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Vidya is a girl set apart in her time, growing up in a crowded tenement in 1960s Bombay, a place that does not value girls as it does boys. She chafes against men’s unwanted attention, and her dark skin makes her feel alienated by her own extended family. Her mother’s mysterious ways perplex her, and her father’s demands keep a distance between them. 

But Vidya’s restlessness is a gift, though it will take many years for her to understand and embrace it. As she journeys slowly into womanhood, she takes up a serious, devoted study of kathak, the storytelling dance that mesmerized her as a little girl. Her process of becoming forms the heartbeat of The Archer, and the narrative shifts from third person to first as she matures and claims her place in her own story.

Shruti Swamy’s visceral first novel after her critically acclaimed story collection, A House Is a Body, The Archer blends the corporeal and the spiritual in a story about what it means to be a woman and an artist. Swamy’s writing is transportive, precise and almost hypnotic, not unlike the controlled and expressive dance form that Vidya loves. The author’s perceptive and observant eye misses nothing, from a single ripening mango on a tree to the inner workings of a young female mind. In depicting Vidya’s interior world, Swamy captures both the dark side and long-awaited light of dawn, of discovery, of fulfillment. There is darkness, yes, but also “those dreams where you remember you could fly.” 

As Vidya maneuvers through worlds—home, school, women, men and dance, always dance—she discovers life. As a child, she “wanted to be marked, altered, changed. Split open,” and by the end of the novel, she is.

As a child, Vidya “wanted to be marked, altered, changed. Split open,” and by the end of Shruti Swamy’s novel, she is.

Let’s cut to the chase: Louise Nealon’s Snowflake is one of the most heartwarming, honest and brilliant coming-of-age novels you will read this year.

Nealon’s debut is set on a dairy farm in rural Ireland, and this idyllic setting is a fitting backdrop for the quirky yet endearing White family. Eighteen-year-old Debbie, the protagonist and narrator, has lived on the farm all her life with her mother, Maeve, and uncle Billy. A self-described country bumpkin, Debbie is a bit lost, a bit sad and rather reluctant to be a freshman at Trinity College in the big city of Dublin. 

Maeve, beatnik and beautiful, believes that her dreams are prophecies and therefore spends a lot of time sleeping, or when not asleep, writing about her dreams. Billy, disheveled but brilliant, takes care of the dairy farm, drinks a bit too much and prefers to live in a caravan behind their home. Debbie may not completely understand Maeve’s and Billy’s lifestyle choices, but in their chaos and flaws, she finds comfort, love and the freedom to be herself.

This novel is a true gift from Nealon, who has embraced wholeheartedly the writer’s credo to write what you know. She grew up in County Kildare, Ireland, on her family’s dairy farm before attending Trinity College, and she still lives on the farm where she was raised. Snowflake is about growing up detached from the rest of the world and then learning to assimilate, while also trying to figure out who you are and what your purpose is. Reading it is to lose yourself in reveries about the imperfections of life, the people we love and care for, self-doubt and the pursuit of joy. 

Louise Nealon’s Snowflake is one of the most heartwarming, honest and brilliant coming-of-age novels you will read this year.

Our sincere apologies to the rest of the novels on your TBR list, but these debuts deserve a spot at the top. Based on other novels you’ve loved, we’ve recommended which of these six hot titles you’ll most enjoy.


FOR FANS OF 
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

★ THE READING LIST

Former book editor Sara Nisha Adams attributes her passion for reading to her early childhood, when she bonded with her grandfather over their shared love of literature. This relationship also served as the inspiration for The Reading List, a story about two lonely individuals whose initial common ground is, ironically, that neither has any interest in reading. As an uplifting and tenderhearted celebration of libraries and the transformative power of books, The Reading List is particularly perfect for book clubs and sure to brighten any reader’s day.

(read the full review by Stephenie Harrison)


FOR FANS OF
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck

★ SISTERS IN ARMS

In Kaia Alderson’s witty and powerful debut novel, World War II is a conflict not only between nations but also within the hearts of Grace Steele and Eliza Jones, two Black women serving in the U.S. Army’s 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. It’s a chance to prove themselves to their restrictive families and a prejudiced society. Sisters in Arms chronicles their story, which spans the constraints of New York City and the perils of war-torn Europe. During their service, their bond is tested, but Grace and Eliza learn to stick together to survive, and their romantic relationships enhance their personal stories. This is an outstanding historical novel that succeeds at celebrating the accomplishments of the Six Triple Eight Battalion through the lives of two audacious Black women.

