The book: In Rachel Lyon ’05’s debut novel, Self-Portrait with Boy, a relentlessly focused young female artist, Lu Rile, accidentally photographs a boy falling to his death while taking her own photograph. The image is startlingly gorgeous — her finest work of art. Lu, who is struggling to make ends meet, knows that the picture could change her life … if she lets it.

Lu has strong motivations to show her art: she works three jobs, takes care of her aging father, and the crumbling warehouse where she lives is being sold to developers. Her relationship with her neighbors deepens her sense of conflict: The boy who fell lived in her building, and the tragedy brings the building’s residents together, especially Lu and the boy’s grieving mother, Kate. As Lu and Kate develop a strong friendship, Lu feels increasingly torn between the twin desires of using the photograph to advance her career, and protecting Kate.

Set in ’90s in the early days of Brooklyn’s gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a commentary about the emotional dues of success as well as an exploration of female friendship.

The author: Rachel Lyon’s work has appeared in Joyland, The Iowa Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She attended Princeton and Indiana University, where she was the fiction editor of Indiana Review. She now teaches for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Catapult, Slice, and elsewhere, and offers private writing coaching. She is a co-founder of the monthly reading series Ditmas Lit, in her native Brooklyn. Self-Portrait with Boy is her first novel.

Opening paragraphs: “I’ll tell you how it started. With a simple, tragic accident. The click of a shutter and a grown man’s beast-like howl. The silent rush of neighbors down our dark dirty stairs. The lights of a police car illuminating the brick wall behind our building. And a photograph.

“I never meant for any of it to happen.”

Reviews: Joyce Carol Oates: “Rachel Lyon has written a haunting tale of how a singular, devastating event in the life of a young woman photographer changes the trajectory of her life and comes to define her utterly. Beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, Self-Portrait With Boy will suggest, to some readers, the obsessive interiority of the great Diane Arbus, conjoined with an original and disturbing examination of the ill-defined borders between life and art.”

Publisher’s Weekly: “Lyon’s candid, adroit debut follows a young artist’s disturbing journey to find an audience . . . written in raw, honest rose, this is an affecting and probing moral tale about an artist choosing to advance her work at the expense of her personal relationships.”