Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Amy & Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout. Strout went on to win the Pulitzer Prize with her third book, Olive Kitteridge, but her debut, a sensitive story about mothers and daughters, marked her as an author to watch. Isabelle thinks she knows everything about her daughter, Amy, but when she discovers that Amy has been having an affair with her math teacher, their relationship is tested.
Amy's deceit makes Isabelle, a single mother, question her own parenting skills, remembering her own lies that began when she first moved to Shirley Falls when Amy was a baby. Horrified by her daughter's actions, Isabelle commits an act that they later regret, igniting the hostile silence throughout the summer. Unsure how to make amends, Amy and Isabelle begin the arduous process of learning to see each other as adults and recognizing their respective limits. . . . In this quiet but exhilarating novel, the reader becomes involved in the life of Shirley Falls, able to peer through everyone's roofs at night and empathize with their struggles.
Read the full review from our January 1999 issue here.
In honor of first fiction month, we're highlighting some of our favorite debut novels. Click here to read all First Fiction coverage.
Readers never seem to get tired of historical fiction, and why not? After all, one of the best reasons to pick up a book is to get swept away to another time and place. Below are a few of our favorite historical novels from the past year.
The Rathbones by Janice Clark. 19th-century New England.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin. Antebellum Virginia.
The Ghost Bride by Yangzee Choo. 1890s Malaysia.
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell. 1930s New York City.
Snow Hunters by Paul Yoon. Midcentury Brazil.
The Twelves Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. Early 20th-century America.
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh. 1880s South Africa.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. WWI-era Scotland.
A White Wind Blew by James Markert. Turn-of-the-century Louisville, Kentucky.
The Fever by Mary Beth Keane. Early 20th-century New York City.
What's your favorite historical setting?
Middle-aged death-metal rock star Jude Coyne doesn't know what he's in for when he buys a Floridian ghost from an online auction site to add to his collection of ghoulish curiosities, which includes a 16th-century skull and a snuff film that effectively ended his marriage. The ghost arrives in the form of a black suit folded into a black heart-shaped box, but it doesn't stay there. As soon as the suit emerges from the box, Jude's life is invaded by Craddock, a dead man with a deadly plan. And in facing this very real ghost in the present, Jude is forced to face many ghosts from his past, including his terrifyingly abusive father, a girlfriend who died tragically and his fallen band mates.
Read the full review from our February 2007 issue here.
August is First Fiction Month on BookPage.com! Click here for complete coverage.
Use your past favorites to discover your favorite new voice! Here are 10 notable first novels paired with their 2013 read-alikes. Agree? Disagree? Duke it out with me in the comments.
Like Prada, Kwan's debut features a likable heroine thrust into a world beyond her ken. Only instead of the fashion elite, Rachel is brought into the secretive kingdom of the offshore Chinese, a community with wealth and privilege beyond her wildest imaginings.
Like Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 bestseller, Rhonda Riley's debut tells the story of an ordinary woman in love with someone who's . . . not so ordinary. Along the way, it explores questions about the nature of love and identity.
If you like quirks, literary chops and a touch of magic in your fiction, The Rathbones is the 2013 debut for you. It stars a spunky teenage heroine who sets out on a search for a missing relative—and encompasses 100 years of Rathbone family history in the process.
Marra's accomplished debut is set in war-torn Chechnya, and, like Obreht's, manages to tell a compelling story while exploring the effects of a brutal civil war. Insightful and enlightening, this is the sort of novel that helps you see the world differently.
Like Fielding, Double Feature manages to tackle the tricky topic of young man coming of age without self-indulgence or pretension—although King's hero Sam Dolan must prove himself in Hollywood rather than on the baseball field. Both novels surround a dynamic male lead with an equally true-to-life, crowd-pleasing cast of characters, and ably walk the line between tragedy and comedy.
Though set in different eras, these two debuts both masterfully evoke the Southern landscape and culture and feature down-and-out protagonists who could use a little bit of luck—not to mention poetic, spare prose.
Alice Sebold's first novel broke the rules by killing her narrator in the opening pages. Nutting's debut is possibly even more transgressive: Its narrator is an unrepentant, beautiful and cold young woman who preys on her teen students. But a bold premise is nothing without an equally strong and original voice—and both of these books have it.
A story told in letters, set mostly on a small, isolated island during a world war—this summary could describe either of these charming novels. Although each has its own distinct voice, both handily evoke their eras and will please fans of love stories and small-town tales.
Though the settings of these two novels could not be more different—an isolated island off the coast of Australia vs. a modern American prison—the moral questions raised by each will have a similar resonance in readers' minds.
With a settings ranging from Sweden to Spain's stunning Costa del Sol, this fast-paced crime thriller is hard-boiled enough to satisfy fans of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward. Set in the women's prison in Gatestown, Texas, this heartfelt and challenging novel is a true literary page-turner that intertwines the lives of three women: a murderer waiting to be executed on death row—who is at the same time desperately ill with AIDS—the widow of the man she murdered and the physician responsible for the inmate's care.
In lean, luminous prose, Ward taps into her own chilling experiences visiting one of the state's women's prisons. Her sharply drawn characters ponder life's capital-letter concepts: Guilt, Vengeance, Forgiveness. As Mills says, while driving to witness Lowens' execution, "The fact is that in the abstract, I do believe in mercy. . . . I believe people make mistakes, and that they should be given a chance to atone. But I also feel that something was taken away from me . . . and that I deserve something back."
Read the full review from our July 2003 issue here.
