Favorite first lines from spring and summer books

Al Woodworth on February 27, 2020
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first_lines_first_lines_upcoming.jpgLast week, we posted about our favorite first lines from books that published in the past decade – haunting openers like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s “I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces” from The Sympathizer or the new classic “History has failed us, but no matter” from Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.

This week, we’re thrilled to give a sneak peak of the first lines of books that will be coming out this spring and summer. These openers stopped us in our tracks and made us immediately sit down and read. (Is there any better feeling?) They are intriguing and sometimes bizarre, wry, and most definitely caught our attention. We hope they catch yours.


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Deacon King Kong by James McBride

“Deacon Cuffy Lambkin of Five Ends Baptist Church became a walking dead man on a cloudy September afternoon in 1969.”

He did. And I won’t tell you why – but I will tell you that the National Book Award winner, James McBride, has written a neighborhood epic with a cast of characters that are beguiling, boozed-filled, and larger than life. When a young drug lord is shot in broad daylight in the middle of a Brooklyn project called ‘the Cause’, it sets off a chain reaction, igniting drug wars and mobsters into a swirling web that demonstrates just how vital yet fragile communities can be -- this is such a satisfying read. 

(March 3)


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All Adults Here by Emma Straub

“Astrid Strick had never liked Barbara Baker, not for a single day of their forty-year acquaintance, but when Barbara was hit and killed by the empty, speeding school bus at the intersection of Main and Morrison streets on the eastern side of the town roundabout, Astrid knew that her life had changed, the shock of which was indistinguishable from the relief.”

Emma Straub’s novels are big-hearted, funny, and chronicle the messiness and glory of families, and All Adults Here is no different—as you can tell from the first line of her latest. After witnessing the accident, Astrid Strick is forced to confront her own past as a mother, and so begins the story of her life, her children’s, and her grandchildren’s with all the mistakes, apologies, and kindnesses in between.

(May 5)


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Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

“Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body.”

Can you imagine finding this note while walking in your woods?  That's what happens to the seventy something narrator of Death in Her Hands. After the death of her husband, a woman moves to the country to live out the rest of her days. On a walk with her dog, she discovers a strange note that sends her mind reeling (wouldn't yours?). Suspenseful, strange, and like the first line, a wry and almost funny nod to the mystery genre.

(April 21)


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Luster by Raven Leilani

“The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.”

With a first line like that it’s clear why Ling Ma said it was “impossible to put down”, why Zadie Smith called this book “brutal—brilliant”, and why I kept turning the pages after I read the first line. Luster is Raven Leilani’s debut and it’s a razor sharp novel about art, loneliness, being young, affairs, and yes – sex, the power of it and the ruin of it.

(August 4)


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Pizza Girl by Jean Young Frazier

“Her name was Jenny Hauser and every Wednesday I put pickles on her pizza.”

You might wonder, who orders pickles on a pizza?! A woman that just moved to the neighborhood does in Jean Kyoung Frazier’s fierce, funny, coming of age novel about an 18-year-old pregnant pizza delivery girl and her unlikely friendship with a new mom in town. This sentence made me keep reading and what I discovered was a bright, wry voice bursting from the page that seemed to be revealing far more about humanity and suburbia than a pizza with pickles order might convey.

(June 9)

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The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

“They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.”

Awaeke Emezi’s novel Freshwater was hypnotic and dazzling and managed to be at once rough and tender. In The Death of Vivek Oji, a group of memorable characters attempt to move on from the death of child, they never really knew. Heartbreaking and surreal, Emezi’s investigates the force of family, friendships, loss and transcendence.

(August 4)


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