Discover Great New Writers: Summer 2016 Selections

Through Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program, we’ve spent the last quarter century discovering and promoting new writers who stand out in a crowded field of worthy reads. Today, we’re proud to share next season’s selections for the most exciting new books coming to shelves everywhere. So make ready your favorite reading spot and discover a new writer today.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
In many ways the story of the human race as a whole is, ultimately, the story of a family—a huge family, but a family nonetheless. Gyasi takes this idea to heart in her remarkable debut novel, which traces the descendants of half sisters Effia and Esi, born in Ghana in the mid-18th century. Effia and Esi never meet, but their stories and the stories of seven generations of their families form a glorious, sprawling story told with confidence and control. Gyasi traces the two branches of the family through slavery, love affairs, drug addiction, and political awakening, discovering the sort of deep patterns we’re all aware of—if only subconsciously—in our own lives. Absorbing and thought-provoking, this is a book everyone should read.

Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
Crouch is already beloved by millions of fans for his Wayward Pines books and TV series, and for good reason. If you haven’t yet discovered him, Dark Matter is a phenomenal standalone novel that will give you an excellent introduction. Jason Dessen is a brilliant scientist who has given up high-level research in exchange for a humble teaching position and a happy home life. One night he takes a different way home and is kidnapped by a man who asks, “Are you happy with your life?” before drugging him. When he wakes up, several months seem to have passed… and his life is no longer his. A trippy, incredibly fun romp through time and space ensues as Jason uses his incredible brain to fight back against what has been done to him—which gets even more complicated when he discovers who is behind everything. Already in production to be a film, read this one before it becomes a national obsession.

The Death of Rex Nhongo, by C.B. George
This brilliant novel offers readers a multitude of pleasures. It begins as an almost scholarly examination of life in modern-day Zimbabwe in the wake of the mysterious death of Rex Nhongo, a.k.a. Solomon Mujuru, who had been one of the most feared and powerful men in that unsettled country. Then the story shifts to slices of life, following five couples as they go about their business and offering a glimpse of ordinary life in a country going through extraordinary political and cultural stirrings. The five couples are tied together, slowly but surely, by the appearance of a mysterious gun in the back seat of a taxi cab—a gun that may have been involved in Nhongo’s death, which his family (in real life) insist was an assassination despite an official ruling of smoke inhalation during a fire. This is the rare novel that doesn’t simply entertain, but offers insight into how people half a world away live their lives.

The Fire Line: The Story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and One of the Deadliest Days in American Firefighting, by Fernanda Santos
For most Americans, wildfires exist mainly as breathless news footage, either of planes dumping chemicals or of ominous glowing flames encroaching on communities. Often forgotten are the incredibly brave and skilled men and women who race toward these fires to save lives and property. The Fire Line does for the Granite Mountain Hotshots what other recent books have done for our military, bringing these heroes to complex life while telling a thrilling story of danger, heroism, and adventure. It will be easy to forget you’re reading about real people and their real lives because the writing is so cinematic and evocative, but it also serves as a reminder that we collectively owe debts to the people who strive to protect us not from invasion or terrorist plots, but from Mother Nature herself.

The Girls, by Emma Cline
How do people get drawn into cults? How could a man like Charles Manson assemble a group of people and inspire them to do such unspeakably terrible things? Cline takes those questions and crafts a fascinating story of an unhappy teenager who becomes enamored of a group of cool, beautiful girls she first spies in a park. Slowly, she’s pulled into their circle, becoming a member of a cult surrounding a charismatic, manipulative man. Her obsession with the titular girls—and one girl in particular—is masterfully explored, as she finds her new life at the cult’s dilapidated ranch thrillingly exotic even as she’s slowly pushed toward an act of incredible violence that could change her life forever. People have been waiting for this book for a long time.

Goodnight, Beautiful Women, by Anna Noyes
Both a collection of stellar short stories and a larger narrative dealing with interconnected tales and characters, Noyes has created a universe in miniature, exploring both the inner and outer lives of girls and women in New England. From young girls experiencing the frantic, explosive energy of young love for the first time to a woman watching her husband throw everything they own into the abyss of a local quarry to an affecting story about a thoughtless lie told in childhood that reverberates years later, Noyes manages to make these stories nearly ideal: provocative, disturbing, and funny all at once. Ideal for both a long read and for quick snatches of literary beauty whenever you have a free moment, this is a book that will introduce you to one of the most gifted writers working today.