(read the full review by Edith Kanyagia)


FOR FANS OF 
Deep River by Karl Marlantes and Barkskins by Annie Proulx

★ DAMNATION SPRING

Ash Davidson’s exceptional debut novel, Damnation Spring, follows aging logger Rich Gundersen and his family through 1977, a year of significant change in Northern California’s redwood forest. Here, all politics are local: It slowly dawns on Rich’s wife, Colleen, that herbicides, sprayed to help the logging industry, hurt babies; and the unethical owner of the timber company is a flawed and greedy local guy, not a corporate mover on Wall Street. Davidson grew up in Arcata, California, just south of the redwood forest she writes about in Damnation Spring. She’s studied the lay of the land, and she expresses the heart and soul of this place and time.

(read the full review by Alden Mudge)


FOR FANS OF
Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints for All Occasions

WE ARE THE BRENNANS

Tracey Lange’s debut novel tells the story of a large Irish American family grappling with the weight of secrets after Sunday, the only Brennan daughter, returns home after five years away. We Are the Brennans is well plotted, offering plenty of action, but it shines brightest in depicting family relationships, love mixed with resentment and guilt, and in its character development. We root for the Brennans the whole way through, waiting for them to face hard truths about one another and, we hope, to move forward together.

(read the full review by Sarah McCraw Crow)


FOR FANS OF
Swing Time by Zadie Smith and There There by Tommy Orange

THE ETERNAL AUDIENCE OF ONE

Rwandan-born Namibian writer Rémy Ngamije’s sharp-witted and incisive debut, The Eternal Audience of One, paints a revealing portrait of its peripatetic protagonist and the many places he’s called home. Séraphin Turihamwe is a displaced Rwandan who feels most himself in Cape Town, South Africa, a place that doesn’t welcome Black immigrants, and Ngamije brilliantly explores the irony in Séraphin’s identities. The story unfolds through a collection of scenes all revolving around Séraphin’s social life, his friends and the women he dates, that explore racism and social hierarchies. Ngamije’s writing is beautiful, his observations original and precise, his sense of place unsurpassed. Every bit of insight, succinctly and humorously presented, will cause readers to stop and think.

(read the full review by Carole V. Bell)


FOR FANS OF
The Leavers by Lisa Ko and The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

EDGE CASE

In YZ Chin’s Edge Case, Edwina and her husband, Marlin, are in the U.S. on H-1B work visas. Both are from Malaysia; she is ethnic Chinese, and he is Chinese Indian. After Marlin’s father dies, Marlin disappears. Compounding Edwina’s anguish over Marlin’s abandonment are her anxieties about her immigration status and daily racial insults. Chin is superb at describing the tumult of a woman being psychologically knocked about like a pachinko ball. Every chapter bears witness to Edwina’s pain, befuddlement and sheer exhaustion, while also revealing her snarky sense of humor, resourcefulness, tenaciousness and capacity for love.

(read the full review by Arlene McKanic)

Based on other novels you’ve loved, we’ve recommended which of these six hot titles you’ll most enjoy.

Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer Rémy Ngamije’s sharp-witted and incisive debut, The Eternal Audience of One, paints a revealing portrait of its peripatetic protagonist and the many places he’s called home.

Séraphin Turihamwe’s family fled Rwanda for Kenya in the midst of genocide and eventually landed in Namibia. Throughout Séraphin’s story, spanning many years and several countries, Ngamije vividly captures the life of a man for whom the idea of home is “a constant source of stress, a place of conformity, foreign family roots trying to burrow into arid Namibian soil that failed to nourish him.”

Despite the cultural specificity, many readers will recognize the intergenerational conflicts and warring emotions at the center of this bildungsroman. Séraphin feels guilty about his ambivalence toward his family, wondering if “his desire to be distant from [them] marked him as an ungrateful son.” His sense of identity and his place in his family and future are all up in the air. What he knows “for certain, though, was how easy he breathed as soon as his family was behind him, when the adventure and uncertainty of Cape Town lay ahead.”

Ngamije brilliantly explores the irony in Séraphin’s identities. He’s a displaced Rwandan who feels most himself in Cape Town, South Africa, a place that doesn’t welcome Black immigrants. He’s also soon to be a graduate of law school but doesn't want to practice law. For Séraphin, pursuing his law degree was a compromise, the best of many boring but socially acceptable options for an East African kid with ambitious, educated parents.

Ngamije is as adept at conveying family drama as he is at portraying Séraphin’s days as a university student, where he is immersed in the uneasy multicultural cacophony of Cape Town. Though Séraphin’s early years were nearly touched by tragedy, his present-day life is filled with all the humor, sex and drama typically associated with coming-of-age stories.

