I love reading debut novels and falling in love with a new writer. There is something so enticing about a good debut and the promise of so many great works to come. Plus, spring is a time for new beginnings, or in my opinion, new books and new authors. These ten debut novels are wonderful additions to any bookshelf.
THINGS THEY LOST is a beautiful and breathtaking magical realism book that is sure to sweep you up on a fantastical journey that you will have a hard time letting go of. There is mystery and humor as you fall into the story of Ayosa, a lonely girl living in a small African town. Everyone who is trapped in her grandmother’s house seems to be just as lonely as her. And then there is her mother. She is a charming and elusive photographer who breezes in and out of the world. In an attempt to free herself from her mother, Ayosa learns the truth about love and messy relationships and friendship.
This astonishing, devastating debut novel, riven through with mystery and magic, tells the story of a lonely girl living in a small African town and her struggle to free herself from her mercurial, charming mother.
Ayosa is a wandering spirit—joyous, exuberant, filled to the brim with longing. Her only companions in her grandmother’s crumbling house are as lonely as Ayosa herself: the ghostly Fatumas, whose eyes are the size of bay windows, who teach her to dance and wail at the death news; the Jolly-Annas, cruel birds who cover their solitude with spiteful laughter; the milkman, who never greets Ayosa and whose milk tastes of mud; and Sindano, the kind owner of a café no one ever visits.
Unexpectedly, miraculously, one day Ayosa finds a friend. Yet she is always fixed on her beautiful mama, Nabumbo Promise: a mysterious and aloof photographer, she comes and goes as she pleases, with no apology or warning. Set at the intersection of the spirit world and the human one, Things They Lost is a stunning and unforgettable novel that unfurls the dizzying dualities of love, at its most intoxicating and all-encompassing.
Everyone makes mistakes—and often they don’t realize what the consequences of those actions will be until it’s far too late. So, when single-mother Frida makes one infraction that threatens to take away her toddler daughter, Harriet, the only good thing in her life, she must prove that she really is a good mother. In this dystopian fantasy, the State watches parents and relies on their peers to report them for things like being distracted on the playground, letting their kids walk home alone, or, in Frida’s case, leaving her child unattended for several hours. Now Frida must enter a Big-Brother-like one-year program away from Harriet, where she will learn to be a good mother. Chan uses her dark wit to reflect on the societal pressures of being a “perfect” parent and what happens when families are separated by surveilling governments.
In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.
Looking for a southern, post-WWII historical-fiction story about the strong bonds between women, as well as activism? Then THE TOBACCO WIVES should be on your TBR for spring. This is a fast and fun read with great characters, glitzy North Carolina socialites, and a dark secret that is affecting many of the women in town. Fifteen-year-old Maddie dreams of being a dressmaker like her Aunt Etta and is thrilled to join her relative’s sewing business in Bright Leaf. Soon Maddie finds herself as the lead dressmaker for the wives of the wealthy tobacco executives for the largest event of the season. Although Maddie’s charmed by the town, the growing health problems among many of the women in town is hard for her to overlook. Like many others, Maddie wants to believe there’s no link between the illnesses and tobacco but quickly learns otherwise. In an entire town that thrives on the tobacco industry, Maddie will have to choose between the bonds she’s formed or speaking the truth.
This story is beautiful. Lund’s plunge into the world of magical realism centers around Owen, a boy with a bird that has grown inside of his chest. In an attempt to keep her son safe from those who don’t understand or would hurt him because of the bird in his chest, his mother keeps him secluded in their own home. But when a doctor comes looking, Owen is sent to live with his uncle and cousin for his own protection. Now, surrounded by other people and new experiences, he finds an expanded family of his own and learns to let people in. But the threat of his secret being discovered still looms on the horizon, ready to rip him away from the world he’s finally appreciating. A wonderful coming-of-age story that deals with fear, longing, and learning to accept yourself. There are some truly heartbreaking and moving moments in this book as Owen embraces his queerness. This story will stay with you, find a place to live inside your own chest, just like Owen’s bird.
“A modern coming-of-age full of love, desperation, heartache, and magic” (Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author) about “the ways in which family, grief, love, queerness, and vulnerability all intersect” (Kristen Arnett, New York Times bestselling author). Perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Thirty Names of Night.
Though Owen Tanner has never met anyone else who has a chatty bird in their chest, medical forums would call him a Terror. From the moment Gail emerged between Owen’s ribs, his mother knew that she had to hide him away from the world. After a decade spent in hiding, Owen takes a brazen trip outdoors in the middle of a forest fire, and his life is upended forever.
Suddenly, Owen is forced to flee the home that had once felt so confining and hide in plain sight with his uncle and cousin in Washington. There, he feels the joy of finding a family among friends; of sharing the bird in his chest and being embraced fully; of falling in love and feeling the devastating heartbreak of rejection before finding a spark of happiness in the most unexpected place; of living his truth regardless of how hard the thieves of joy may try to tear him down. But the threat of the Army of Acronyms is a constant, looming presence, making Owen wonder if he’ll ever find a way out of the cycle of fear.
