Timely Debut Novels | Fiction Previews, Jan. 2018

Aliu, Xhenet. Brass. Random. Jan. 2018. 304p. ISBN 9780399590245. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399590252. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her debut fiction collection, Domesticated Wild Things and Other Stories, Aliu draws on her own life to tell the story of teenage Luljeta, in identity crisis and insistent that her Lithuanian American mother, Elsie, tell her something about the father she’s never met. Elsie’s story dates back to her own youth dreaming of a better life as she scrapes up tips at the Betsy Ross Diner in Waterbury, CT, home to successive generations of immigrants. When Elsie meets Albanian line cook Bashkim, she falls in love, never mind that Bashkim has a wife back home.

Bala, Sharon. The Boat People. Doubleday. Jan. 2018. 352p. ISBN 9780385542296. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385542302. LITERARY
Bala’s boat people are 500 refugees from Sri Lanka’s protracted civil war who land in Vancouver on a rusty cargo ship, eager to start life anew. Instead, they are placed in a detention processing center because the government suspects that they belong to a militant separatist organization responsible for numerous suicide attacks. The story is told from the perspective of a refugee named Mahindan, who’s there with his six-year-old son; Mahindan’s lawyer, a second-generation Sri Lankan Canadian; and a third-generation Japanese Canadian adjudicator who must determine Mahindan’s fate. Interesting, given Canada’s reputation for receptiveness to refugees; Bala lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Graham-Felsen, Sam. Green. Random. Jan. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780399591143. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399591150. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY/COMING OF AGE
Having honed his language skills as chief blogger for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign before getting an MFA from Columbia, Graham-Felsen turns in a 1992 Boston–set story starring a boy nicknamed Green who’s practically the only white student at Martin Luther King Middle School. As such, he’s bullied and alone, but then he becomes friends with Marlon, a kid from the projects who’s nerdy, needy, and a huge fan of Celtics player Larry Bird. They’re almost able to resist their school’s terrible social pressures, but you know there’s an explosion waiting to happen. Yes, the author draws on real-life experiences for this timely discussion of race, privilege, and ongoing school segregation.

Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. Peculiar Ground. Harper. Jan. 2018. 496p. ISBN 9780062684196. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062684219. LITERARY
Hughes-Hallett’s The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio won the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Biography Award, among other honors, and British reviews of this fiction debut have sparkled (“extraordinarily accomplished,” the Guardian). The novel opens with the 17th-century construction of a great house named Wychwood, whose high walls shelter the inhabitants after decades of bloody civil strife. Jump forward to the last half of the 20th century, with the Berlin Wall rising and eventually falling even as Wychwood’s current inhabitants try to deny the real world. Not a huge first printing but one of those Great House British novels that readers love, and Hughes-Hallett explores the key issue of keeping out others (including immigrants).

Johnson, Tyrell. The Wolves of Winter. Scribner. Jan. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781501155673. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501155697. LITERARY/DYSTOPIAN
Nicely fitting today’s dystopian mood, Johnson’s first novel is set in the blizzard-besieged Canadian Yukon, where Lynn McBride has fled after nuclear war and surging disease have rendered much of the world uninhabitable. She and a few other holdouts cling to survival by hunting and trapping, but their on-the-edge existence is disrupted when a stranger named Jax charges into their midst, bringing dark visions of the world they left behind.

Lee, Mira T. Everything Here Is Beautiful. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Jan. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9780735221963. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735221987. lrg. prnt. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. WOMEN’S FICTION
Spun from an award-winning short story that originally appeared in the Missouri Review, with the second chapter already published in the Harvard Review, this tale of two sisters features responsible Miranda and wild, impulsive little sister Lucia, who starts hearing voices when their mother dies. Lucia marries a generous older man, then leaves him and has a baby with a young Latino immigrant, moving back and forth between the United States and Ecuador even as Miranda tries to help her from afar. A story of sisterly love, mental illness, the limits of sacrifice, and the immigrant experience—the sisters are Chinese American, and their mother had her own overshadowing past.

Smith, Chandler Klang. The Sky Is Yours. Hogarth: Crown. Jan. 2018. 464p. ISBN 9780451496263. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780451496287. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY SF
This genre bender combines an engrossing literary style with classic sf tropes seen as cult-worthy by enthusiastic in-housers. In a futuristic, inevitably dystopian city called Empire Island, the skies are dominated by a pair of danger-breathing dragons as drugs, dragon worshippers, and furious fires threaten the survivors below. Among them are bad-boy reality star Duncan Humphrey Ripple V; his mercurial fiancée, Baroness Swan Lenore Dahlberg; and Abby, a wild young beauty rescued by Duncan. Promotion at New York Comic Con, coming in October 2017.

Zumas, Leni. Red Clocks. Lee Boudreaux: Little, Brown. Jan. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9780316434812. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316434805. lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316510660. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. LITERARY/WOMEN’S FICTION
In this work, billed as a Handmaid’s Tale for the new millennium, several women in a tiny Oregon fishing town struggle with issues of freedom and identity in a grave new world where abortion is again illegal, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and embryos are afforded basic rights by the Personhood Amendment. Single-mother Ro, a high school teacher, is struggling to have a baby; her talented student, Mattie, is pregnant without recourse; mother-of-two Susan faces a failing marriage; and Gin brings the plot together when she’s arrested for practicing homeopathy. Timely and anticipated; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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