Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (Catapult)
A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar (Riverhead Books)
These debut novels feature young women who have been abandoned and are desperately trying to find themselves and a way out of the desolate, parched small towns in which they live. In Godshot, 14-year-old Lacey May comes under the sway of a preacher whose congregation has become a cult. Once she understands what it means to be “godshot,” she’s determined to escape. She tries everything she can think of to find her mother, believing there was a reason she left and that their relationship can be put right, but in doing so she finds a different kind of family.
A Prayer for Travelers is the story of Cale Lambert, who has been raised by her ailing grandfather in an isolated desert town on the California-Nevada border. When she takes a job waitressing at the local diner, she reconnects with Penny Reyes, the bad girl of her school years. Penny begins to break Cale out of her shell by exposing her to the hidden life in her town and beyond. But following a shocking act of violence, Penny disappears, and Cale becomes obsessed with tracking her down.
Both novels are distinguished by a sense of place that is so vivid, it is a living, breathing being, and by fiercely determined protagonists fighting to overcome a history of neglect and abuse. Chelsea Bieker and Ruchika Tomar are writers to watch.