by Gina Duncan

Shakespeare once said, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but for a writer it’s their very first novel that reveals who they are. It was a great year, 2018, for emerging writers. Their books covered a wide range of topics, from love and loss, to fully crafted magical worlds. These first-time novelists tell stories that will be great additions to your summer holiday reading. If you missed out on reading these in the last year, no worries, here is a list of the best debut novels of 2018 that are definite must reads.

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

This Nigerian-American author’s debut is the first book in a trilogy that has YA fans in a frenzy. Adeyemi wanted to write a fantasy story that had black characters with which people of all races could identify. Children of Blood and Bone doubles as a compelling commentary on racial issues and an adventurous journey through the magical land of Orïsha. It debuted at number one on the New York Times young-adult best-seller list, and Adeyemi has even been compared to J.K. Rowling.

Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

In her freshman novel, Akwaeke Emezi reveals some realities of her own life. She is a Nigerian Ogbanje, who is trans- and gender- non-binary. Freshwater is an unflinching look at mental illness and identity from a bold writer whose culture has placed a stigma on these issues.

Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday

Halliday’s Asymmetry is loosely based on her own real-life experiences that parallel her relationship with the great literary figure, Philip Roth. She speaks to the #MeToo movement with characters that struggle with power imbalances. Halliday has been described as writing, “a literary phenomenon,” by the New Yorker.

There There, by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange is a Native American who wanted to see his community represented in literature, so he wrote There There, an introspective reflection of contemporary Native American city life. In an interview he gave to Entertainment Weekly last June, he spoke about the voiceless in his community saying, “The voiceless is about not seeing our communities represented anywhere, and wanting to express a range of voices within that community to give an idea of what people are like.” There There reached its 13th printing in just six months, Orange’s voice is definitely being heard.

The Incendiaries, by R.O. Kwon

Kwon writes with emotional intensity based on her own experience of losing her belief in God. In Incendiaries, she shares the truthful struggle of grappling with a faith that you believed would carry you through everything and the pain you feel when you lose this faith. Kwon’s revelation is a gut-wrenching story of love, religion, terrorism, and loss.

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

In her debut novel, Delia Owens writes with the authority of a lifetime of work as a wildlife scientist in the remote areas of Africa. Her passion for nature writing is reflected throughout her novel. Her provocative descriptions of nature immerse her readers in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast. Where the Crawdads Sing is as much about love and murder, as it is about nature.

White Chrysanthemum, by Mary Lynn Bracht

Mary Lynn Bracht recounts powerful women’s stories, depicting the harsh realities of “comfort women” enslaved to sexual servitude to the Japanese army during WWII. Her debut novel White Chrysanthemum is a labour of love to the women of her Korean ancestry who have been left unacknowledged for so long. In an interview with the Bookseller, she describes her novel as, “…a human novel. It’s about women; it’s about what happens to women in war and these particular women in sexual slavery.”

Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras writes a novel inspired by her own life, told through the alternating perspectives of her principal characters, a 7-year-old girl and her teenage live-in-maid. Fruit of the Drunken Tree is an autobiographical story about political conflict set in Rojas Contreras hometown of Bogotá, Columbia at the height of the drug lord, Pablo Escobar’s, violent reign. She said in an interview with the San Francisco Foundation, that she is inspired to dissect her own experience in what she writes because her mother is the greatest storyteller who reminds her of the power in telling a story.

These freshman novelists have been recognised for honest storytelling that speaks to the heart of some of the most arousing topics in society. Now that you know the insight behind the stories from some of the best first-time novelists of last year, which 2018 debut novel will you reach for this summer?

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