The novel is told in close third person, with flashbacks from formative moments in the past interspersed with scenes in the present day. Séraphin is an incisive, funny and keen social observer, so inside his head is a fine place to be, whether he’s thinking about the girl he wants to sleep with or the problems of his adopted home. The story unfolds through a collection of scenes with little trajectory, all revolving around Séraphin’s social life, his friends and the women he dates, to explore racism and social hierarchies. As socially aware as Séraphin is, his inner circle and dating pool rarely include Black women. His mother is nearly the only Black woman he knows.

Ngamije’s writing is beautiful, his observations original and precise, his sense of place unsurpassed. The plot is less developed, but flaws don’t detract from this gorgeously imperfect first novel. Séraphin’s experiences depict a fascinating, multidimensional and culturally and politically damning version of post-apartheid Cape Town. Every bit of insight, succinctly and humorously presented, will cause readers to stop and think. Ngamije displays copious talent and an authentic and elegant literary style in this striking debut.

Rémy Ngamije’s narrator, Séraphin, is an incisive, funny and keen social observer, so inside his head is a fine place to be.

Prepare for surprises galore in How to Find Your Way in the Dark, a rollicking novel that begins with a lonely truck ride in New England in 1938 and follows its characters through a decade of fascinating history. Just when you think the story is heading one way, it veers in another, completely unexpected direction.

Twelve-year-old Sheldon Horowitz and his father are driving home from Hartford, Connecticut, to Whately, Massachusetts, after honoring the one-year anniversary of Sheldon’s mother’s death. She and her sister died in a horrific movie theater fire in Hartford. And as if that isn’t enough tragedy for the novel’s first 13 pages, a truck purposely forces Sheldon and his father’s car off the road during their return trip, and Sheldon’s father dies.

Readers of Derek B. Miller’s award-winning thriller, Norwegian by Night, will recognize Sheldon as that novel’s 82-year-old protagonist. As a Tom Sawyer-like boy in How to Find Your Way in the Dark, Sheldon is determined to make sense of his double tragedies, and his attempts to do so take the reader on one hell of a ride. As he seeks out the leering, mustached truck driver who killed his father, his quest leads him straight into danger—think mobsters, guns and jewel thefts.

Miller has crafted a wide-ranging, years-spanning yet tightly structured plot, and he excels at placing memorable characters in unusual circumstances. Sheldon is joined in his adventures by his two older cousins, Abe and Mirabelle, and his best friend, Lenny, all of whom play pivotal roles. One summer, Lenny and Sheldon end up as bellhops at the famed Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills, where Lenny practices standup comedy amid the glamorous, bustling atmosphere.

An underlying seriousness lies at the heart of all of this intrigue, hilarity and fun. Sheldon, Abe, Mirabelle and Lenny, all Jewish, must confront the many faces of antisemitism during the turbulent years of World War II. Miller weaves in a multitude of historical details, including reports of the horrors in Europe and America’s reluctance to intervene.

The ending of How to Find Your Way in the Dark is nothing short of brilliant, tying up a variety of loose ends while making a powerful statement about the need to fully recognize and address antisemitism. Readers are left with much to ponder, including life’s many uncertainties and cruel twists of fate. Despite these unhappy truths, we are also left with the uplifting wisdom of Lenny’s urgent prayer: “Dear God, give me the strength to be joyful.”

The ending of How to Find Your Way in the Dark is nothing short of brilliant, making a powerful statement about the need to fully address antisemitism.

In her third novel, Amy Mason Doan offers a refreshing story about music, family secrets and forgiveness.

Every summer, brilliant and beloved musician Graham Kingston turns his sprawling California coastal estate, the Sandcastle, into a commune for musicians, artists and friends from all over the country to gather for creativity and inspiration. In 1979, Graham’s niece, 17-year-old Jackie Pierce, is a first-time participant in the shindig—and a reluctant one. But with her father and stepmother honeymooning in Europe for the summer, there is nowhere else for Jackie to go.

Jackie is unprepared for life among all these free spirits—until she meets Graham’s daughter, Willa. Though complete opposites, the two girls hit it off almost instantly. They develop a deep friendship, and life couldn’t be better for the teenagers, until a tragedy changes everything.

Twenty years later, Jackie is back at the Sandcastle, just as reluctantly as before. The abandoned estate needs to be packed and put up for sale, but all she can think about is the summer of 1979. Sorting through her memories isn’t easy, so she wants to complete her task as soon as possible. But then a diehard Graham Kingston fan named Shane arrives and tries to convince Jackie to let him use the estate’s recording studio one last time. She agrees, choosing to stay even longer in a place that has brought her as much pain as joy.

Jumping between 1979 and 1999, Lady Sunshine unfolds with an artful combination of lyrical writing and twisting plot.

Jumping between 1979 and 1999, Lady Sunshine unfolds with an artful combination of lyrical writing and twisting plot.

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