Discover a new author to follow with these 15 fabulous debut novels

Discover a new author to follow with these 15 fabulous debut novels

Some of my favorite books are debut novels—that is, the first novel published by a novelist. Discovery is such a fun part of the reading life, and with a debut there is so much to discover!

That’s why we included “read a debut novel” in our 2020 Reading Challenge. When you read a debut, you have to try something you haven’t tried before. There’s a chance of meeting a new favorite author, getting to know their voice and hoping for many more books to come.

Of course, if now doesn’t feel like the right time you branch out, you can always go back and read the debut of one of your favorite and familiar authors to see how their work has evolved. There’s no “right way” to go about this reading challenge because it’s designed to help you get more out of your reading life, whatever that looks like for you.

There’s always a little risk involved in reading a debut from an author you’ve never read before. That’s why we’ve put together a list of fabulous debuts from the last few years to help you decide which books may be right for you right now.

I hope you find an absorbing read in this list, and perhaps even a new favorite author to follow.

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache Mysteries, No. 1)

Author:

In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.

More info →
Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants

I never, and I mean never, would have picked this up on my own, and was surprised to love it. It’s a sci fi novel whose premise is pretty out there: it begins with a little girl falling through the earth and landing in the palm of a gigantic metal hand. Flash forward a few decades, and scientists begin to discover more body parts all over the globe. That's wild, right? But with its interesting structure and strong narrative drive, it works. I hear the full cast audio recording is terrific. More info →
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Homegoing

Homegoing

Author:
By exploring the stories of two sisters, who met different fates in Ghana more than 200 years ago, Gyasi traces subtle lines of cause and effect through the centuries, illuminating how the deeds of ages past still haunt all of us today. Her debut follows the generations of one family over a period of 250 years, showing the devastating effects of racism from multiple perspectives, in multiple settings. For the first hundred pages I didn't quite grasp what the author was up to, but when it hit me it was powerful. A brilliant concept, beautifully executed, and I CAN’T WAIT for her new novel set for a 2020 release. More info →
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The Mothers

The Mothers

Author:
Bennet's debut coming-of-age story shows us how grief predictably consumes a 17-year old girl growing up in a tight-knit African-American community in Southern California, and how two friends get pulled into the tangled aftermath. Bennett tells the story through the eyes of the community's mothers—the community pillars who show up with casseroles when somebody's sick—but in this story, the mothers' vicious gossip causes nothing but trouble. More info →
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The Dry

The Dry

Author:
"You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. I've recommended this Summer Reading Guide greatest hit to pieces since it appeared in the 2017 guide. Of all Jane Harper's books, this debut continues to be my favorite. More info →
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The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give

Author:
This YA novel has topped the charts since its debut. At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. More info →
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Stay with Me

Stay with Me

Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. More info →
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There There: A Novel

There There: A Novel

Author:
Orange's multigenerational, multi-voiced novel offers a nuanced glimpse into contemporary Native American life in Oakland, California through the experiences and perspectives of twelve wide-ranging characters. As they prepare for the city's first Big Oakland Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum, the lives of Orange's diverse characters become intertwined: an aspiring filmmaker, a man who's taught himself traditional Native dance with YouTube videos, a woman traveling to meet her grandchildren for the first time—on the condition that she remains sober. I'm amazed at how each distinct voice rings true, and how he weaves the disparate storylines together. It was also a TOUGH read for me, with triggers galore, so sensitive readers be aware. More info →
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A Place for Us

A Place for Us

I adored Mirza’s slow-burning debut about an Indian-American Muslim family, which skillfully probes themes of identity, culture, family, and generational change. The story opens with the oldest daughter’s wedding: the bride scans the crowd for her beloved yet rebellious brother, hoping he'll appear despite being estranged from the family for years. Through a series of flashbacks, and in rotating points of view, Mirza examines the series of small betrayals that splintered the family, skillfully imbuing quotidian events—a chance meeting at a party, a dinner conversation about a spelling test—with deep significance, showing how despite their smallness, they irrevocably alter the course of the family’s life. The last section is a stunner, but grab the tissues first. More info →
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The Flatshare: A Novel

