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Top 10 First Novels: 2018

By Donna Seaman

Madness, maps, and music; poetry, war, and climate change; family and love in Syria, Iran, South Korea, London, Liberia, and Boston—these elements are found in the finest first novels reviewed in Booklist from November 1, 2017, through October 15, 2018.

9780802127358

Freshwater

by Akwaeke Emezi

In her mind-blowing first novel, Emezi portrays Ada, a young, mentally unbalanced Nigerian, in a chorus of the voices battling for control of her mind.

Grove, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

9780385542722

Fruit of the Drunken Tree​

by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Contreras draws on her experiences growing up in violent 1990s Bogotá, Colombia, to tell the story of a powerful bond between two girls: one a teenager hired to serve as a maid in the other’s home.

Doubleday, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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If You Leave Me​

by Crystal Hana Kim

Kim offers extraordinary insights into modern South Korea as she focuses on Haemi and Kyunghwan, childhood playmates during Japan’s brutal colonization who fall in love as hard-drinking refugee teens only to be separated as the country itself is cleaved in two.

Morrow, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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The Map of Salt and Stars

by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

In Joukhadar’s imaginative yet all-too-real debut novel of loss and survival, Nour, who has synesthesia, flees war-torn Syria and becomes enthralled by the story of a girl who, 800 years ago, presented herself as a boy to study with a renowned mapmaker.

Touchstone, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Reading Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

by Imogen Hermes Gowar

In 1785 London, merchant Jonah Hancock ends up with the shriveled remains of a “mermaid,” which leads him to a gorgeous courtesan, which sparks bawdy high jinks in Gowar’s deliciously witty and sumptuously descriptive novel about women’s freedom.

Harper, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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The Parking Lot Attendant

by Nafkote Tamirat

The 16-year-old narrator of Tamirat’s mysterious and beguiling first novel, the only child of Ethiopian immigrants in Boston, gets involved with a magnetic, older Ethiopian parking-lot attendant to problematic effect.

Holt, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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She Would Be King

by Wayétu Moore

Sarah Jessica Parker's fifth selection for Book Club Central!

Moore’s magic-realism tour de force takes readers on a journey through the beginnings of Liberia via the stories of a girl shunned as a witch, a man of extraordinary strength and almost supernatural origins, and a mixed-race man from Jamaica.

Graywolf, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Click for Read-alike Titles.

Click to Read an Interview with Moore.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

9780399182310

Song of a Captive Bird

by Jasmin Darznik

Darznik’s deeply knowledgeable, dramatic, and revelatory first novel is based on the audacious, courageous, and revolutionary life of the feminist Iranian poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad (1935–67).

Ballantine Books, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

9780525520375

There There

by Tommy Orange

Orange’s engrossing, suspenseful, and symphonic debut brings a dozen disparate characters together for the upcoming Big Oakland Powwow, each illuminating aspects of urban Native American life.

Knopf, 2018.

Click to Read an Excerpt.

Click for a Discussion Guide.

Click to Read the Booklist Starred Review.

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We Can Save Us All

by Adam Nemett

Nemett’s staggeringly inventive and charming, preapocalyptic debut follows David Fuffman, a comics-obsessed freshman at Princeton in 2021, who is indoctrinated into a cadre of oddball superhero-wannabes confronting the climate crisis.

Unnamed, 2018.

Click to Read the 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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