Best 2019 debut fiction books (IMHO)

Posted on December 3, 2019


As a voting National Book Critics Circle member I cast my ballot

(electronically) last week nominating five 2019 first books for

the John Leonard Prize. Any eligible 2019 first book that gets

20% of the member votes will become a finalist. My five

include two debut short story collections and three debut


The two debut short story collections are about young adults

from marginalized communities: black, Latinx, and/or lgbtq

Houston residentss in Lot by Bryan Washington, and Indian,

Indian-American, and/or lgbtq characters in America and India

both in the present day and earlier eras in White Dancing Elephants 

by Chaya Bhuvaneswar.

Ayşegül Savaş‘s debut novel Walking on the Ceiling features its

first person narrator’s interior monologue set mostly in Paris

where she moves following her mother’s passing but also in her

native Istanbul from which she grows increasingly distant

and disconnected the longer she lives in Paris, and as the political

situation at home makes a return risky.

The other two debut novels also feature young women who run

away as a response to grief for a parent. In Madhuri Vijay‘s 

The Far Field a young Bangalore woman with a post-graduate

degree and a coveted job in a technology company leaves all that

(and her father) behind to travel to the Indian part of Kashmir

that is under martial law hoping to find the Kashmiri door to door

salesman whom her late mother befriended. In Amanda Goldblatt‘s 

Hard Mouth the first person narrator is a lab technician in the

Washington, DC suburbs who overcome by her terminally ill

father’s final illness flees to a remote mountaintop cabin, and the

novel’s most engaging section becomes a wilderness survival story.

Lot and The Far Field have decent chances of becoming finalists.

The other three books probably are not on enough of my fellow

critics’ radars.

All previous Leonard Prize winners have been works of prose

fiction. Other 2019 debut fiction books I recommend include:

Such Good Work by Johannes Lichtman
The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
The Falconer by Dana Czapnik
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Willa & Hesper by Amy Feltman
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin
The Expectations by Alexander Tilney
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
Golden Child by Claire Adam
Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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