The Flatshare: A Novel

Author:
I read this entire debut novel in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon; it's a romantic comedy that manages to tackle serious issues while maintaining a light and breezy feel. Don't miss the backstory on how the author's personal life inspired the premise, and how she managed to write nearly every word of the 320-page novel on her own commute in and out of London. There are a few spicy scenes but this romance is mostly closed-door. More info →
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The Ensemble: A Novel

The Ensemble: A Novel

Author:
A much-anticipated debut from former cellist Gabel. It's the 1990s, and four promising musicians decide to forego the usual soloist path and bind their professional (and personal) lives to form a string quartet. Jana is driven, Henry a prodigy, Daniel a success through dogged determination, and Brit a bit of a wild card. With the feel of a dysfunctional family novel, the characters aren't always likable but always ring true, and Gabel nails a wide range of human emotions—joy and pain, envy and fear, frustration and near-despair—as she portrays the group's turbulent eighteen years together. An utterly believable and emotionally compelling submersion into the competitive world of classical music. More info →
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The Secrets We Kept: A Novel

The Secrets We Kept: A Novel

Author:
The story behind this historical thriller could launch its own novel, which is just one reason this book earned a dedicated bonus episode of One Great Book. Lara Prescott has always loved the book Dr Zhivago, and was stunned—along with the rest of the world—when the CIA declassified documents revealing that it had played a role in the book's covert publication and distribution in Russia during the Cold War. This is Prescott's imagining of what that might have looked like. The story moves between East, where the focus is on Pasternak and his muse/mistress, and West, where readers get to know the female spies of the OSS. More info →
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The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

This novel combines so many elements I love: it's a literary mystery, a book about books, a coming-of-age story, a tale of adventure and suspense and revenge. I recommended this on an episode of WSIRN: episode 196 with Anudeep Reddy as a gateway fantasy, a fantasy novel for people who don't like fantasy. Creative and inventive and lots of fun. This was also our February 2020 pick for Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. The narration by January LaVoy (yes, you read that right!) is mesmerizing. More info →
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Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age

Author:
This debut is a coming-of-age story for right now, and addresses hard and heavy topics and yet remains a DELIGHT thanks to Reid's sparkling voice. On page one, we meet Emira, a twenty-five year old black babysitter to a white Philadelphia family. Before the night is over, Emira's been racially profiled for a crime she didn't commit, in the grocery store late at night, with her young charge in tow. This is the first domino in a chain of events that changes the lives of everyone involved forever. Confident and complex and a total page-turner. More info →
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Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute

Author:
A delightful read-in-a-day debut that reminds me of Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox. In this modern YA rom-com, Pepper is a perfectionist who runs the Twitter account for her family's business, Big League Burger, in between swim team and homework. Jack is a class clown and works at his family's deli, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma's grilled cheese recipe, he's serious about getting revenge—from behind the keyboard. While the Twitter-war rages, Jack and Pepper unexpectedly start to fall for each other, and hilarity ensues. Pick this one up when you need a fun, sweet read. More info →
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Is there a debut novel you’re looking forward to in 2020? Or a debut novel you recommend to all your friends? Please drop the titles in the comments below and add to our TBR lists.

PS: Check out what I’m probably reading for the 2020 Reading Challenge, and a list of recommendations for the first challenge prompt: a book published the decade you were born.

Discover a new author to follow with these 15 fabulous debut novels

64 comments | Comment

64 comments

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  1. Taylor says:

    I listened to the audiobook for Sleeping Giants and I LOVED it.I never thought that I would like this sci-fi book but I couldn’t stop listening. The full cast does not hold back and you feel like you’re there. I ended up listening to the other two in the series and the second one was just as good but the third wasn’t all that great, but I needed to know how it ended.

