Rising stars of 2006: Books

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Kamran Nazeer

In the future, bemused historians will look back on the affluent parts of the early-21st-century world and wonder why autism - its definitions, its causes, its impact on children and families - became such a key worry of the time.

They may decide that all the clinical and policy debates masked a wider anxiety about what it meant to be a full individual, and part of a family and community, in a society of new opportunities and new dangers alike. And one book that will help them (and you) understand our age of autism is Kamran Nazeer's Send in the Idiots, due from Bloomsbury in March.

Diagnosed as autistic at four, the boy from an itinerant Pakistani family (who was born in 1978) entered a state-of-the art specialist school in New York. His book looks back on the childhood and later lives of his fellow-pupils, and teases out the larger questions that lie behind all the wrangles over diagnosis, treatment and education.

This remarkable piece of true-life storytelling takes as its theme not disability, but humanity. Nazeer himself now works as a policy adviser in Whitehall.

Others to watch

Gautam Malkani

In the spring, the unmissable - and probably unavoidable - first novel will be Londonstani by Gautam Malkani. This debut created a huge buzz at the Frankfurt Book Fair, with publishers jostling to bid for the next big voice of contemporary London life. Londonstani (due from Fourth Estate in May) eschews the capital's trendier corners for Hounslow, where Asian kids from a variety of backgrounds struggle to avoid the curse of a job at Heathrow and perfect their rich and strange street-slang.

Nicola Monaghan

Coming from the drug-ridden estates of Nottingham, Nicola Monaghan's first novel The Killing Jar (Chatto & Windus, March) will not make the same sort of metropolitan splash. Yet this is another exuberant debut that reaches the parts of Britain mainstream fiction usually leaves alone. Monaghan reports in a thrillingly fresh, vital style on the hope and joy that survive in a land of Asbos and addiction.

Last year's prediction: Diana Evans won the Orange Prize and is shortlisted for the Whitbread award for debut novels.