Toronto-based indie press Coach House Books is celebrating with author Tamara Faith Berger after her novel Maidenhead was chosen by the editors of San Francisco-based literary magazine The Believer for its 2012 Believer Book Award, as “the strongest and most under-appreciated” fiction book of the year.

Coach House promoted the book as a more cerebral alternative to E.L. James Fifty Shades series, but Maidenhead ventures into darker and more complicated places. Myra, its young protagonist, becomes involved with a Tanzanian musician and the violent woman who controls him. And, according to Coach House, it follows Myra as she enters “unfamiliar territories of sex, porn, race and class.”

Publisher Alana Wilcox told PW: “It's a risqué novel, so it's especially brave of the magazine's editors to select it. We respect everything about the magazine, and its nod of approval means, first, that both Tamara and Coach House can feel darn proud, and, second, that a book that we think is brilliant and important in its fresh depiction of women's sexuality will be introduced to a large group of smart and discerning Believer readers.”

The award announcement in the May 2013 issue of The Believer said: “Tamara Faith Berger has been writing challenging and sexy books for more than a decade, but this novel is her best yet. She handles race and class as deftly as she does the effects of internet pornography on our sex lives and our moral lives — subjects that might be turned into excuses for sermons, but which she renders in original and shocking ways.” Previous winners include Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (2011) and The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006).

The novel had already received good reviews and media attention, and so far has sold just over 5,000 copies, says Coach House publicist Evan Munday. A relatively small number, he acknowledged, “but for a press of our size (staffed by four people, and usually doing print runs of 2,000), that's phenomenal,” he said, and noted that Coach House is in the midst of another print run. It is distributed in the U.S. by Consortium. The Spanish edition of the book was recently published by Punto de Lectura under the title Intacta, and Munday says the Believer award seems to have sparked more rights inquiries.