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Booklist: Top 10 First Novels 2013

Date: Oct 21 2013

First novels often tell coming-of-age tales, but the 10 best debut novels reviewed in Booklist between October 15, 2012, and October 1, 2013, take unusual and uniquely arresting approaches to that classic theme as teens and twentysomethings seek solid ground in the wake of catastrophes and upheavals both personal and societal. These vividly portrayed characters also cope with profound questions of identity, purpose, and doing what’s right.

*Starred Review* Alone among the residents of Marah, Illinois, Paul Graves and his family emerge completely unscathed from the violent tornado that levels the town. Not a window broken, not a chair out of place; even his lumberyard remains utterly intact. As the toll of death and destruction begins to be tallied, the Graves are exemplars of salvation and sympathy. Their good deeds, however, are quickly diminished as resentment builds among the survivors. Why were the Graves spared? Did they deserve the largesse, or somehow orchestrate its occurrence? Like ominous drumbeats, insinuations prey on everyone's minds, including Paul's and his wife Mae's. Once pillars of this tight-knit community, the family quickly become pariahs, and the tragedy that initially bypassed them eventually finds its way to their door in the storm's wake. A tragedy such as this touches everyone, and Southwood explores the myriad ways lives are affected by disaster and its aftermath. All the big themes are here chance, fate, loyalty, revenge, guilt, jealousy and Southwood handles them deftly, with a nuanced but sure touch. Inspired by actual events surrounding the 1925 Tri-State tornado, the worst in U.S. history, Southwood's poignantly penetrating examination of the psychic cost of survival is breathtaking in its depth of understanding, mesmerizing in its delicate handling of sensitive emotions.

-Carol Haggas

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