Darling, the 10-year-old protagonist of NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel, We Need New Names (Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, May), is an apt navigator of her native Zimbabwe, where she runs with a crowd of friends and occasionally experiences the impact of the country’s political instability. Then she is sent to live with an aunt in the U.S., where the immigrant experience creates a different kind of imbalance.

The 31-year-old Bulawayo, also born in Zimbabwe, is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and recently earned an M.F.A. from Cornell. She began working on the novel in 2008. She recalls, “It fed off of the sociopolitical events that were going on in Zimbabwe at the moment, which translated to an unraveling country with serious economic and social challenges. The process was writing to what was going on at home—to the country, to my family and friends—and so it became both a personal and historical project. As the story took shape and I got over my heartbreak at what was happening, it sharpened and became a love letter of sorts. Yes, things were hard, but people had also shown a lot of courage and spunk and it became necessary to capture that in my lead character.”

Editor Laura Tisdel was immediately taken with the manuscript when Jin Auh at the Wylie Agency shared it with her. Tisdel says, “The voice of the young girl at the center of We Need New Names captivated me. I read this novel with my heart in my throat, in awe of Bulawayo’s ability to show how growing up in an unstable country at a perilous moment in history casts a shadow over a young girl’s life, but can never really kill her spirit.” We Need New Names will enjoy a 50,000-copy first printing.