Redemption Mountain by Gerry FitzGerald
Holt • $27 • ISBN 9780805094893
published June 2013
Having grown up in East Tennessee, I am skeptical of novels that portray mountain dialects in the dialogue. Gerry FitzGerald did not let me down in his beautifully written novel Redemption Mountain. This novel contains authentic-sounding dialogue from its cast of characters living in the small coal town of Red Bone, West Virginia. FitzGerald is not afraid to make his characters flawed, and the result is a town of real people with imperfections that will make readers rage, cry and love each one.
Charlie Burden leaves Manhattan to oversee his company's mountain-top removal construction site. Though in need of the escape from his corporate meetings and country-club wife, Charlie is not prepared for the people of Red Bone.
Meanwhile, Natty Oakes is trapped in an abusive marriage to her high school sweetheart. Natty's family farm is in the path of the mountain-top removal coal-mining, and Charlie will be facing some hard decisions as the people of Red Bone begin showing him the love and strength to be found on Redemption Mountain.
But the farm was also the source of Natty's greatest sadness, and she couldn't walk through the house or the barn or the fields or sit on the porch for very long without thinking of Annie. Twenty-three years later she could still hear her voice, and feel her downy cheeks, and see her running across the dirt yard with her arms upraised, the sign for Natty to hold her.
The melancholy of old memories was supplanted by the unbridled joy the children experienced at the farm, and Natty enjoyed sharing their excitement as they explored the world of her childhood. After the obligatory hugs and a suitable interval of fawning by their grandmother and great-grandparents, Pie would always beg for his release to run off with Uncle Pete to drive the old tractor around the farm. Cat, after a hand-in-hand walking tour with Great-grandmother Alice to see the newest piglets, would invariably sneak off the the warm floor of the sunroom, surrounded by the tattered yellowing picture books from Sarah's library. She could sit for hours, cross-legged, reading the stories out loud to herself, just as her mother had done with the same books many years earlier.
In his debut novel, Kevin Maher offers a story of challenges faced head-on with humor and the strength of family. The Fields depicts the struggles of 14-year-old Jim Finnegan as he navigates family, friends and girls while growing up in Dublin during the 1980s. Coming across situations he never imagined, Jim looks to his family for solutions as he faces the realities of becoming a man.
Dublin native Kevin Maher brings truth to his characters as Jim travels from Dublin to London in search of redemption. To learn more about Kevin Maher and his writing of The Fields, watch the book trailer below from Hachette Book Group and be sure to read our full review.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading The Fields?
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross, a psychologically acute tale that weaves together three different storylines together to chart the darkest depths of love and marriage. Though this isn't an easy read, it's a completely absorbing and rewarding one—if you enjoyed Gone Girl for its portrait of a twisted relationship, Mr. Peanut is for you.
To say this is a thematically rich book is hardly to do Mr. Peanut justice. For with every theme Ross presents—the Hitchcockian fallen hero, the classic “wrong man” trope, the Möbius strips and Escher imagery that emerge again and again, lest we forget the unending nature of marriage, love and murder—there is a way in which this too-clever-to-be-neat story resists such thematics, indeed calls into question the expectation/fulfillment nature of storytelling itself. And yet Ross cleaves closely to all the pleasures of the genre: mystery, suspense, romance, surprise. And in this sense, Mr. Peanut is highly unique—a disturbingly funny and remarkably poignant novel from one of the year’s most promising new voices.
Read the full review from our July 2010 issue here.
In honor of first fiction month, we’re highlighting some of our favorite debut novels of the year so far. Here are our top 5 young adult debuts. What’s your favorite debut novel of the year? Comment to weigh in!
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell made her actual fiction debut with her 2011 adult novel, Attachments, but her YA debut is too good not to include on this list. This raw, complex depiction of two teen misfits falling in love in the '80s is at once heartbreaking and searingly hopeful. With a shared love of music and a mountain of hurdles to overcome, Eleanor and Park's love story is just the right amount of awkward and magical.
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd
H.G. Wells gets the teen treatment with this entertaining adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. The story, as told by the doctor's daughter, 16-year-old Juliet, doesn't tone anything down for younger readers. Gothic horror and Victorian romance blend masterfully here, and the gruesome scientific experiments are so creepy that animal-loving Shepherd had trouble writing them.
Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan
In 13-year-old Habo's home country of Tanzania, a person with albinism is called a zeruzeru, meaning "zero-zero." He has always been an outcast, but he now faces a greater threat: He is being hunted for his body parts, as many believe his light skin will bring them luck. Sullivan's depiction of this growing East African human rights issue is at times horrifying, but she writes beautifully of the landscape and of Habo's strong spirit in the face of such monstrous injustice.
The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin
No punches get pulled in this story set during a freezing Maine winter. Fifteen-year-old Dinah is innocent and endlessly positive, but her best friend Skint, who has stopped wearing a coat for some reason and whose father suffers from early-onset senility, is exactly the opposite. This heart-wrenching, thoughtful tale is sad, for sure, but Griffin speckles the novel with flashes of humor and warm personality.
If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
This dazzling story of two Iranian girls in love sensitively approaching issues rarely—if ever—addressed in YA literature. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, but gender reassignment surgery is generally accepted. So when Sahar discovers that her best friend and the girl she loves is to be married, she contemplates the surgery as her only option. Farizan tells this important, compassionate story with immense grace. On sale 8/20. Look for a review in our September issue!
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is a Southern charmer. Susan Gregg Gilmore's Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen is set in the small town of Ringgold, Georgia, where Catherine Grace Cline dreams of moving to the big city. But how much would she miss the ones she leaves behind?
The tight-knit Cline clan lives in a home of Baptist values and Georgia football, but the most significant component of this family is their confidence in one another's dreams. That kind of love and support is even more appealing than a diet of Dilly Bars, and Gilmore's novel is a meal well worth the consumption.
Read the full review from our June 2009 issue here.