I was so thrilled to read these ten wonderful debut novels. It’s so exciting to discover new voices with new stories to tell. Such beautiful and well-written stories of love, stories of grief and redemption, of letting go of the past and finding a new future, and stories of secrets. I hope you enjoy these amazing debut novels as much as I did.
10 Summer Debuts I Was Thrilled to Discover
After Keya Das passes away in a tragic accident, the Dases, a Bengali American family, are torn apart by grief and loss, regret, and guilt. Shantanu, a professor at Rutgers University and Keya’s father, lives with this regret every day since Keya passed, because he did not accept her after she came out as gay. Shantanu now sits alone in the house that he once shared with Keya, her sister, Mitali, and their mother, Chaitali. He has not seen Mitali in months, is divorced from Chaitali, and finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community. After deciding to sell the house, Shantanu makes a plan to start clearing it out and begins in the attic. Here he finds a small box. Inside the box is an unfinished manuscript that Keya and her girlfriend, Pamela, were writing together. When the Dases decide to take the manuscript and turn it into a play, it becomes their second chance to connect with Keya again, their way to honor Keya, and a way to heal their pain.
A poignant, heartwarming, and charmingly funny debut novel about how a discovered box in the attic leads one Bengali American family down a path toward understanding the importance of family, even when splintered.
Shantanu Das is living in the shadows of his past. In his fifties, he finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community after a devastating divorce from his wife, Chaitali; he hasn’t spoken to his eldest daughter Mitali in months; and most painfully, he lives each day with the regret that he didn’t accept his teenaged daughter Keya after she came out as gay. As the anniversary of Keya’s death approaches, Shantanu wakes up one morning utterly alone in his suburban New Jersey home and realizes it’s finally time to move on.
This is when Shantanu discovers a tucked-away box in the attic that could change everything. He calls Mitali and pleads with her to come home. She does so out of pity, not realizing that her life is about to shift.
Inside the box is an unfinished manuscript that Keya and her girlfriend were writing. It’s a surprising discovery that brings Keya to life briefly. But Neesh Desai, a new love interest for Mitali with regrets of his own, comes up with a wild idea, one that would give Keya more permanence: what if they are to stage the play? It could be an homage to Keya’s memory, and a way to make amends. But first, the Dases need to convince Pamela Moore, Keya’s girlfriend, to give her blessing. And they have to overcome ghosts from the past they haven’t met yet.
A story of redemption and righting the wrongs of the past, Keya Das’s Second Act is a warmly drawn homage to family, creativity, and second chances. Set in the vibrant world of Bengalis in the New Jersey suburbs, this debut novel is both poignant and, at times, a surprising hilarious testament to the unexpected ways we build family and find love, old and new.
This sweet story drew me in right from the first sentence. Tova Sullivan, a seventy-year-old woman, works the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Using her own concoction of vinegar with a hint of lemon, not the nasty green stuff that still sits in the supply closet, Tova makes her way through the aquarium mopping the floors, wiping down the glass, and emptying trash bins. At the end of each evening as she passes the tanks of those who call the aquarium home, she whispers good evening to the blue gills, crabs, and lastly, her favorite, the giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus. Tova and Marcellus form a bond because Marcellus comes from the sea, the great, beautiful, and terrible sea; the same one that Tova believes stole her only son, Eric, from her. If only she knew what happened to him? If only Marcellus could tell her what he knows. Or can he? Come and spend some time in this lovely, gentle, charming story.
Simone Larkspur, serious minded and career oriented, works at her dream job for The Discerning Chef, a cookbook publisher in New York City. All is well as Simone works hard to develop the perfect sourdough recipe and to achieve her goals. But when Ray, the new kitchen manager, is hired, tensions start to rise. Ray is cheerful and outgoing while Simone is quiet and focused. When it is made known that The Discerning Chef will soon shut down, Ray and Simone work together creating a series of home-brewing videos that go viral. Soon sparks begin to fly between Ray and Simone. When Ray comes out as nonbinary at work to mixed reactions, Simone must choose between her career and the person who just might steal her heart. This food-themed romance is heartwarming.
