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Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels: 2017

By Donna Seaman

The finest first novels reviewed in Booklist over the last 12 months take readers into a climatically and socially dire future and a traumatic past as well as the churning minds of an autistic girl, a reluctant mother, a concerned daughter, an intrepid college freshman, and an undocumented Mexican immigrant.

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American War

by Omar El Akkad

The American South has once again attempted to secede from the Union amid the ravages of global warming in El Akkad’s gripping cautionary tale of one family’s struggles to survive in a catastrophically disrupted world.

Knopf, 2016.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

The Fortunate Ones

by Ellen Umansky

Indelible aspects of the Holocaust and its aftermath are brought together in Umansky’s original and moving portrayal of Rose Zimmer, a former child refugee from Vienna, and lawyer Lizzie Goldstein.

William Morrow, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

Ginny Moon

by Benjamin Ludwig

Compellingly narrated by autistic, newly adopted Ginny Moon, who, at 13, can’t forget her birth mother or sister, Ludwig’s novel is an unforgettable page-turner about family and how special-needs children are treated.

Park Row Books, 2017.

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Click for a Discussion Guide.

A Booklist Review.

Goodbye, Vitamin

by Rachel Khong

Rachel returns home to help her mother care for her father as he struggles with dementia in Khong’s tender, deadpan-funny, and affecting drama about memory, self, and caregiving.

Henry Holt, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

The Gringo Champion

by Aura Xilonen, Translated by Andrea Rosenberg

After suffering abuse and violence, Mexican immigrant Liborio finds salvation in books, love, and boxing in Xilonen’s irresistible, boundaries-pushing stream-of-consciousness novel about unrequited love, endurance, and triumph.

Europa, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

The Idiot

by Elif Batuman

Batuman’s entrancing and droll debut novel, set in 1995 and narrated by a high-strung Turkish American Harvard freshman who spends her summer teaching English in a Hungarian village, incisively dramatizes the messy forging of a self.

Penguin Press, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

No Other World

by Rahul Mehta

An immigrant family from India is besieged by secrets, suppressed desires, the hardships of western New York, racism, sexual abuse, and loneliness in Mehta’s vivid and emotionally resonant first novel of personal and cultural collisions.

Harper, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

by Cherise Wolas

Joan did not want to be a mother, and, sure enough, when she ends up with two sons, all her fears come true in Wolas’ breathtaking novel, which does for motherhood what Gone Girl (2012) did for marriage.

Flat Iron, 2017.

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StarA Booklist Starred Review.

The Shell: Memoirs of a Hidden Observer

by Mustafa Khalifa, Translated by Paul Starkey

Syrian political-commentator-in-exile Khalifa presents a powerful and important debut novel in the form of a diary kept by a Syrian who returns home after studying film in France and is inexplicably thrown into a horrific desert prison.

Interlink Books, 2017.

StarA Booklist Starred Review.

What We Lose

by Zinzi Clemmons

Thandi’s grief over the death of her mother intensifies when she has children in Clemmons’ illuminating debut about race, identity, family, and socioeconomic access.

Viking, 2017.

StarA Booklist Starred Review.

Donna Seaman is Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, a member of the Content Leadership Team for the American Writers Museum, and a frequent presenter at literary events and programs. Seaman’s new book is Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.

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