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Through a Global Lens: Dazzling Debut Novels from a Woman’s Perspective

By Tracy Crawford

Yes, it’s time to celebrate books! Not only is November National Novel Writing Month, but in just a few short days the winners of the National Book Awards will be announced. Several of this year’s selections feature stories and reflections of women from around the world. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, The Leavers by Lisa Ko, Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, and You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins have brought the diverse stories of women, both young and mature, to the forefront of the world’s literary stage.

So with a spotlight on this year’s critically-acclaimed cadre of diverse books written by women, let’s use this moment to shine light on some more recent debut novels that you might have missed. Spanning topics such as coming-of-age, family relationships, motherhood, immigration, identity, history, and culture, book groups should definitely consider these selections which offer a global perspective penned from a woman’s point of view.

Behold the Dreamers

by Imbolo Mbue

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and recognized as an ALA Notable Book among its many accolades, Mbue’s critically-acclaimed debut novel tells the tale of two very different married couples whose lives intersect on the streets of New York City. As the couples strive to accomplish their own definitions of the “American Dream”, they learn more about themselves and each other than they might wish to know. Mbue masterfully examines the oppositional circumstances of the privileged and the poor, dreams and reality, faith and desperation, and ultimately life and death.

Random House, 2016.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reader's Guide.

A Booklist Review.

The Last Days of Café Leila

by Donia Bijan

Chef, restaurateur, and memoirist, Bijan, delivers an emotionally-stirring debut about the meaning of home. Left hollow from a marriage gone awry and hungering for the land of her childhood, Noor departs on a flight from San Francisco to Tehran to reunite with her beloved father, a gifted chef and widower. In tow is her defiant daughter as well as her nostalgic memories of her family’s culinary sanctuary, Café Leila. How do history, culture, and conflict shape and sharpen the human spirit? Readers will certainly ask themselves these questions and more as they savor and share Bijan’s literary offering.

Workman, 2017.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

A Booklist Review.

Salt Houses

by Hala Alyan

Alyan’s mesmerizing debut novel tells the story of four generations of a Palestinian family displaced by war. With lyrical language and ethereal imagery, readers are taken through the complex history of the Middle East during the 1960’s to modern-day United States. As the characters contend with the complications of creating and sustaining home in the midst of exile, they must also discover what is personally true for themselves in view of each other. Alyan’s poetically powerful voice is simply not to be missed.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

A Booklist Review.

The Star Side of Bird Hill

by Naomi Jackson

The worlds of ten-year old Phaedra and her sixteen-year old sister, Dionne drastically change when the siblings are unexpectedly forced to leave their home in Brooklyn, New York to live with their mysterious grandmother in the community of Bird Hill, Barbados. Burdened with the harsh reality of their mother’s illness, the sisters struggle to define themselves in a new world as they deal with the pain of their past. Jackson’s debut novel , which was nominated for a NAACP Image Award as well as a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and named an Honor Book for Fiction by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, paints a haunting, yet tender portrait taking readers on a journey of memory, loss, loyalty, and love.

Penguin, 2015.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reader's Guide.

A Booklist Review.

Here are some additional titles that you may wish to consider:

Tracy Crawford is the curator of Black Heritage Reference Center of Queens County, located at Queens Library’s Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center. She has previously served on the Literary Awards Committee of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and as the Noted Author Chair for the Reference and Adult Services Section of the New York Library Association.

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