A high-strung pastry chef’s professional goals are interrupted by an unexpected career transition and the introduction of her wildly attractive nonbinary kitchen manager in this deliciously fresh and witty queer rom-com.
Simone Larkspur is a perfectionist pastry expert with a dream job at The Discerning Chef, a venerable cookbook publisher in New York City. All she wants to do is create the perfect loaf of sourdough and develop recipes, but when The Discerning Chef decides to bring their brand into the 21st century by pivoting to video, Simone is thrust into the spotlight and finds herself failing at something for the first time in her life.
To make matters worse, Simone has to deal with Ray Lyton, the new test kitchen manager, whose obnoxious cheer and outgoing personality are like oil to Simone’s water. When Ray accidentally becomes a viral YouTube sensation with a series of homebrewing videos, their eccentric editor in chief forces Simone to work alongside the chipper upstart or else risk her beloved job. But the more they work together, the more Simone realizes her heart may be softening like butter for Ray.
Things get even more complicated when Ray comes out at work as nonbinary to mixed reactions—and Simone must choose between the career she fought so hard for and the person who just might take the cake (and her heart).
Forty-three-year-old Lia, her husband, Harry, and daughter, Iris, are a perfect family of three. Their home is a quiet refuge full of tenderness and love. That refuge is torn apart when Lia is diagnosed with cancer. Told in beautiful prose, this story takes you through Lia’s life growing up in a vicarage with a deeply religious mother, her experience with first love, meeting her husband, and having her child. Memories live not only in Lia’s mind but in her body. This story is deep, covering all of Lia’s life, yet it is intimate, describing how the disease takes her on a journey piecing herself together and accepting the life she has lived. This heartbreaking novel will stay with you for a long time.
This lyrical debut novel is at once a passionate coming-of-age story, a meditation on illness and death, and a kaleidoscopic journey through one woman’s life—told in part by the malevolent voice of her disease.
Lia, her husband Harry, and their beloved daughter, Iris, are a precisely balanced family of three. With Iris struggling to navigate the social tightrope of early adolescence, their tender home is a much-needed refuge. But when a sudden diagnosis threatens to derail each of their lives, the secrets of Lia’s past come rushing into the present, and the world around them begins to transform.
Deftly guided through time, we discover the people who shaped Lia’s youth; from her deeply religious mother to her troubled first love. In turn, each will take their place in the shifting landscape of Lia’s body; at the center of which dances a gleeful narrator, learning her life from the inside, growing more emboldened by the day.
Pivoting between the domestic and the epic, the comic and the heart-breaking, this astonishing novel unearths the darkness and levity of one woman’s life to symphonic effect.
Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, a storm begins that will grow into a monsoon. In the midst of this storm in the middle of nowhere is a yacht, the Santa Maria, with two people, Virginie and Jake, hoping desperately to be rescued. As Jake lays injured, Virginie spends days sending out message after message of Mayday! Mayday! Just when they think all is lost, a naval vessel sees their distress flares and picks them up. The next day, when the storm has calmed, the captain of the naval vessel questions Virginie after finding suspicious items in a bag that was taken off the Santa Maria. As Virginie rocks back and forth nervously, she begins to tell the captain her story of an isolated island, Amarante, and a trip to paradise that went very, very wrong. This suspenseful novel will keep you turning the pages all the way to the end.
The dark side of paradise is exposed when a terrified couple reveals their daunting experience on a remote island to their rescuers—only to realize they’re still in the grips of the island’s secrets—in this intense and startling debut in the tradition of Into the Jungle and The Ruins.
When a Navy vessel comes across a yacht in distress in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean, Captain Danial Tengku orders his ship to rush to its aid. On board the yacht is a British couple: a horribly injured man, Jake, and his traumatized wife, Virginie, who breathlessly confesses, “It’s all my fault. I killed them.”
Trembling with fear, she reveals their shocking story to Danial. Months earlier, the couple had spent all their savings on a yacht, full of excitement for exploring the high seas and exotic lands together. They start at the busy harbors of Malaysia and, through word of mouth, Jake and Virginie learn about a tiny, isolated island full of unspoiled beaches. When they arrive, they discover they are not the only visitors and quickly become entangled with a motley crew of expat sailors. Soon, Jake and Virginie’s adventurous dream turns into a terrifying nightmare.
