The South: Some Go Home, Odie Lindsey
Author Odie Lindsey sets his debut in a fictional town, Pitchlynn, Mississippi, a place he describes as "the poorest slice of the poorest state in the nation." It's hardly a romanticized image of the South, but Lindsey is earnest in exchange for all of the generalizations he likes to make. Set across three generations, Some Go Home is an ambitious project, blending gothic folk tale with murder mystery while fully leaning into the pageantry of Southern life. Lindsey is forgiven for his wordy descriptions of the land, if only because he is a Mississippi boy himself.
The Midwest: Marlena, Julie Buntin
Set in rural Michigan, Julie Buntin's Marlena indulges in its own ugliness, taking on adolescent friendship in a way that skirts the clichés of the young adult genre. Buntin intertwines the stories of two characters: the titular Marlena and Cat, two friends whose relationship is marred by substance abuse, poverty, mania and an untimely death. It is a fictional joyride, but also a sharp portrait of life in certain pockets of the Midwest where meaningless terms like "flyover country" have stood in place of real understanding.
The Pacific Northwest: Shadowlands, Anthony McCann
In 2016, armed protesters occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon, resulting in a standoff that lasted 41 days. Depending on whom you cared to talk to, the protesters either virtuously demanded that the federal government relinquish control of public lands or were the direct product of a political system beginning to affirm extremist behavior. In Shadowlands, Anthony McCann—a poet by trade—captures one moment in our state's history, placing it in the broader context of a nation deciding what it wants to be.
The Northeast: New Waves, Kevin Nguyen
Kevin Nguyen, in his debut novel, New Waves, performs emotional surgery on the internet age, but manages to do it with the utmost care. His appraisal is still bleak—neck deep in the startup world of New York City, Nguyen's two characters are bottom feeders at their young company, saddled with the difficulties of young adulthood, financial insecurity, corporate racism and limited mobility. Nguyen writes with the confidence of a tech insider and the empathy of an essayist, stacking mystery on mystery with ease.
The Southwest: Bad Indians, Deborah Miranda
Deborah Miranda's Bad Indians acts as both memoir and historical nonfiction, diving into an element of Californian anthropology too often overlooked. Miranda begins with the story of her own family, which belongs to the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Monterey Bay region, before systematically dismantling the "California mission mythology and gold rush fantasy" through oral histories, newspaper clippings, recordings and poems. Miranda writes in clean, clear-eyed prose, a testament to her skill as an elegiac artist.