In a year of fantastic novels and short fiction — many by debut writers — these are our favorites, in no particular order.

Madelene Wikskär / BuzzFeed News

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

In All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg writes about adulthood and responsibility — what it means to be responsible not just in your life but for your life. Her narrator, Andrea, is a Manhattan-based designer nearing 40, perpetually single and child-free by choice. While she contemplates the choices she's made to get where she is — those choices neither idealized nor condemned — Andrea watches as her brother and sister-in-law struggle under the weight of caring for a baby with a terminal illness. Attenberg presents two options for living a life — no overarching moral, just messy reality — and reveals the inevitable truth that, conventional or not, life will be maddeningly imperfect. It's a familiar kind of story, but in Attenberg's capable hands it shines anew, so fresh and true and funny and heartbreaking. —Arianna Rebolini

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Michael Sharkey

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

I raved about The Leavers to my best friend, and two weeks later she texted me asking, "Does it stop getting sad???????" And, well, yes and no. Lisa Ko's novel is about an undocumented mother who suddenly disappears, and the son — 11 years old when she leaves — who spends the rest of his childhood and early adulthood wondering why. Deming (renamed Daniel by his adoptive [white] parents) carries this abandonment with him, and with it the resentment of losing his identity, the guilt of wanting to find his birth mother despite his adoptive parents' good intentions, and the overwhelming anger — at his mother's boyfriend for letting him go when she left, at his mother for leaving, and at the system that took her away. It's a gut-wrenching and damning account of our broken immigration system, a revelation of the wholly human consequences that can't be ignored. So, yes, sad, but very, very worth it. —AR

Algonquin /

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng is back with a new novel that takes us into the heart of complex suburban life. Little Fires Everywhere is set in Shaker Heights, a quiet, idyllic suburb of Cleveland where order, careful planning, and playing by the rules is king — especially for resident Elena Richardson with her lawyer husband, four children, and seemingly perfect life. So when the mysterious Mia Warren, a bohemian artist and single mother, arrives in town with her teenage daughter and rents a house from the Richardsons, she threatens to upend the peaceful status quo of the community with the secrets of her past. Written with deep empathy and vivid characters who feel true to life, Little Fires Everywhere is a captivating, insightful examination of motherhood, identity, family, privilege, perfectionism, obsession, and the secrets about ourselves we try to hide. —Jarry Lee

Penguin Press / Kevin Day Photography

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut short story collection is subversive, vibrant, and utterly original. Each story examines complex human relationships through a geopolitical lens, focusing on the traditions, history, and imagined future of Nigeria. The women at the center of her writing are touched by loss and hope, existing in a slightly skewed reality — a deceased mother revisits her family, a generation of children survive a devastating global flood and find they have clairvoyant powers, would-be mothers rely on a sorceress to transform their hand-made creations into a living being. Arimah's magical realism is grounded by emotional truths, full of insight into love and resilience. —AR

Riverhead / Emily Baxter

Dutton / AP Richard Drew

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Barely into the first story of Carmen Machado's Her Body and Other Parties, I was certain this writer was about to explode everything I thought a short story had to be — and I was right. Machado's sharp, eerie, and often hilarious stories experiment with format in a way that feels genuinely new, dropping in theatrical asides to the reader, or structuring a narrative around Law and Order episode titles. Their darkness is playful until it's not, and that tipping point happens whenever the reader realizes the surrealist nightmares Machado has built around her female protagonists — worlds in which women's bodies are infected by the trauma they've witnessed, or made vulnerable by an epidemic of becoming ethereal — aren't quite so fantastical at their cores. —AR

Graywolf Press /

New People by Danzy Senna

New People by Danzy Senna

In Danzy Senna's compulsively readable novel New People, Maria, an adopted, newly engaged, mixed-race Columbia University grad student finds herself infatuated with an unnamed black poet. Her crush prompts her to engage in increasingly unhinged behavior as the prospect of spending the rest of her life with her woke-before-woke-existed fiancé, Khalil — whose locs "have long since passed the Basquiat stage but have not quite arrived at Marley" — fills her with unnameable dread. Set in mid-'90s New York, New People is a witty and incisive send-up of race relations that feels just as relevant now in 2017. —Tomi Obaro

Riverhead /

Riverhead / Ed Kashi

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich's new novel presents a dystopian future, eerie in its familiarity, in which evolution has seemingly reversed and babies have become rare, studied, and stolen from their mothers. At the center is Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a pregnant Ojibwe woman who grew up adopted by white, big-hearted hippies (it's these adoptive parents who named her Cedar Hawk, she says at the book's opening) and now, at what might be the end of the world, has endeavored to reconcile her two families, two identities, and two belief systems. Her story accelerates subtly as she describes her survival in a journal intended for her unborn child. As the story progresses, she is forced to contemplate her belief — in humanity, in god(s), in family, and perseverance. It is a beautifully written reckoning, and everyone is implicated. —AR

