Three Black women novelists make their debut with tales of inheritance, friendship, and alternate futures.

Acts of Forgiveness

Maura Cheeks. Ballantine, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-59829-0
In Cheeks’s engrossing debut, a Black family faces financial hardships and debates the merits of a new reparations program. After a promising start as a reporter in New York City, Willie Revel reluctantly returns to Philadelphia to help her father, Max, with the family’s construction business and moves into the house hers parents proudly bought many years ago as the first Black family in their neighborhood. As the years pass, she gets pregnant from a one-night stand, raises her daughter, Paloma, and tries to help fix the company’s various financial setbacks. Meanwhile, her former mentor Elizabeth Johnson, a descendant of President Andrew Johnson, becomes a U.S. senator and then president. Hoping to reverse the damage done by her ancestor, who throttled Reconstruction, Johnson signs into law the controversial Forgiveness Act, which calls for the U.S. government to pay reparations to those who can prove their ancestors were enslaved. Max, desperate to save his business and long distrustful of the government, enters into a construction project with a vocal opponent of the act and considers selling the family home, prompting Willie to unearth their family history in hopes of securing reparation payments, even as a research trip leaves Paloma feeling abandoned. Cheeks seamlessly threads the themes of resentment, forgiveness, and legacy through the multilayered narrative. Readers will be moved. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Trellis Literary. (Feb.)

I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both

Mariah Stovall. Soft Skull, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59376-760-0
Literary agent Stovall debuts with the penetrating story of an erstwhile friendship. Khaki Oliver, who is Black, and Fiona Davies, who is white, last spoke to each other a decade ago. In the present day, Khaki receives an invitation to Fiona’s baby shower for her adopted Black daughter. As Khaki waffles on whether to attend, she plans a mixtape of punk songs from her adolescence. While playing the records, she remembers her and Fiona’s frenzied days as high school outcasts in New Jersey and their split after Khaki left for college in Los Angeles. Stovall devotes many pages to the nuances of punk’s many subgenres as Khaki navigates the punk scene in L.A., where she develops an eating disorder and feels a growing resentment over Fiona never visiting her there. As the narration winds back to the present, Stovall elucidates the reasons behind the friends’ break and reveals what they still have in common. The meandering narrative starts off slow, but it’s lifted by Stovall’s irony-spiked odes to an impassioned, punk-tinged youth (one band’s vocalist “flip-flop[s] between shouting diatribes against the military industrial complex and belting broken-hearted love songs with a twang”). Patient readers will find plenty of rewards. (Feb.)

The Blueprint

Rae Giana Rashad. Harper, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-333009-2
Rashad’s consuming debut imagines a dystopian near future shaped by a second American civil war in 1954. In 2030, Black people, classified as Descendants of Slavery, are controlled by a new, white-led government known as the Order. DoS men serve as soldiers and DoS women are forced into work contracts for white men at the age of 15, then paired by an algorithm with a Black man when they are old enough to marry. Solenne Bonet has been contracted for five years to Bastien Martin, a high-ranking Order official who built the algorithm, and lives as his wife, having fallen in love with him and believing he would grant her freedom. Now coming to terms with the fact that love can’t exist in such a relationship, she runs to Louisiana—the only state where DoS can be free. Throughout her journey, Solenne is guided by the echoing narrative of her 19th-century ancestor, Henriette, who contended with a slave owner’s abusive obsession. The cat-and-mouse chase involving Bastien, a powerful man who will stop at nothing, and Solenne, a woman fiercely determined to gain her autonomy, thrills and disturbs. It’s a provocative and worthy mash-up of historical and speculative fiction. (Feb.)