by Hannah Lillith Assadi


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A fevered, lyrical debut about two young women drawn into an ever-intensifying friendship set against the stark, haunted landscape of the Sonoran desert and the ecstatic frenzy of New York City.

Ahlam, the daughter of a Palestinian refugee and his Israeli wife, grows up in the arid lands of desert suburbia outside of Phoenix. In a stark landscape where coyotes prowl and mysterious lights occasionally pass through the nighttime sky, Ahlam’s imagination reigns. She battles chronic fever dreams and isolation. When she meets her tempestuous counterpart Laura, the two fall into infatuated partnership, experimenting with drugs and sex and boys, and watching helplessly as a series of mysterious deaths claim high school classmates.

The girls flee their pasts for New York City, but as their emotional bond heightens, the intensity of their lives becomes unbearable. In search of love, ecstasy, oblivion, and belonging, Ahlam and Laura’s drive to outrun the ghosts of home threatens to undo them altogether.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Ahlam, the narrator of this wise and poetic debut novel, grows up in the desert suburbs of Phoenix with a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother. The conflict raging overseas between Palestine and Israel provide the tense backdrop to her family life, even as she lives mostly in her imagination, the victim of startlingly vivid fever dreams that might also be premonitions. Then, in her freshman year of high school she meets Laura, a girl who was struck by lightning as a child, and the two form an intense bond that carries them through early experiments with drugs, alcohol, and sex, their friendship secured by a series of shared experiences that ultimately lead them to a mysterious man’s loft in Brooklyn, where much of their tempestuous shared adulthood will play out. Both vaguely pursue careers in the arts while also succumbing to a dangerously party-fueled lifestyle that threatens to break apart the fragile lives they have built together. Glimpses of the otherworldly abound, alongside an abiding interest in the cosmos, and Assadi’s lyrical prose nicely complements these preoccupations with the unreal or the ungraspable. The structure, moving back and forth in time and space, adds a sense of the magical to a sometimes tragic but always beautiful coming-of-age story. (Mar.)

From the Publisher

2018 National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 Honoree
Recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters​ Rosenthal Family Foundation Award in Literature
An Elle Magazine Most Anticipated Novel

Praise for Sonora

"This debut powerfully evokes the sense of being an outsider."
—The New Yorker

​"A kaleidoscopic venture for the senses​ . . . Sonora is an artful construction by a writer of wondrous talent.​"​
—New Orleans Review​

—The Brooklyn Rail ​

"Powerful... Sonora is a poetic coming-of-age story about friendship, identity, secrets, and obsession that will haunt you long after you turn the final page."

"Assadi writes poetically about the Southwest . . . a mesmerizing take on tripping blindly into adulthood."
—The Huffington Post 

"Sonora is a paean to the vexing process of how a second-generation immigrant struggles to come to terms with herself and history."
Christian Science Monitor 

"Hannah Lillith Assadi's Sonora is a beautiful desert wind of a novel—wild, plangent and revealing. Fans of Denis Johnson will find in Assadi a similarly edgy and visionary writer. Both disturbing and touching, Sonora is a brilliant debut novel. Assadi is an exciting talent, and a writer to watch."
—Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

"Sonora is the most eerie and unusual coming of age story I've ever encountered—not a tale of innocence lost, but of innocence never had. In a story steeped in sorcery and curses, Assadi looks to the heavens, wild-eyed and bewildered."
—Catherine Lacey, author of Nobody Is Ever Missing
"In Sonora, the underworld and the desert are always nibbling at the edges of the two young women’s reality, trying to save them or speak to them . . . Like the biblical tradition of passage through the desert, Ahlam emerges transformed. And so too does the reader." 
—Tablet Magazine

"Sonora is as striking as it is unforgettable.​"
—The Fanzine​

"With penetrating grace, Hannah Lillith Assadi details the intoxicating precarity of being young and alive and desperate to change. Sonora is unforgettable and deeply felt, the type of book that brings you close, infiltrates you, and leaves you with the sense that you've just lived an entire life."
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine

"In Sonora, Hannah Lillith Assadi documents, with lyric ferocity, the agony, love, and bafflement of belonging to a family. A scorching story of youth and the losses and sorrows of growing up estranged."
—Ben Marcus, author of Leaving the Sea

"Assadi's characters are on a trip, as is their author, and Sonora, a pleasure to read, is both a beginning and about a beginning—an origin story for the writer and the reader." 
—Donald Antrim, author of The Emerald Light in the Air 

"Landscape becomes dreamscape in Assadi's evocative and provocative exploration of a world divided. Written with masterful artistry, Sonora is, in equal parts, a beautiful and intelligent novel." 
—Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of The Scenic Route