A heartbreaking yet hopeful novel about the things that make us unique and lovable, The Boy with a Bird in His Chest grapples with the fear, depression, and feelings of isolation that come with believing that we will never be loved, let alone accepted, for who we truly are, and learning to live fully and openly regardless.
BENEATH THE STAIRS is a slow-burning, creepy supernatural thriller with many twists and turns. This book is so atmospheric, it’ll give you chills as you turn the pages. Octagon House lies deep in the woods with few people ever willing to tread on its grounds after the gruesome murder that took place there in 1965. Despite doing their best to forget the horrible incident, the locals are convinced that Octagon House is haunted. But one summer night, in 1998, teens Clare and Abby are determined to explore the place. And after the traumatic event, Abby was never the same. Now, twenty years later she’s in a coma after returning to Octagon House and attempting suicide. Clare rushes home to support her friend and family and find out what happened that summer night so long ago. There are so many nods to other great horror/tragedy reads that Fawcett even wrote this great article of five books that inspired her while writing her debut.
“An enthralling debut by a gifted storyteller!” —Wendy Walker, author of Don’t Look for Me
In this spine-tingling, atmospheric debut for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, and Chris Bohjalian, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.
Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.
Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.
An eerie page-turner, Beneath the Stairs is about the trauma that follows us from childhood to adulthood and returning to the beginning to reach the end.
Another debut thriller worth adding to your spring reading list is GREENWICH PARK, although you might hesitate to make new friends for a little bit after reading it. Faulkner creates a great multifaceted mystery with multiple strong POVs to carry you through the story. Expecting-mother Helen has everything she’s wanted, but she finds herself very lonely and looking for a friend. After her husband and also expecting best-friend Serena bail on her prenatal classes, Helen befriends Rachel. Rachel is the complete opposite of Helen; she drinks and smokes and doesn’t seem to care about becoming a mom at all. But she’s funny, and she’s someone to talk to, so Helen can’t help but find herself drawn to her, even as their new friendship frays her old relationships. Except Rachel’s behavior is strange and before long begins to frighten Helen. Soon she realizes that Rachel might be more connected to her life than she originally thought, and secrets begin to worm their way out of the woodwork.
“Gripping and haunting and gorgeously suspenseful. I couldn’t put this thriller down and can’t recommend it highly enough.” —Zakiya Dalila Harris, author of The Other Black Girl
A twisty, whip-smart debut thriller, as electrifying as the #1 New York Times bestseller The Girl on the Train, about impending motherhood, unreliable friendship, and the high price of keeping secrets.
Helen’s idyllic life—handsome architect husband, gorgeous Victorian house, and cherished baby on the way (after years of trying)—begins to change the day she attends her first prenatal class and meets Rachel, an unpredictable single mother-to-be. Rachel doesn’t seem very maternal: she smokes, drinks, and professes little interest in parenthood. Still, Helen is drawn to her. Maybe Rachel just needs a friend. And to be honest, Helen’s a bit lonely herself. At least Rachel is fun to be with. She makes Helen laugh, invites her confidences, and distracts her from her fears.
But her increasingly erratic behavior is unsettling. And Helen’s not the only one who’s noticed. Her friends and family begin to suspect that her strange new friend may be linked to their shared history in unexpected ways. When Rachel threatens to expose a past crime that could destroy all of their lives, it becomes clear that there are more than a few secrets laying beneath the broad-leaved trees and warm lamplight of Greenwich Park.
Addictive and brimming with dark humor and complex characters, VLADIMIR is an exciting and unexpected read. It’s a deep character study into the mind of our protagonist and her obsession with the new junior professor and novelist in the English department, while her husband’s affairs and scandals with students come to light. The narrator is herself an English professor at the small liberal arts school where her husband and chair of the department, John, is now under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with former students. Our unnamed protagonist has always accepted their open marriage and known about her husband’s affairs, but as more details come to light, her affection for Vladimir blossoms, threatening to bring her entire world crumbling. The mix of literature, academia, scandal, obsession, and characters roll together into a stunning debut.
A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own...
“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”
And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.
With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire.
A terrifying political thriller with action and maybe a little too much reality to keep you on your toes as you dive into the world of dark money. With a background in global trading, Newman weaves an intricate world of mystery and secrets. CIA and dark money expert Greta Webb is partnered with Elias Vicker, the man who runs the largest hedge fund in the world, to re-establish America’s geopolitical dominance. But in order to complete their mission, they’ll need to rely on dangerous leaders and eventually decide if their success is worth the sacrifice they’ll have to pay.
An electrifying thriller about a group of American operatives who secretly take over the world’s largest dark money fund—an astonishing, audacious debut by a seasoned insider of global finance.
