Hannah Lillith Assadi's Sonora is a beautiful desert wind of a novel--wild, plangent and revealing. In the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz., and later in the bohemian subculture of New York City, Ahlam, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, narrates her struggle to belong in a postmodern U.S.

Fans of Denis Johnson will find in Assadi a similarly edgy and visionary writer. Her hallucinatory prose evokes Arizona's harsh beauty, its legends of ancient treasures and alien spaceships, and the way endless suburbia displaces both the landscape and history. Assadi's raw, poetic talent continues to dazzle in later passages set in New York, where Ahlam and her best friend, Laura, get caught in a destructive whirl of partying and drug abuse. "The dawn is so violent when you've stayed up all night," she reflects on the growing danger in her life. Rather than glorifying the city's counterculture, Sonora offers a lurid yet achingly authentic female perspective on the emotional costs of hipsterdom.

Assadi smartly connects the alienation of her young characters to that of her older characters. Her shrewd dialogue leaves a trail of barbed insights into society. "When you are rich, your past disappears," says Ahlam's immigrant father, who's haunted by ambivalence toward the U.S. and fear that he doesn't belong. Both disturbing and touching, Sonora is a brilliant debut novel. Assadi is an exciting talent, and a writer to watch. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

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