"Hannah Lillith Assadi's Sonora is a mystical and haunting landscape and she guides us through it with boundless grace and sharp, luminous poetry. This extraordinarily assured debut novel feels both old and timeless, like the desert and New York City, while remaining fresh and urgent and impossible to put down. Here we have a compelling cast of young and old, strangers and friends, lovers and family, immigrants and natives, as they try to find their place in a vast and complicated country."
—Robert Lopez, author of Kamby Bolongo Mean River

"Assadi uses her words like a painter, coloring the beauty of the desert with gorgeous descriptions of saguaros, palo verdes and bougainvillea."
—Phoenix Magazine

"Unique in its portrayal of a Jewish-Palestinian family . . . [and] universal in its depiction of the quest for identity, for love, for belonging."
—Nimrod International Journal Online

"A lyrical meditation on the confusion and awe of growing up that is made beautifully strange by the desert's haunting presence . . . both typical and painfully, relatably fresh . . . Lyrical, raw, and moving."
Kirkus Reviews

"This poetic, multicultural novel will enchant younger adults or anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world."
—Library Journal, Starred Review

"Wise and poetic . . . Glimpses of the otherworldly abound, alongside an abiding interest in the cosmos, and Assadi’s lyrical prose nicely complements these preoccupations with the unreal or the ungraspable. The structure, moving back and forth in time and space, adds a sense of the magical to a sometimes tragic but always beautiful coming-of-age story."
Publishers Weekly

"Assadi’s first novel is—like Ahlam’s dreams—fevered, fragmented, and impressionistic . . . lushly poetic . . . will interest those looking for a stylish read."

Library Journal

★ 04/15/2017
This debut novel by Assadi, a recent MFA grad, is a hypnotic coming-of-age story set in the Southwestern Sonoran Desert and New York City. Like Assadi herself, Ahlam is the daughter of a Palestinian refugee father and an Israeli mother, and her intimate narration carries the reader effortlessly between the past and the present, through a kaleidoscope of memories, as she sits at her father's side in the hospital. The myths he taught her merge with those from many other cultures throughout the novel. In high school, Ahlam felt like an outcast and "other" until she met Laura, another misfit whose heritage is Native American and Mexican. Laura and Ahlam become almost one person, navigating their first experiences with sex and drugs together. They meet the artistic young Dylan in their high school library and follow him to New York, where their bacchanalian lifestyle recalls an older, messier city where it was possible to live on next to nothing and party all night. VERDICT This poetic, multicultural novel will enchant younger adults or anyone who has ever felt out of place in the world.—Kate Gray, Boston P.L., MA

Kirkus Reviews

A coming-of-age story set largely in the surreal desert-world of Phoenix.In this atmospheric debut, protagonist Ahlam's identity crisis is clear from the start—she's the daughter of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian refugee; a high school misfit; a dreamer of strangely prophetic fever dreams. So when she meets Laura, a musician and rebel who seems to exist outside their school's social structure, it isn't surprising that the two find solace in each other. Ahlam and Laura fall into a close friendship, confiding in one another about their broken home lives; discovering drugs and sex; and meeting the enigmatic Dylan, an older artist from New York City. Meanwhile, strange things are happening in the desert: mysterious blue lights occasionally appear across the nighttime sky, spotted by some, including Ahlam's father, and an unexplained series of deaths and suicides spreads through the high school. Fearing they might be next and haunted by the desert's (and their own) secrets, Ahlam and Laura follow Dylan to New York to pursue their dreams—Ahlam to become a dancer, Laura to make music—but, drunk on the city's intensity and Dylan's drug-fueled lifestyle, their lives quickly begin to spin out of control. Though its New York portions can sometimes seem unfocused, the novel provides a lyrical meditation on the confusion and awe of growing up that is made beautifully strange by the desert's haunting presence. Ahlam's feelings of isolation and inability to fit in—particularly when she's with the magnetic, confident, but flawed Laura—are also rendered in a way that's both typical and painfully, relatably fresh. But Assadi shines most in developing the intense, almost destructive bond between the two girls that forms the emotional nucleus of the book. Muses Ahlam, "I…felt her in the way that I moved, how over the years I came to light my cigarettes just like her, between ring and middle fingers, how I laughed or how my cash was always stuffed and disorganized in my wallet, just like hers…I had brought her into my skin. I dreamed sometimes that in the mirror was her face reflected back at me. Still, I don't know where she ended and I began." Lyrical, raw, and moving.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616957926
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/28/2017
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 770,970
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

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Excerpted from "Sonora"
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Copyright © 2017 Hannah Lillith Assadi.
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