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Summer is the messiest season. Sand crunches between your teeth and infiltrates your bikini. Melting popsicles and watermelon juice run down your arm, leaving a sticky trail behind. The salt of the ocean encrusts your hair. The sweat never stops. Summer feels so exciting, so alive, so much fun often because it is such a tangible, tactile time of the year. There’s nothing too polished about summer.
All this makes summer the absolute best opportunity to read a debut novel. A writer’s first foray into the world of the word can be beautifully written, and meticulously constructed, but it is always (willingly or not) a little messy. The author is still discovering herself, still learning what to rein in and what to explore more. In a debut novel, we see the bones of what a writer’s career will become, and in its slight disarray, our experience becomes more visceral and more exciting, just like summer itself.
Here are five great new debut novels to devour this summer:
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Lucy is bottoming out. She’s anxious, has just broken up with her boyfriend, and is caught in a mental spiral she can’t possibly escape on her own. So when her wealthy sister offers up her luxe beachside home for Lucy to (hopefully) write her dissertation on Sappho, in exchange for watching the dog, the choice is a no-brainer. Melissa Broder (creator of the depression humor account @SoSadToday) tosses despair and self-loathing and mental illness into a blender and whips it into a rich, frothy tale of loss, and fear, and love. The love, naturally, is between Lucy and a merman she meets in the ocean. The Pisces dazzles on every page with a quick wit, frank insight into an unmoored mind, and some highly charged, highly enjoyable hydro-erotica.
The Pisces is out now.
There There by Tommy Orange
Twelve different characters grab the reader in Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There. Each is on their way to the Big Oakland Powwow, and each is carrying their own baggage. It’s a multivoiced, multigenerational tale about Native American people living in Oakland, California, and motivated, Orange has said, by the dearth of stories about Native people living in cities. Orange has crafted a novel of fury and melody as moving as it is entertaining. Orange is already being compared to beloved Native American writers like Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdrich. To get a feel for Orange’s vivid descriptions and fantastical lyricism, read his short story “The State,” an excerpt of the book published in the New Yorker.
There There is out June 5.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
In the wake of an extreme trauma, we all seek comfort. For Phoebe Lin, a freshman at a prestigious university who secretly blames herself for her mother’s recent death, that comfort is found in an extremist cult led by a charismatic former student. Fundamentalism cradles her through her pain, but it also involves building bombs. After five people die in the name of this new faith, Phoebe disappears, and the man who loves her (Will) finds his own obsession in trying to find her. The Incendiaries cartwheels through violence and passion, faith and loss, fear and youth, a captivating tale of extremism and lost love.
The Incendiaries is out July 31.
Open Me by Lisa Locascio
Roxana ends up in Copenhagan, Denmark, by accident. She had wanted to go to Paris to escape her parents’ divorce in a little pre-college study-abroad trip, but something got messed up with the travel agency, and so Copenhagen it is. There she meets Søren, a tour guide who leads her to rural Denmark, where she discovers her sexuality. The novel turns inward as Roxana pulls apart from Søren and dives more fully into her relationship to her body and her space in the world. It’s a bildungsroman that’s not merely erotic, but a delicate investigation into migration, belonging, and the female form.
Open Me is out August 7.
A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
Scarlett ends up at Perfume Bay, a posh, beautiful, and very expensive accommodation space for pregnant Chinese women, almost by accident. She’s carrying the unborn child of her boss, who will do anything to have it birthed by an American citizen. (“It” is a boy.) When Scarlett realizes her boss plans to pay her off to raise the baby in his legitimate family, she flees to San Francisco, where she needs to figure out how to deliver her baby, make some money, and stay hidden from her boss’s relentless quest to track her down. A River of Stars is a 21st-century immigrant story about the terror, drama, and desperation of being undocumented and yet unable to leave.
A River of Stars is out August 14.
The Village Voice is celebrating the summer’s literary scene throughout the week. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Summer Books page.