Debuts in the news – We Need New Names with Sarah Halfpenny

Like all of my favourite stories, NovioletBulawayo’s We Need New Names, opened the door to a world vastly different to the one I inhabit.

Set in the early 2000s when Zimbabwe was under the brutal regime of Robert Mugabe, it’s a tale of childhood that sizzles with authenticity. Readers experience life through the eyes of 10-year-old Darling, an astute observer of people and events in Paradise, the ironically named shanty town.

Darling and her friends Stina, Chipo, Bastard and Godknows spend their days roaming affluent neighbourhoods stealing guavas and playing made-up games like ‘Find Bin Laden’, having no idea of its meaning. With schools closed and their parents searching for work, the children are surrounded by violence, misogyny and hypocrisy as they dream of life in countries like the USA.

Darling’s chance at a new beginning is realised when she moves to Detroit. Living with an aunt, teenage Darling struggles to assimilate, and the myth of America as the zenith is shattered.

It’s clear what Darling can gain – education and financial stability – but of equal importance are what she’s lost – family, friends, traditions, and customs.

Filled with vivid metaphors, ‘We Need New Names’ exposes life’s heartbreaking duality through the beautifully innocent and insightful voice of Darling.

Sarah Halfpenny

Sarah Halfpenny is a freelance writer working predominantly in the Arts. Her clients include the City of Melbourne, Child Magazines, RSPCA, Sydney Water, Sydney Trains, aMBUSH Gallery, Kidspot, and Nickelodeon (for whom she wrote over 300 articles). In 2018 she co-founded the annual Stellar Short Film Festival to support Australian filmmakers.

This is part of a new series at Faber Writing Academy looking at what makes a great debut book. If you are interested in getting a start on your own debut novel, we will soon be launching Kickstart Your Novel: The Opening Chapter and Beyond, which will run 9 September – 11 November. Details and bookings are here.