Each month, I will pick a handful of buzzworthy and under the radar debut books I feel you’ll enjoy.
October might as well be labeled Memoir Month. Four of the following books are memoirs ranging from coming-of-age tales to keeping family secrets. They are set in the rural south, inner cities, and posh beachside towns. What they all have in common is heart. Each book reveals something about the writer and their journey reflects the world around them.
The two works of fiction do the same. From a love story in a record store to an anti-love story in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Meander Belt by M. Randal O’Wain (Univ. of Nebraska Press; 10/1)
Subtitled “Family, Loss, and Coming of Age in the Working Class South,” O’Wain’s book is a mediation on the blue collar world that engulfed his adolescence. It studies, with tremendous intimacy, the actions of his family and the effects they had on shaping the man he would become. Beyond that, it is a window into a world often overlooked by media. A section of America described by stereotypical labels that might be true sometimes, but are often a mischaracterization.
How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster; 10/8)
The esteemed poet turned his talents to a memoir about growing up black and gay in America. He hid part of himself for so long to protect his family and out of fear of rejection. The beauty in Jones’s work is his language. He is blunt. He is poetic. He holds nothing back, but doesn’t overwhelm. This is a book any young person who feels different should read. Because, it turns out, we all feel that way. Maybe the story Jones tells will help bridge some gaps.
Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 10/15)
When Brodeur was a young girl on summer vacation with her family, her mother revealed she was having a secret affair with the family’s best friend. The weight of the world comes down on Brodeur’s shoulders as she becomes her mother’s confidante, even when she doesn’t want to. Lies, deceits, and secrets turn over and over in this memoir as the affair begins to take over the mother and daughter’s relationship.
There You Are by Mathea Morais (Amberjack; 10/22)
Part nostalgia trip, part romance, part love letter to music. This debut is for fans of Nick Hornby, but without so many white, British dudes whining about their lives. Two friends united by their love of music become romantically linked before drifting off. The novel is their reflections as they come together for the first time in years to visit their favorite record store that is closing up shop for good.
Holding onto Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne (Blair; 10/22)
A book about trying to leave a less-than-desirable life behind, but constantly being drawn back into it. Set in rural Tennessee, Shelburne’s novel produces a stark portrait of yearning for something more when something more might not just be a viable option. Every sentence hinges on the verge of heartbreak. You’ll feel for the characters, but they’ll never, ever want you to pity them.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz (Algonquin; 10/29)
As a young girl, Díaz moved from Puerto Rico to Miami, where she struggles to balance her family’s troubles while discovering her own sexual identity. As a teen, she turned to drugs to cope before landing in a juvenile delinquent facility. Eventually, she marries and joins the military where she finds her place in the world as a queer biracial woman.