Now that the year has reached its halfway point, have you taken a minute to think about those debut novels you’ve read this year that are standouts? If not, you should, and it takes only a couple of minutes to submit field suggestions to the William C Morris Committee for consideration.
June’s packed with debut novels that should suit every kind of reader. If you haven’t had a chance to check out a book by a new author, here are a few worth considering.
When 19-year-old Travis is on leave and back at home from his duty with the Marines, he has a lot to adjust to: parents who aren’t necessarily getting along as well as they should, a brother who stole his girlfriend, the loss of one of his best friends, and Harper, the girl who can’t quite forgive Travis for the way he ruined her reputation. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller (Bloomsbury, 9781599908441) explores the effects of war and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through the eyes of an imperfect male character. Doller’s book doesn’t give readers a nicely colored image of a hero; instead, we get Travis, who has a lot to work through both in terms of what it means to be a service person, but also what it means to be “normal.” This book will appeal to fans of contemporary fiction, and it’ll have particular appeal for readers who like stories about war (including fans of Dana Reinhardt’s The Things a Brother Knows, a 2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults title).
Sarah Wylie’s debut All These Lives (Macmillan, 9780374302085) follows the trend this year of exploring cancer as a topic. Except in Wylie’s story, the focus isn’t on the disease itself; instead, readers are invited into the world of 16-year-old Dani, who witnesses twin sister Jena fall victim to sickness. Dani is at times hard to like or understand, but at her core, she’s a girl who wants to give up her own life in order to save her sister’s because she believes she’s been granted nine lives. She’s survived more times than she feels she’s earned the right to, whereas Jena has hardly had the chance to live. Dani’s voice is a bit sarcastic, a bit biting, but it is had not to like her for how much she aches on her sister’s behalf.
Diana Renn’s Tokyo Heist (Penguin Viking, 9780670013326) promises to satisfy fans of mystery stories and stories about heists — the blurb calls this one a great choice for fans of Ally Carter’s Heist Society. Renn’s debut follows Violet as she spends the summer with her artist father in Seattle. Things start getting complicated, though, when one of her father’s clients finds that van Gogh sketches they had have gone missing, and now everyone’s life is on the line. Violet’s on the hunt to find these sketches. But her search won’t end in Seattle. She might be making a trip halfway across the globe in search of the van Gogh sketches and safety for herself, her father, and the family whose art went missing in the first place.
2012 seems to be the year of the road trip novel, and Hilary Weisman Graham offers up her own spin on that theme with Reunited (Simon and Schuster, 9781442439849). Back at the beginning of high school, Alice, Summer, and Tiernan used to be best friends. But when Level3, their favorite band, broke up, their friendship also ended. Level3 is getting back together for one last show, though, way down in Austin, Texas, and Alice has tickets. She’s scared to ask Summer and Tiernan to join her, but she does. The three of them are in for the road trip and concert that will change what they think about themselves and one another. They may even be able to heal the wounds that led their friendship to break up in the first place. This is a lighthearted story with appeal to those who like their stories with laughs and wild tales from the road.
Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door (Penguin/Dial, 9780803736993) should satisfy fans of Sarah Dessen’s oeuvre. Samantha’s always been told to steer clear of the Garretts, the loud, obnoxious, and too-wild-for-her-mother’s-tastes family who lives next door. But one night, Samantha chooses to ignore the rules she’s followed, and that’s when she gets to know Jase and his family. She soon learns the Garretts are not what her mother’s made them out to be; instead, they’re a fun-loving family, and Jase is just the kind of guy Samantha needs in her life. As perfect as it sounds, though, things aren’t going to be as easy as they seem.
There are a host of other debut novels making their way onto bookshelves this month, too, including Martha Brockenbrough’s Devine Intervention (Scholastic, 9780545382137), a humorous twist on the guardian angel story (note this is only Brockenbrough’s YA debut and thus not eligible for Morris consideration); Emmy Laybourne’s Monument 14 (Macmillan, 9780312569037), which follows 14 kids stuck in a big box store during a series of apocalyptic events (this is the first in a series and there is a cliffhanger ending); Anne Greenwood Brown’s Lies Beneath (Delacorte/Random House, 9780385742016), a mermaid revenge tale set off Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands in Lake Superior; Anna Waggener’s Grim (Scholastic, 9780545384803), which explores myth and the afterlife through the eyes of a girl stuck between heaven and Earth; Zoe Letting Go by Nora Price (Penguin/Razorbill, 9781595144669), which could be described as the cross between Patricia McCormick’s Cut and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls; and finally, a book that’s not necessarily being marketed to teen readers but will appeal to them, J. R. Angelella’s Zombie (Soho, 9781616950880), which follows 14-year-old zombie movie-obsessed Jeremy as he discovers that his father might be housing some sort of creature in his closet.
— Kelly Jensen, currently reading Courtney Summers’s This is Not a Test and Erin Jade Lange’s Butter ( September debut)