  2. Nicole says:

    I have five of the Louise Penny books on my shelf. I found them at a used book sale for .25¢ apiece! I have not started them yet because I need to get the rest from the library once the library reopens! I look forward to reading them.😁

    • Alicia says:

      Also check if your library uses Libby or Overdrive. You can check out the books on Kindle. Or I just read through the Libby app because it will sync between my phone and iPad.

  3. kristy says:

    The Dearly Beloved is Cara Wall’s debut work- I’ve read it twice since it came out last year, and will certainly read it again. It is the book that I have most often recommended to my friends in the last 9 months.

  4. Ruth says:

    The Flatshare was one of my favourite reads last year (I’m in the UK) and I’ve just finished her second book – The Switch – I enjoyed it but not as much as Tiffy and Leon’s story.

  5. Rachel Kalison Stafeil says:

    I’ve read six of the books you listed above and loved all but one of them.

    I recently read another debut novel and it was amazing! I highly recommend The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Dare. It is a wonderful story and you will find yourself cheering for the main character.

  6. Ioana says:

    For this category I read The Snow Child by Eowyin Ivey and I absolutely loved it. I read it in January (because I don’t read the categories in order, it’s too boring) and it came at just the right time. My best friend also read it and she enjoyed it a lot, despite not being a huge fiction reader.

  7. Mari says:

    So I don’t recommend Such a Fun Age as it contains a number of crude stereotypes. But A Place For Us, The Dry, Still Life, The Ensemble (good book, but the ending isn’t great) are all excellent choices. There is another book with the title “Stay With Me” by a different author (also debut) Catherine Astfalk which won an award in Catholic fiction last year. It’s a combination of serious theology and hot, sweet romance. I have never read anything like it before and I highly recommend it.

  8. Mari says:

    I also liked The Sleeping Giant, felt The Hate You Give was cliched, was meh about Ten Thousand Doors and will have to add The Flatshare to the pile! Maybe Tweet Cute too! Starting to have second thoughts about romance but am not sure I want spicy scenes. Thanks for the heads up!

  9. Donna Frame says:

    Still Life by Louise Penny was my pick for this category and I absolutely loved it. It’s always a joy to find a new mystery writer, especially one with a large backlist. I’m enjoying the third Gamache novel right now.

  10. Adrienne says:

    I loved Ten Thousand Doors of January, which was my book for this category. Also loved The Dry, and all of the Louis Penny series. I enjoyed The Secrets We Kept but it was not a top favorite for me. A Place for Us looks really interesting as does There, There. The worst thing about debut novels is that if you love the books, there may not be any additional books by that author to read next. Sigh…

  11. Sue says:

    The Dry was great, however I actually returned “There There” because I thought the writing was so bad. Likewise disappointed with “Such a Fun Age”. I thought there was no real plot and I didn’t like any of the characters except for the three year old. Writing was poor as well.

    • Tessa says:

      Me too and I loved it! Evvie Drake Starts Over was a really good read and definitely one of my favourite debut novels in the last few years.

    • Ashley F says:

      Loved Evvie and her story! I’ve been trying to find similar books ever since. Enjoyed how the author incorporated a strong friendship before romance.

  12. Gwen says:

    Thanks for the help with the category! Please send future help for the category “A Book Nominated for an Award in 2020”. Haven’t found anything for that yet. I’ve read several that were nominated for awards in previous years, but nothing yet for 2020. Help!

  13. Susan V says:

    I loved Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera. I thought it was a debut, but Goodreads lists two other books, but neither one is in English? Anyway, this one is very atmospheric – where the place is almost a character. It takes place in rural South Carolina in the 1924.

  14. Susie says:

    I had read and LOVED “Little Fires Everywhere”, so for my debut novel, I went back and read “Everything I Never Told You” by the same author. But your blog today says that this category will introduce us to a NEW author…..so that didn’t work! The challenge should say “A debut novel from an author new to you”. I also read The Silent Patient and The Red Address Book for debuts, and those WERE new authors. Patient was good, the Red Address Book was a disappointment. I had read “A Place for Us” last year and it was very long and tedious. Still Life was good, but not enough to make me want to keep reading the series….

