27 Debuts to Look Forward To in the First Half of 2021
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Last year was a difficult one, but there were at least 40 up sides: debut authors, with fresh voices and viewpoints, whose work offered us perspective or escape. As the calendar turns over, the problems we faced last year still linger, but a new group of writers are set to introduce their work to readers across the globe.
Whether you’re seeking a revealing memoir about family secrets or a short story collection about women all named Sarah, the first half of 2021 offers something new for everyone.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
Robert Jones, Jr.’s debut novel is about a forbidden romantic relationship between two Black men enslaved on a Mississipi plantation during the Antebellum. Jones explores queerness through a new lens that has rarely been explored in literature. The Prophets is one of the most powerful Black queer historical novels ever written.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Torrey Peters’s first full-length novel is about searching for connection and family while navigating the challenges of gender. Ames thought detransitioning would give him a happy, unremarkable life, but it may have wrecked his relationship. His partner Reese wants a child, but doesn’t know how to have the family with Ames that she envisioned with Amy. The result is a domestic drama filled with tangled lives for modern times.
Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel
A decade after leaving Argentina, a man returns home under less-than-ideal circumstances: the first woman he loved is dying. His return isn’t a rosy homecoming, but one where he must confront the ghosts of his past while grappling with the man he has become in America.
The Divines by Ellie Eaton
Set in present-day Los Angeles and a 1990s British boarding school, Ellie Eaton’s book carefully examines the destructive relationships of teenage girls. At the center is Josephine, a freelance writer who was one of the private school’s biggest bullies. Revisiting the shuttered school in her 30s, she begins to dig into her own past and grapple with the decisions she made decades ago.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu
In her debut memoir, Nadia Owusu invites readers into her globe-spanning childhood and young adulthood. After her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Owusu’s father, a U.N. official, brought his children and his new wife from continent to continent, until his death when the author was 13. This memoir follows her to Rome, Dar-es-Salaam, London, Kampala, New York, and elsewhere as she comes to term with her family tragedies and her own identity.
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller
After her mother dies during alcohol treatment, Geller returns to the Florida Navajo reservation where she grew up and finds a suitcase packed with photos, diaries, letters, and personal ephemera. Using her experience as a librarian and archivist, Geller digs into her family history, mixingher own narrative with the story she derives from her mother’s documents.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Throughout these sublime stories, Dantiel W. Moniz explores love and loss with grace. The stories center on Floridian women and girls trying to find their place in the world—from a teenager resisting her restrictive church to two sisters transporting their father’s ashes.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
Just after the 2016 election, a woman’s relationship falls apart when she discovers her boyfriend is an anonymous online conspiracy theorist. Her own truths and beliefs begin to unravel after she flees to Berlin and catches herself becoming more secretive and manipulative with those around her.
Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
Te-Ping Chen’s story collection is an expansive look at modern China, as it struggles with the influence of the past and envisions a new future. Chen offers both realism and magical realism throughout the collection, which allows her to tackle her vision of Chinese culture with both clear-eyed practicality and dreamlike allegory—for instance, a strange new fruit that brings on troubling memories of the Cultural Revolution when eaten.
As You Were by David Tromblay
Novelist David Tromblay’s debut memoir investigates his relationship with his alcoholic father, and the long shadow cast on his family by the boarding schools in which Native American children like his grandmother were indoctrinated and abused. He explores his family legacy of anger and trauma to figure out how he survived to become the man he is.
Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih
Sebastian Mote is a 35-year-old gay high school teacher who just wants to settle down and have kids and maybe a white picket fence. Why is that so hard? At a wedding, he runs into his childhood friend Oscar Burnham, also a proud gay man, who dismisses Sebastian’s yearnings for a marriage and babies as heteronormative. Oscar is upset at the rise of bachelorette parties at gay bars and the mainstreaming of queer culture. Sebastian and Oscar are both attracted and repelled by each other’s life choices, both struggling to find their place and to envision a meaningful future for themselves. Set in the weeks after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Let’s Get Back to the Party is an insightful novel about what it means to be a gay man in a rapidly-changing America.
Abundance by Jakob Guanzon
Jakob Guanzon’s novel follows a down-in-their-luck father and son who are evicted from their trailer and living in a truck. Abundance takes a critical and unsentimental look at the harsh effects of poverty in a country that’s seemingly teeming with abundance.
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa
A brother and sister come together in their childhood home after their mother passes away to pack things up and move on with their lives. The brother is on a self-destructive path and the sister tries everything in her power to save him, including coming up with a bet that may save his life.
