March 8th is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, here is a list of debut novels written by diverse female authors.
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Black Sunday by Tola Rotimi Abraham
Abraham’s fierce debut follows four Nigerian siblings living in Lagos from childhood in 1996 through early adulthood in 2015. Twin sisters Bibike and Ariyike, and their younger brothers, Andrew and Peter, spend their early years in a relatively stable middle-class family. Then their mother loses her government job and their father wastes the rest of the family’s savings in a get-rich-quick scheme. Soon after, their mother leaves for New York, their father takes off for parts unknown, and the kids are left in the care of their grandmother. As the girls grow up, Ariyike becomes involved in a Pentecostal church and eventually marries its charismatic leader, while Bibike takes a series of more secular jobs. Both are sexually exploited time after time. The chapters involving their brothers focus on the horrors of life in a boarding school—incessant bullying by the older students, food deprivation—which the sisters can’t attend because they must work to support the family. The novel’s strength lies in its lush, unflinching scenes, as when a seemingly simple infection leads gradually but inexorably to a life-threatening condition, revealing the dynamics of the family and community along the way. Abraham mightily captures a sense of the stresses of daily life in a family, city, and culture that always seems on the edge of self-destruction. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 11/11/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 45, p)
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Anappara’s witty, resonant debut tracks a series of child disappearances from an Indian slum through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy. Jai lives with his friends Pari and Faiz in a slum next to a rubbish dump and the crowded Bhoot Bazaar, part of an unnamed city constantly beset by smog. An opening tale of a local benevolent ghost named Mental introduces the children’s shared magical thinking. When Jai and his friends learn that one of their classmates, Bahadur, has been missing for several days, Jai, a fan of police shows, decides that he and his friends will do their own detective work and find Bahadur since the police show little interest in the matter. Jai’s carefree nature lends a lighthearted tone to an increasingly grim tale as more children disappear and his team of sleuths find evidence pointing to a serial killer. His quest is aided by Pari’s voracious reading habits, which make her the better detective, and Faiz’s Muslim faith, which helps them stay on course when his community is blamed for the kidnappings. Interspersed with the trio’s investigation are single chapters devoted to each of the disappeared children. The prose perfectly captures all the characters’ youthful voices, complete with some Hindi and Urdu terms, whose meanings, if not immediately obvious, become clear with repetition. Anappara’s complex and moving tale showcases a strong talent. (Feb.) –Staff (Reviewed 12/09/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 50 , p)
The Eight Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
*COMING SOON: March 17, 2020
Meet Alexa Wú, a brilliant yet darkly self-aware young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her shrink Daniel; her stepmother Anna; and her enigmatic best friend Ella. The perfect trio of trust.
When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman’s club, she catches the attention of its shark-like owner and is gradually drawn into his inner circle. As Alexa’s world becomes intimately entangled with Ella’s, she soon finds herself the unwitting keeper of a nightmarish secret. With no one to turn to and lives at stake, she follows Ella into London’s cruel underbelly on a daring rescue mission. Threatened and vulnerable, Alexa will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her most dangerous obstacle.
Electrifying and breathlessly compulsive, The Eighth Girl is an omnivorous examination of life with mental illness and the acute trauma of life in a misogynist world. With bingeable prose and a clinician’s expertise, Chung’s psychological debut deftly navigates the swirling confluence of identity, innocence, and the impossible fracturing weights that young women are forced to carry, causing us to question: Does the truth lead to self-discovery, or self-destruction? — Publisher’s Description
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
Daré’s captivating first novel opens with 14-year-old Adunni hearing the devastating news from her father that, instead of returning to school as she has longed to for three years, she has been sold in marriage to a much-older neighbor in their Nigerian village. Adunni is distraught, as life with a husband, his two other wives, and his unrestrained young children is exactly the fate from which, according to her deceased mother, having an education would spare her. Desperate to improve her life, she flees to the city, where to support herself she accepts employment as a rich family’s servant. But why was the position vacant? The reasoning behind her predecessor’s departure is just one of the things Adunni seeks to learn while in Lagos. Daré’s arresting prose provides a window into the lives of Nigerians of all socioeconomic levels and shows readers the beauty and humor that may be found even in the midst of harrowing experiences. Although the problems and antagonists Adunni faces would challenge even capable adults, she defies almost everyone’s expectations and not only survives but thrives. — Nicole Williams (Reviewed 1/1/2020) (Booklist, vol 116, number 9, p35)
The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen
Nguyen’s lyrical, sweeping debut novel (after the poetry collection The Secret of Hoa Sen) chronicles the Tran family through a century of war and renewal. As middle-aged writer Huong revisits her native Hanoi in 2012, she reflects on the lessons shared by her late grandmother Diệu Lan (“The challenges faced by Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountains . If you stand too close, you won’t be able to see their peaks”) and chronicles their journey of survival during the Vietnam War. Huong was 12 when bombs encroached on Hanoi, where she lived with Diệu Lan after her mother, Ngọc, a physician, left to search for her father, a soldier in the NVA. After an evacuation to the mountains , Diệu Lan “opened the door of her childhood” to Huoung with stories of being raised by a wealthy family to pursue an education and resist old customs such as blackening her teeth. Diệu Lan also describes the harrowing truth of the Việt Minh Land Reform, during which her family’s land was seized in the spirit of resource distribution, encouraging her to question what she’s been taught in schools. Grandma and Huong return to Hanoi and find their house decimated, and Ngọc, who survived torture and rape while imprisoned by South Vietnamese soldiers, comes home without Huong’s father. In a subtle coda, Nguyễn brilliantly explores the boundary between what a writer shares with the world and what remains between family. This brilliant, unsparing love letter to Vietnam will move readers. (Mar.) –Staff (Reviewed 01/06/2020) (Publishers Weekly, vol 267, issue 1, p)