    • Debi Morton says:

      Susie, I’d encourage you to keep going with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series. While she had me at Still Life, many if not most people will say that it isn’t until about Book 4 that they become riveting. By then you are wrapped up in the lives of the people of Three Pines, and the mysteries themselves become much more compelling and better written.
      I also agree with The Dearly Beloved as a perfect read in this category. It was my favorite book for last year.

  15. Amy says:

    My recent favorite debut is The Most Fun We Ever Had. So good and lovely and engrossing. Big family drama and secrets in the best way.
    I really enjoyed Such A Fun Age, though I was a bit disappointed by the ending. I liked how it made me think about my experience in life, and how different/hard it is for others to just move throughout the world. Sad to hear it didn’t work for some other commenters!

    • Betsy says:

      Love this book! I grew up with 4 sisters and know about the drama that this book describes. It is a long read, but it’s needed to really flesh out all the sister’s backstories.

    • Lauren says:

      That’s so good to know! I’ve been really wanting to give this a try but it’s outside of my usual genre and wasn’t sure if this was the best time to dive in. Thanks for the nudge!

  16. Rose Thomas says:

    My daughter introduced me to not only Louise Penny but also your blog! I am anxiously awaiting #12 in the Gamache series on audio! The reader does an amazing job brining Gamache to life!
    Enjoy our blog,
    Rose Thomas

  17. Laura Colon says:

    Did not enjoy There, There or The Ten Thousand Doors of January. May I will have to re-listen to see if I missed something.

  18. Heather says:

    I read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh for this category. A gorgeous story. And she has a new book coming out soon!!

    • Ashley F says:

      I loved The Language of Flowers. If anyone is looking for a good debut thriller. Mary Kubica’s first book The Good Girl was by far my favorite of hers and I have read all of them. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware was her debut and it was good too.

  19. Jo Yates says:

    I’m currently reading The Mothers. The first part was a little shocking but I’m curious where it is going! I have read all the Inspector Gamache and loved them!

  20. Wendy Barker says:

    I recommend Aria by Nazanine Hozar who is an Iranian-Canadian. It therefore should come as no surprise that Aria is set in Iran. Hozar tells the story of an infant girl abandoned by her mother in the streets of Tehran and found by an army truck driver on his way home late one night. He takes the child home to his wife and calls her Aria. This occurs during the time when the Shah was in power and Iran was a religiously tolerant and liberal country. As Aria grows up tensions grow and, as we all know, the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power bringing into being religious intolerance. If anyone has read The Stationary Shop this book is set in a similar time frame but deals with people who are quite a bit poorer than the people in The Stationary Shop.

  21. Maria Ontiveros says:

    I read The Cactus League for this and really liked it. I’ve heard great things about Flat Share. I really disliked Such a Fun Age. I found it too frothy and coincidental for my tastes

  22. Jackie Davis says:

    I loved The Dry. I’ve gone on to read Harper’s other two books. I have A Place for Us on my library stack so I’m hoping to get to it this month.

  23. Booked In Blue says:

    MIGRATIONS by Charlotte McConaghy is her first debut into adult fiction in the US. I thoroughly enjoyed her atmospheric writing. Add it to your TBR for August 2020.

  24. Tracie R says:

    I just finished The Flatshare on audio and really enjoyed it! My favorite debut novels of the year so far have been Still Life, Red White and Royal Blue, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, and Ten Thousand Doors of January. I am looking forward to A Woman is No Man, American Spy, and Miracle Creek. I’ve heard good things about The Secrets We Kept on audio, so I’ll add that to my TBR!
    I didn’t love The Dry. I listened to it on audio. It was okay but actually prompted me to not bother to read any more of her books. I love that people have different opinions!

  25. Erin Dominy says:

    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was my choice for this prompt, and I loved it dearly! Other stand-outs for me on this list are The Dry and There There.

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