Now, it’s up to Danial to determine just how much truth there is in Virginie’s alarming tale. But when his crew make a shocking discovery, he realizes that if he doesn’t act soon, they could all fall under the dark spell of the island.
Georgina Wagman has everything she ever wanted—a great job at a prestigious law firm in New York City, Nathan, her perfect husband, and friends she can count on. Georgina is happy and fulfilled. That is until the day she walks into Nathan’s office and finds him cheating on her with Meredith, the first-year associate Georgina just happens to be mentoring. Knowing that divorce is not an option—it’s not in her five-year plan—Georgina has to find a way to save her marriage. While meeting a client for dinner, Georgina learns about swinging parties and how going to them saved her client’s marriage. That’s all Georgina needs to hear. She decides that she and Nathan will become swingers and her marriage will be saved. Simple. But when Georgina meets her college ex at one of the swinger parties, what seemed like a foolproof plan becomes more and more complicated, and Georgina begins to wonder if Nathan is so perfect for her after all. This was a charming story, a hilarious and fun read. Perfect for the beach!
Brian and Margot Dunne and their two daughters, Liz and Evy, have made a life for themselves living in Seaside, a beach town with a lively boardwalk. Brian and Margot run a real estate company renting houses to tourists. Liz and Evy both work summer jobs on the shore. They are young, busy, and happy. But their lives change forever when Brian is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now Margot, Liz, and Evy must navigate the unknowns of Brian’s condition, watching someone they love deeply become a stranger as the illness takes hold. This is a heartbreaking tender story of love, of learning to let go, but also learning how to become stronger together.
Set over the course of one summer, this perfect beach read follows a mother and her two daughters as they grapple with heartbreak, young love, and the weight of family secrets.
Brian and Margot Dunne live year-round in Seaside, just steps away from the bustling boardwalk, with their daughters Liz and Evy. The Dunnes run a real estate company, making their living by quickly turning over rental houses for tourists. But the family’s future becomes even more precarious when Brian develops a brain tumor, transforming into a bizarre, erratic version of himself. Amidst the chaos and new caretaking responsibilities, Liz still seeks out summer adventure and flirting with a guy she should know better than to pursue. Her younger sister Evy works in a candy shop, falls in love with her friend Olivia, and secretly adopts the persona of a middle-aged mom in an online support group, where she discovers her own mother’s most vulnerable confessions. Meanwhile, Margot faces an impossible choice driven by grief, impulse, and the ways that small-town life in Seaside has shaped her. Falling apart is not an option, but she can always pack up and leave the beach behind.
The Shore is a powerful, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting novel infused with humor about young women finding sisterhood, friendship, and love in a time of crisis. This big-hearted family saga examines the grit and hustle of running a small business in a tourist town, the ways we connect with strangers when our families can’t give us everything we need, and the comfort to be found in embracing the pleasures of youth while coping with unimaginable loss.
1886—The Brightwell family, ten-year-old Eliza, her brother, father, mother, aunt, and uncle make their way to Bannin Bay in western Australia from England. They have come to Australia to be part of the pearling industry. Like the tides that constantly come in and go out, so do the pearling boats, in a never-ending loop. For ten years, Eliza watches as her father and brother join this loop until one day, her father’s boat, the White Starling, returns without him. Eliza’s brother, Thomas, has no explanation how their father disappeared and gives up the fight to look for him. But Eliza won’t give up on her father and uses her strength, determination, and spirt to start out on a journey to find him.
For readers of The Light Between Oceans and The Island of Sea Women, a feminist adventure story set against the backdrop of the dangerous pearl diving industry in 19th-century Western Australia, about a young English woman who sets off to uncover the truth about the disappearance of her eccentric father.
Western Australia, 1886. After months at sea, a slow boat makes its passage from London to the shores of Bannin Bay. From the deck, young Eliza Brightwell and her family eye their strange, new home. Here is an unforgiving land where fortune sits patiently at the bottom of the ocean, waiting to be claimed by those brave enough to venture into its depths. An ocean where pearl shells bloom to the size of soup plates, where men are coaxed into unthinkable places and unspeakable acts by the promise of unimaginable riches.
