Each month, I will pick a handful of buzzworthy and under the radar debut books I feel you’ll enjoy.
May’s selections feature stories ranging from bleak revelations of a family struggling to survive to uplifting true stories about perseverance and determination.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames (Ecco; 5/7)
Stella is an Italian immigrant should have died a lot over the course of her century-long, but somehow survived. That is the general synopsis given for this book. Her name itself means “lucky star” in Italian. The book is twisty and complicated, but wholly original.
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 5/7)
Beautiful. Bleak. Those are the two words I would ultimately use to describe Lin’s debut. It seems understated, mostly because a lot of people use beautiful to describe nearly everything. Everything from Lin’s prose to her characters to the unjust actions that happen to this Taiwanese family struggling to survive in Alaska is beautiful.
Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer (Catapault; 5/7)
Subtitled “Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race,” this memoir lured me in with the story of a 1,000-kilometer horse race across the Mongolian grassland. Lara Prior-Palmer became the first woman champion of the Mongol Derby Champion at the age of 19.
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (Hanover Square Press; 5/7)
In this historical novel set in Singapore, readers will find a family struggling to survive during the Japanese occupancy during WWI. Wang Di is kidnapped during her teen years and forced to work as a “comfort woman” providing sex for Japanese soldiers. Equally eye opening and heart wrenching, getting through this novel is tough, but rewarding.
The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Random House; 5/7)
This is the type of novel whose genius sneaks up on you. A dystopian-tinged story about a facility in Upstate New York where women are paid to carry babies for the wealthy. It takes a lot of what is familiar in these types of plots – commentary on social class and sexuality, primarily – but uses subtle intensity that is choking you long before you realize.
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (Knopf; 5/14)
Tightly wound, this book has all the makings of a story that will eventually become and Emmy-winning miniseries. Set in rural Russia, two girls go missing right in the opening chapter and the rest of the book follows the fallout from that singular event. Reading the prose of Phillips is such a visceral experience. Using the term “page-turner” doesn’t do this book justice, but it’s a damn good page-turner.