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With a Bang: The Best Debut Novels of 2011

In what seems like a pretty clear argument against all the publishing industry doomsday hype, 2011 has been an uncommonly good year for debut novels. This year, it is more evident than ever that yes, people are still writing, publishing and buying great new fiction (and non-fiction, of course, but that’s a point for another post). Four of the New York Times‘s five best novels of 2011 are first novels, which seems to us to reflect the nature of the year. Here, we’ve picked out our favorites from the pack, all from first-time novelists that we can’t wait to read more from. Click through to see our list, and let us know your own favorite debut novels of the year in the comments.

We the Animals, Justin Torres

From the first lines of this small but powerful novel, you know it’s going to be something else entirely: “We wanted more. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio; we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more.” Presented in a series of vignettes rather than a linear, cohesive narrative, this coming of age story gradually narrows its scope from the wants and needs of the ‘we’ to the lonely confusion of the ‘I’ as the narrator figures out who he is and what makes him different from his brothers. If you love the smell of language and the taste of the perfect syllable, this book is for you.

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