Ten years later, the pearl-diving boat captained by Eliza’s eccentric father returns after months at sea—without Eliza’s father on it. Whispers from townsfolk point to mutiny or murder. Headstrong Eliza knows it’s up to her to discover who, or what, is really responsible.
As she searches for the truth, Eliza discovers that beneath the glamorous veneer of the pearling industry, lies a dark underbelly of sweltering, stinking decay. The sun-scorched streets of Bannin Bay, a place she once thought she knew so well, are teeming with corruption, prejudice, and blackmail. Just how far is Eliza willing to push herself in order to solve the mystery of her missing father? And what family secrets will come to haunt her along the way?
A transporting feminist adventure story based on Lizzie Pook’s deep research into the pearling industry and the era of British colonial rule in Australia, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter is ultimately about the lengths one woman will travel to save her family.
This is a powerful collection of short stories. The setting is Banneker Terrace, a low-income high rise building in Harlem. It has just been sold to new owners, and the thought of gentrification starts to become a reality. With each new story, we see into the lives of eight tenants of Banneker Terrace, their struggles, their dreams, their joys, their sadness. The stories are interconnected, and each story has a unique voice. Ms. Dallas is a paraprofessional working in a middle school. Mimi is a waitress, doing everything she can to provide for her child and for herself. Quanneisha, a former gymnast, is trying to make peace with her past. Don’t miss this wonderful debut collection.
Set in a Harlem high rise, a stunning debut about a tight-knit cast of characters grappling with their own personal challenges while the forces of gentrification threaten to upend life as they know it.
Like Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place and Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, Sidik Fofana’s electrifying collection of eight interconnected stories showcases the strengths, struggles, and hopes of one residential community in a powerful storytelling experience.
Each short story follows a tenant in the Banneker Homes, a low-income high rise in Harlem where gentrification weighs on everyone’s mind. There is Swan in apartment 6B, whose excitement about his friend’s release from prison jeopardizes the life he’s been trying to lead. Mimi, in apartment 14D, who hustles to raise the child she had with Swan, waitressing at Roscoe’s and doing hair on the side. And Quanneisha B. Miles, a former gymnast with a good education who wishes she could leave Banneker for good, but can’t seem to escape the building’s gravitational pull. We root for these characters and more as they weave in and out of each other’s lives, endeavoring to escape from their pasts and blaze new paths forward for themselves and the people they love.
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs brilliantly captures the joy and pain of the human experience and heralds the arrival of a uniquely talented writer.
As we read this story, we go on a journey with an unnamed narrator, a classics academic who is researching prophecy in the ancient world. Told in a journal-like style, we see into the narrator’s life just as Covid-19 descends on London. She is faced with lockdown, isolation, worry about her ten-year-old son who begins to withdraw more and more, and a marriage that is falling apart. Feeling out of control, our narrator immerses herself in her studies of ancient prophecies looking for a way to feel safe, a way to feel in control, and a way to feel connected to herself and her family again.
For readers of Jenny Offill, Deborah Levy, and Olivia Laing, an exquisite debut novel about a classics academic researching prophecy in the ancient world, just as the pandemic descends and all visions of her own family’s future begin to blur.
Covid-19 has arrived in London, and the entire world quickly succumbs to the surreal, chaotic mundanity of screens, isolation, and the disasters small and large that have plagued recent history. As our unnamed narrator—a classics academic immersed in her studies of ancient prophecies—navigates the tightening grip of lockdown, a marriage in crisis, and a ten-year-old son who seems increasingly unreachable, she becomes obsessed with predicting the future. Shifting her focus from chiromancy (prophecy by palm reading) to zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) to oenomancy (prophecy by wine), she fails to notice the future creeping into the heart of her very own home, and when she finally does, the threat has already breached the gates.
Brainy and ominous, funny and sharp, Delphi is a snapshot and a time capsule—it both demythologizes our current moment and places our reality in the context of myth. Clare Pollard has delivered one of our first great novels of this terrible moment, a mesmerizing story of our pasts, our presents, and our futures, and how we keep on living in a world that is ever-more uncertain and absurd.
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