his wife, Marjorie, are going through a marital rough patch. Things get more complicated when Tom gets introduced to the 10-year-old son he never knew he had.
Photo of Maggie Shipstead by Michelle Legro
Photo of Courtney Collins by Lisa Madden
Photo of Celeste Ng by Kevin Day Photography
Photo of Joanna Rakoff by Elena Seibert
Photo of Robin Black by Nina Subin