Half Wild, by Robin MacArthur
In a collection of stories defined by their setting in rural Vermont, MacArthur storms the beaches of literary fame with some of the most remarkably well-observed characters and settings in recent memory. The stories span four decades in the region, roving restlessly through a cast of varied characters, with the ultimate effect being almost novelistic in the comprehensive way it explores a region and the people who have made their home there—by choice or by circumstance. MacArthur has been showing up in the best literary magazines for the last few years, and anyone who cracks open this collection will see why.

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young black Man’s Education, by Mychal Denzel Smith
History isn’t static, no matter what it seems like in official textbooks. History and the movements, ideas, and people that make it are always transforming and evolving. The story of being black in America isn’t told by one authoritative voice, and isn’t the same from year to year or region to region. Smith has created a powerful memoir that explores what it’s like to be black in this country right now—an age when a black man is President of the United States but black men seem to be under assault as much as ever. It’s a bracing, provocative exploration of a real person’s struggles, triumphs, and evolving thought, and it’s a book everyone should read if they want to better understand the people they share this world with.

My Father Before Me, by Chris Forhan
One of the most celebrated poets in modern times, Forhan revisits a troubled, tumultuous childhood in a dark, fierce memoir that explores his family’s roots and the impact his early childhood and his father’s suicide had on him—and the ways he resembles or doesn’t resemble his father, and what that might mean. As one of the most talented poets of our time, Forhan brings a beauty to the page even when exploring some of the most painful moments of his life—a beauty that is perhaps in part inspired by those same tragic moments. Both a fascinating story of growing up and dealing with the past and a revelatory exploration of one man’s fight—so like our own—to make sense of it all, My Father Before Me is a dense and beautiful piece of writing that will get under your skin and make you feel something.

Rich and Pretty, by Rumaan Alam
Friendship is complicated. Female friendship doubly so, and Alam focuses his sharp debut novel on a pair of long-time friends, Sarah and Lauren. Friends for more than two decades and once almost inseparable, the two young women have drifted apart as they pursue different routes through life: Sarah planning a wedding and working at a charity, Lauren as a single publishing professional charging through her career. Alam explores the concept of a “best” friend and whether the label still applies when two people have vastly different goals and senses of life—all told with sharp wit and a masterful control over language. Where so many stories are obsessed with romantic love, it’s refreshing to see a story that focuses instead on that other powerful kind of affection: friendship.

Smoke, by Dan Vyleta
Every now and again a novel comes along with a premise so astoundingly interesting it moves right up to the top of your must-read list, and Smoke is such a book. It’s set in an alternate Victorian England where people’s sinful thoughts take the physical form of “smoke” that pours from their skin, leaving a sooty stain on their clothes and hair. The upper classes take great pains to control their thoughts—and hence their smoke—in order to prove they are destined to rule, and the story centers on a trio of teens at a prestigious boarding school where this sort of self-control is taught. Utterly fascinating in the way it explores sin, morality, and the difference between thought and action, it’s also a story about young love, revolt against authority, and the power (and limitations) of self-control.

South Haven, by Hirsh Sawhney
Tragic stories are often simplistic, casting the survivors in a saintly glow in order to trigger our feelings of compassion, but Sawhney rejects such an approach in this absorbing new novel. Siddharth lives in South Haven, an ordinary suburb in New England, drawing and practicing his swimming. When his mother dies in an accident, however, he and his father struggle. Siddharth falls in with a gang of bullies, learning to drink and smoke. His depressed father turns to religious fundamentalism, raging against Muslims and cheering on violence. Their reactions are horrifying and disturbing, but utterly believable. When a new woman comes into their lives, there is a sense of a delicate opportunity to be reborn and have a second chance, and Sawhney’s writing is strong enough to make the reader desperately wish Siddharth and his father are smart enough to seize it.

The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett
With a simple but powerful premise, Barnett’s debut explores three distinct versions of the relationship between two people—one in which they meet cute and marry, one in which they miss that first meeting and their lives spin along different lines until they finally catch up with each other, and one that is a dexterous mix of both. Barnett’s approach is fascinating because none of these timelines is presented as “ideal,” leaving it as an exercise for the reader to determine if any of them is actually preferable. Each version offers pleasures, triumphs, tragedies, and loss—avoiding one, in other words, for the rewards of the other has costs you might not wish to pay. Anyone who has ever wondered about the road not taken—which is to say, everyone—will find this remarkable novel a deeply satisfying read.

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