Harper / Paul Emmell

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

Former Lucky Peach editor Rachel Khong's debut novel, Goodbye, Vitamin, tells the story of Ruth, a young woman who moves back home after a broken engagement to help take care of her father, Howard, a brilliant history professor who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Though the book is deeply emotional, it's also a playful, hilarious page-turner told in the form of a daily(ish) diary that also includes details of all the meals Ruth cooks when her mother becomes too forlorn to face the kitchen. Ruth goes to great lengths (assisted by Howard's old students) to attempt to preserve her father's dignity and stem the tide of his illness, but the real story is about remembering the love we have for one another — to appreciate what you once had and what you still have, even as memories fade and darkness approaches. Goodbye, Vitamin is one of those rare books that is both devastating and light-hearted, heartfelt and joyful. —Isaac Fitzgerald

Henry Holt and Co. / Andria Lo

Riverhead /

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell

Patty Yumi Cottrell's riveting debut novel, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, is one of this year's most exciting books. When her brother commits suicide, 32-year-old Helen Moran returns to her adoptive family's home in Milwaukee to investigate the reasons behind his death. Part family tragedy, part dark comedy, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace is above all a window into the strange and fascinating mind of its narrator Helen, a character who will stay with you long after you've finished reading this fantastic novel. —IF

McSweeneys / Meiko Takechi Arquillos

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

Jenny Zhang's debut story collection is at once explicit and poignant, vulgar and refined — equal parts pain and beauty. Each story centers a young, female, first generation Chinese-American narrator, each with a distinct voice but overlapping in experience (most show up in each other's stories) and linked by the loyalty, guilt, and love that comes with knowing how much, and how continuously, one's parents have sacrificed. The weight of these conflicting emotions pulls on Zhang's narrators and her writing, often in accelerating run-on sentences — but the headiness is balanced by Zhang's incorporation of the (often grotesque) physical realities of being a human being. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make you gag, but you'll love all of it. —AR

Lenny / Jenny Zhang

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen's stunning short story collection is largely about exile and its aftermath. The stories explore what it is to be a refugee — what "refuge" quite literally looks like for those who have experienced trauma — especially, though not specifically, for Vietnamese citizens forced from their homes. There's the 18-year-old Liem who's welcomed by a gay immigrant couple in '70s California, the ghostwriter who can't stop telling the stories of the dead, the father whose grown daughter moves to Saigon — a place he's only "visited" when dropping bombs on it. Each refuge(e) is haunted by memory of trauma, either experienced or inherited, and Nguyen's stories are testaments to the power of endurance. —AR

Grove Press / BeBe Jacobs

Hachette Book Group / Elena Seibert

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Two struggles ground Stay With Me: a couple's infertility, and the slow destruction of their home country, Nigeria. Adebayo describes Yejide's determination to get pregnant with both passion and desperation — after all, when her husband moves a second wife into their home, Yejide realizes pregnancy will be the only way to stay in his favor — and this single-minded goal blossoms into hope, love, and grief. It's a painful story about family and home, and the sacrifices necessary for their protection. —AR

Knopf / Michael Lionstar

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Julie Buntin's debut novel is a marvelous coming-of-age, exploring the friendship between Cat and Marlena from Cat's point of view, contrasting their teen years in rural Michigan with Cat's adult life in New York City. It's about reconciling the strength of a bond with its inevitable fading, the frustrated and futile attempts to make sense of a whirlwind romance (and yes, a friendship can be that) whose magic and intensity is unsustainable. Buntin injects her writing with just enough of those teenage, high emotional stakes to resonate, but with enough distance to keep the story grounded. Hilarious and heartbreaking. —AR

Henry Holt and Co. / Nina Subin

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Emily Ruskovich's Idaho is a somber meditation on memory, love, and grief, disguised as a literary thriller. At the core of this harrowing novel is a 6-year-old May's murder, but the meat of the story is in the narratives built around it — each pieced together by faulty memories and influenced by loss. May's mother is in jail; her father, slowly losing his mind, marries a woman drawn to his dark past and determined to understand his history. It's a masterpiece — lyrical, haunting, surprisingly empathetic — and reminds the reader of the impossibility of answers, or at least, the inability of answers to provide a grieving mind with real peace. —AR

Random House / Sam McPhee


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