The Recent East by Thomas Grattan
The Recent East is a multigenerational story that starts with a family who escapes East Germany for upstate New York. After the Berlin Wall falls, their daughter Beate Haas is told that she can reclaim her parents’ abandoned house in their hometown of Kritzhagen.
Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? by Jesse McCarthy
In this essay collection, for readers of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jia Tolentino, Jesse McCarthy covers topics ranging from trap music to Kehinde Wiley’s paintings. Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? highlights his keen eye as he observes the intersection between art, race, literature, and politics.
Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman
“Beware their ambition, their ugliness, their insatiable hunger, their ferocious rage.” What does it mean to be a monstrous woman? To be a woman who is too ambitious, too hungry, too angry, too ugly to fit into the societal norms dictated by our patriarchal society? In her book, Electric Literature’s editor-in-chief Jess Zimmerman analyzes feminism through eleven female monsters from Greek legends to build a new mythology: one where the hero is a monstrous woman with power and agency.
Sarahland by Sam Cohen
Sarahland is a queer experimental reimagining of selfhood; nearly every story in this collection is about a woman named Sarah. Sam Cohen tackles so much in this wide ranging book of Sarah origin stories, as one Sarah plays dead for a wealthy necrophiliac while another uses her Buffy fan-fiction to process her emotions.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Set mainly in present-day Miami, Gabriela Garcia’s novel is about Carmen who harbors ghosts from her past and her daughter Jeanette who is struggling with addiction. The two make decisions—including taking in the daughter of a neighbor who was detained by ICE—that begin to tear their relationship apart. Their relationship implodes when Jeanette travels to Cuba and learns unforgivable truths about her mother from her grandmother who stayed behind.
Low Country by J. Nicole Jones
Pitched as The Glass Castle meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, this Southern memoir follows J. Nicole Jones as she grows up in a family that swings from extreme wealth to extreme poverty in South Carolina. On the outside, their family is perfect, but behind closed doors, violence and anger erupt.
What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins
The sudden death of two teenagers reverberates through a small town in Washington State. The mystery deepens with the arrival of a pregnant 16-year-old stranger who might be the key in solving what happened.
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti
A multigenerational novel that spans decades and continents, The Parted Earth looks at how the Partition of India and Pakistan left an indelible mark on three generations of women. Enjeti crafts a compelling story about the search to uncover ancestral secrets and the quest for belonging.
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy
In their satire about social media, Alex McElroy provides a darkly humorous dissection into public personas. The novel follows a failed social media influencer and a struggling actor who create The Atmosphere, a cult-like rehabilitation center for toxic white men hoping for absolution. However, like their careers, things don’t go as planned and take a turn for the worse almost immediately.
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger
We all have mythologies that we build around our parents. Lilly Dancyger (editor of the anthology Burn it Down: Women Writing About Anger) worshiped her father Joe, a brilliant East Village sculptor in the grip of a heroin addiction. After her father’s sudden death when she was a young girl, Lilly becomes self-destructive. Years later, she uses his artwork to reexamine the mythology she built about her father and to understand who exactly was Joe Schactman.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
Zakiya Dalila Harris tackles #PublishingSoWhite in her novel about two Black women working in book publishing. Editorial assistant Nella, the only Black employee at Wagner Books, is thrilled at the prospect of finally having a kinship with a fellow Black colleague when Hazel is hired and becomes her cubicle-mate. But not long after Hazel’s arrival, threatening notes start appearing on Nella’s desk.
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung
In this introspective Hong Kong-Canadian novel about grieving and difficult familial relationships, an unnamed narrator examines the ramifications of growing up in an “astronaut” family with a father who stayed in Hong Kong as a breadwinner while his wife and children moved permanently to Canada.
Bewilderness by Karen Tucker
Bewilderness follows Irene and Lucy, coworkers in a pool hall in rural North Carolina. The two young women, already magnetically attracted to each other, form a bond after an impulsive plot to exact revenge on a customer who was being a creep to them. Their codependent friendship intensifies over the highs of popping opioid pills and scamming drug dealers to fuel their growing addiction. But what happens when the person who has been enabling your addiction wants to get clean and leaves you behind?
Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage
Struggling playwright Jonah Keller is living in a shitty Bushwick apartment and barely getting by on his menial restaurant pay. But everything seems finally to be going his way after Jonah carefully crafts a “chance” meeting with a Pulitzer prize-winning writer so he can further his ambitions. As their torrid affair spills over into the summer in the Hamptons, Jonah begins to notice all might not be what it seems with his older lover. The predator quickly becomes the prey in this tense page-turner. A riveting queer novel, Yes, Daddy takes a critical look at the way power imbalances play out in relationships.