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5 captivating debut novels to devour this summer

The literary world has seen many release dates pushed back in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but there is still a wealth of new material to soak up this summer. KATIE BERRINGTON shares the debuts to delve into now


If I Had Your Face, Frances Cha

Frances Cha, a former travel and culture writer at CNN, grew up in the US, Hong Kong, and South Korea – where her compelling debut novel, If I Had Your Face, is set. Since its release, the book has won critical praise for drawing on the complexities of cultural norms and universal beauty standards, offering an intimate portrayal of four women living in the same apartment block in present-day Seoul. They navigate a world bound by impossible beauty ideals (and where plastic surgery is routine), the desires of affluent men in secret ‘room salons’, stringent social hierarchies, K-pop obsession, competition and friendship.

This Lovely City, Louise Hare

Louise Hare’s poignant historical release is set in post-war-era South London, where Jamaican jazz musician Lawrie has recently arrived in London from Jamaica aboard the HMT Empire Windrush. Set against rising racial tensions, it is underpinned by themes of possibility and prejudice as he finds himself falling in love with Evie, the girl next door (her own background makes her far more intricate a character than just that). When Lawrie makes a terrible discovery in the local area, he also finds that racism can be just as explicit as it is insidious within his own community. But the ending is not without hope, for a book that is as vital now as ever.

The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré

Lagos-born Abi Daré has penned a haunting and resonant read on oppression, courage and empowerment. The book, which was originally Daré’s thesis for her creative writing MA at Birkbeck, University of London, has already won awards and is being cited as a literary call for social change. Her searing storytelling introduces readers to 14-year-old protagonist Adunni, who is sold into a cruel marriage before becoming trapped in servitude, while remaining determined to get an education and find her own voice.

All My Mother’s Lovers, Ilana Masad

Israeli-American author and essayist Ilana Masad’s page-turning release follows the story of Maggie, a woman in her late 20s, who is living in St. Louis with her girlfriend when she hears news of her mother’s death. Returning home to the family she is distanced from, she finds herself on a journey of discovery into her mother’s past, with some realizations about herself in the process. With its evocative portrait of grief and family, Masad prompts thought-provoking questions around relationships and identity.

Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

In the year that Normal People mania took hold, following its television adaptation, it feels rather obvious to compare the literary debut of Dublin-born Naoise Dolan with Sally Rooney’s bestseller. The books are not without their similarities, though Dolan’s Exciting Times is a deserved sensation of its own accord. It has received acclaim for its witty and acute observational portrayal of the uncertainty around modern relationships and unlikely connections, complicated by class, and with a flawed female lead marred by self-contempt. Twenty-two-year-old Ava leaves Ireland for the ex-pat lifestyle in Hong Kong, where she becomes embroiled in a love triangle with a male Etonian banker and a female corporate lawyer.