When a U.S. airdrop of billions of dollars disappears in the desert sands of Syria, only a small group of military operatives knows its ultimate destination or why it has been stolen. Their goal is no less than the restoration of America’s geopolitical dominance on the global stage. Essential to this scheme are Greta Webb, a sophisticated CIA operative who is an expert on dark money, not to mention lethally skilled in hand-to-hand combat, and Elias Vicker, the damaged, dangerous soul who runs the world’s largest hedge fund.
To achieve its goals, the group must form dangerous alliances. One is with the hidden family that manages the largest private pool of capital that has ever existed. Another is with Fyodor Volk, the ruthless founder of Russia’s most successful private military company, a mercenary with ties to Vladimir Putin. Volk has his eye on Greta. She would be wise to avoid him but cannot.
Arcing from Manhattan’s finest apartments to Washington, D.C., from Middle Eastern war zones to private European bank vaults, Jay Newman’s Undermoney follows the Americans as they are enmeshed in the world of dark money and confront ever-increasing danger. Ultimately, they must decide whether their objectives are worth the cost of sacrificing not just a few but potentially many human lives. Brilliantly rendered with the details only a sophisticated financial insider knows and filled with jaw-dropping action, Undermoney reveals the secret intentions and savage deeds of the world’s richest people.
If you’re looking for something fun and romantic to pick up, look no further than SARI, NOT SARI. Rich in food, traditions, and love, this pleasing story centers around Manny Dogra's struggle to understand her heritage and identity with it after the loss of her parents. Manny runs a very successful business helping people deal with breakups while also planning her wedding to a handsome architect. Her parents were born in India, but they raised her in America, leaving out much of their cultural heritage from her life. But when Manny is whitewashed on the cover of a magazine, she starts to have an identity crisis. Enter Sammy Patel, a client with an interesting proposition. He needs her to be his date for his brother’s wedding. In an effort to learn more about her culture, Manny agrees and finds herself surrounded by the wonderful Patel family.
This delightful debut rom-com follows the adventures of a woman trying to connect with her South Asian roots and introduces readers to a memorable cast of characters in a veritable feast of food, family traditions, and fun.
Manny Dogra is the beautiful young CEO of Breakup, a highly successful company that helps people manage their relationship breakups. As preoccupied as she is with her business, she’s also planning her wedding to handsome architect Adam Jamieson while dealing with the loss of her beloved parents.
For reasons Manny has never understood, her mother and father, who were both born in India, always wanted her to become an “All-American” girl. So that’s what she did. She knows next to nothing about her South Asian heritage, and that’s never been a problem—until her parents are no longer around, and an image of Manny that’s been Photoshopped to make her skin look more white appears on a major magazine cover. Suddenly, the woman who built an empire encouraging people to be true to themselves is having her own identity crisis.
But when an irritating client named Sammy Patel approaches Manny with an odd breakup request, the perfect solution presents itself: If they both agree to certain terms, he’ll give her a crash course in being “Indian” at his brother’s wedding.
What follows is days of dancing and dal, masala and mehndi as Manny meets the lovable, if endlessly interfering, aunties and uncles of the Patel family, and, along the way, discovers much more than she could ever have anticipated.
This is a middle-grade fantasy that is sure to take readers of all ages on an incredible journey. Whether you love unicorns or not, you will enjoy the protagonist’s character, epic battles, and magic. Skandar is a thirteen-year-old boy who has always dreamed of becoming a unicorn rider. He wants nothing more than to leave the mainland and travel to the secret island where unicorns, who are much more vicious than you’d expect, run wild. He’s dedicated his time to studying for his Hatchery exam and joining the riders. But on the day of his test, everything that could go wrong does. His hopes of becoming a rider are crushed. Or so he thinks. A mysterious stranger arrives at his door with a mysterious message. There is an evil threatening the island and Skandar must be the one to save it.
Soar into a breathtaking world of heroes and unicorns as you’ve never seen them before in this fantastical middle grade debut perfect for fans of the Percy Jackson and Eragon series!
Skandar Smith has always yearned to leave the Mainland and escape to the secretive Island, where wild unicorns roam free. He’s spent years studying for his Hatchery exam, the annual test that selects a handful of Mainlander thirteen-year-olds to train to become unicorn riders. But on the day of Skandar’s exam, things go horribly wrong, and his hopes are shattered…until a mysterious figure knocks on his door at midnight, bearing a message: the Island is in peril and Skandar must answer its call.
Skandar is thrust into a world of epic sky battles, dangerous clashes with wild unicorns, and rumors of a shadowy villain amassing a unicorn army. And the closer Skandar grows to his newfound friends and community of riders, the harder it becomes to keep his secrets—especially when he discovers their lives may all be in graver danger than he ever imagined.
Photo credit: iStock / photogl