Get ready to bulk up your to-read lists this month, as May is packed with debut novels worth checking out. As always, if you read a novel by a debut author–defined as an author who has never published before, whether for young adults, adults, or children–and it is stand out, make sure you nominate it for consideration for this year’s William C. Morris Award.
Kathleen Peacock’s Hemlock (Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins, 9780062048653) is the book to hand off to readers who are looking for the next good paranormal book as well as those who like a mystery. Mac’s best friend Amy just died, and the circumstances around her death aren’t clear. The small town of Hemlock has been dealing with an outbreak of lupine syndrome, the werewolf disease, and it’s been assumed that Amy has fallen victim to the white werewolf. Now, Trackers–a group specializing in the eradication of the werewolves–is in town and determined to end the outbreak once and for all. Except it’s possible Amy’s death may be the result of something much more sinister than simply werewolves. Hemlock offers a nice dose of romance, too, but it’s not a tired love triangle with a girl figuring out which is the right boy for her. Instead it’s two boys struggling with their feelings for a girl. This is a refreshing take on paranormal stories and the mystery will keep readers guessing who is good and who isn’t.
For fans of realistic fiction, M. Molly Backes’s The Princesses of Iowa (Candlewick, 9780763653125) should have a lot of appeal. At the end of the last school year, a drunk driving incident created a rift between Paige and her two best friends. After a summer abroad as an au pair, Paige returns to school thinking things could get back to normal–except they’re anything but. Her friends are angry, and Paige finds herself alone and taking a class in creative writing that she doesn’t even want to take. But it’s this class and meeting people who are so different from her–who aren’t from privileged backgrounds–that cause her to reassess who she is and what she believes in. This is a book that teens who love writing will appreciate, and the setting in small town Iowa is a nice change of pace.
Another contemporary debut out this month is Jenny Torres Sanchez’s The Downside of Being Charlie (Running Press Kids, 9780762444014). Over the summer, Charlie dropped thirty pounds, and he thought this would help him fit in better senior year. Except now he’s been assigned a locker mate who is his total opposite, and despite his physical changes, he’s still not fitting in the way he wished he could. Then there’s Charlotte, the girl whom he may or may not have a crush on and who he may or may not hope has mutual feelings toward him. As if school’s challenges weren’t enough, his mom and his dad aren’t getting along as well as he wished they were. Things are looking down for Charlie’s senior year–until he decides to put to use his talent to make things better. Looks like a book that’ll have some good boy appeal to it.
May also has a pair of debut historical fiction novels worth checking out, including Abby Grahame’s Wentworth Hall (Simon and Schuster, 9781442451964). This story, set in 1912, looks like the kind of book that’ll appeal to fans of Downton Abbey as well as fans of Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe series. Maggie Darlington used to be a bit of a spitfire, but her attitude has changed. Her parents aren’t too upset about this change, since their role in elite society is always of utmost importance. Except Maggie’s passivity isn’t because she’s had a change of personality–it’s because she has a secret. And so does everyone else in Wentworth Hall, and the scandals look like they might ruin the Darlington family’s reputation in high society.
Katherine Longshore’s Gilt (Penguin/Viking, 9780670013999) is the other debut foray into historical fiction we’re featuring this month, and like Grahame’s title, it, too, focuses on the elite class and the secrets that surround them. This time the setting is during the reign of King Henry VIII in France. When Kitty’s best friend Cat is invited to be part of Henry’s court, she invites Kitty to be a part of the courtesan life. Never did Kitty expect this life to be so entrenched in scandals and lies that threaten her own safety. But now that Kitty’s made a name for herself, she has got a lot to learn about who she can trust and who might be out to get her.
This is only a sampling of the debut titles out in May. Others include Rebecca Serle’s When You Were Mine (Simon and Schuster, 9781442433137), a revisioning of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” which focuses on Rosalind’s story; Wendy Higgins’s Sweet Evil (Harper Collins/HarperTeen, 9780062085610), a twist on the idea of demons and angels; and Anna Banks’s Of Poseidon (Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends, 9781250003324), a story about a mermaid and finding love across the species barrier.
— Kelly Jensen, currently reading Adaptation by Malinda Lo and Reunited by Hilary Graham (a June debut!)