Get Ready for the 20 Most Anticipated Debuts of Early 2020
Clear your schedule from January through June for these books by first-time authors
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
For most of the world, a debut novel, memoir, or short story collection is an introduction to a writer. However, if you pay close enough attention to literary magazines, social media, or attend author events, you’ll begin to hear conversation about these debuts months or even years in advance.
These authors have remained relatively anonymous, but as 2019 ends and the new year begins, the buzz around their work begins to grow tenfold.
Here are 20 enticing debuts being released in the first half of 2020 that range from a genre-breaking true crime to timely essay collections and memoirs to heartbreaking fiction. These books are by writers whose names we suspect you’ll be reading for years.
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
In the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Eisenberg investigates a double homicide in rural Appalachia while also meditating on how acts of violence can affect a community for decades. The murders went unsolved for thirteen years until someone was convicted. However, the conviction was overturned when a serial killer confessed to the 1980 murders.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Wiener spent much of her 20s living and working in Silicon Valley where she immersed herself in the explosive male-dominated world of tech and start-ups that seemed too absurd to be true. All of the stories of the tech industry you heard but couldn’t believe happened? Well, they may have been worse than you ever imagined. Uncanny Valley is the perfect dirt-dishing memoir for anyone gleefully following the implosion of WeWork.
Little Gods by Meng Jin
American-raised Liya returns to her birth country to scatter her mother’s ashes and to search for the father she has never known. Weaving the past and present, Little Gods is a haunting tale of love, ambition, and family.
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
A great science-fiction novel pushes readers to question their reality and Jimenez does that through space and time in this fast-paced time-traveling debut. He leans into tropes and turns them on their head to create a thrilling story about an outsider whose life is changed when a child falls from the sky and into her care.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Vanessa is forced to reevaluate her relationship with her English professor 17 years earlier. When a different girl accuses the same teacher of sexual harassment, Vanessa wonders whether she was a willing partner or a victim.
Editor’s note: We temporarily removed this book due to claims that it was suspiciously similar to another author’s work. It appears that decision was hasty. As more information comes out, we’ve decided that it’s best to keep the book on the list.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
A story of sexuality and desire told through the experiences of an introverted grad student over the course of a single summer weekend. Recommended Reading senior editor Brandon Taylor’s previously published short stories have already proven he can write beautifully about the small moments in life, and this novel might prove he is a master. If you follow him on social media, you know he is an astute observer of everyday choices and actions.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara
Three shanty-town dwelling children scour the vast and chaotic city of New Delhi to find their missing friend. The novel draws on real events of teenagers going missing in the cities of India.
The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Daré’s debut is about Adunni, a teenage girl in Nigeria who is sold by her father to become the third wife to a local man. She flees to the city, striving for something more than a life of servitude. The Girl With the Louding Voice has already won the Bath Novel Award, awarded to an unpublished novel from an emerging author.
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland
Decades after Carson McCullers’s death in 1967, Jenn Shapland discovered love letters that the author wrote to a woman named Annemarie, and decided that McCullers’s hidden life story needed to be told. This genre-defying book is an attempt to give a fuller picture of the writer, but also an account of Shepland’s own journey toward discovering herself.
You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South
The stories in Mary South’s collection range from uplifting to morbid, but all contain a sharp sense of humor and provide readers with an off-kilter lens to view the world through. From a camp for internet trolls to a women who moves from online stalking to the real thing, South shows the sometimes dark absurdity that technology brings to our lives.
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card
A dying man has kept a secret for three decades that will change the course of his family’s life and alter everything they thought they knew. The story sweeps across time and location, from Jamaica to Harlem, to reveal the background of his choice and the effects it has had on everyone he’s encountered.
This Town Sleeps by Dennis E. Staples
Two men, one Native American and one white, start a relationship in a small town in northern Minnesota where they must keep their love a secret. Their clandestine romance is made even more complicated when they encounter the spirit of a dog who leads them to investigate the death of a beloved teenager.
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
Chang’s short stories have appeared in various outlets including Zoetrope: All-Story and Catapult. In Days of Distraction, she writes about a young woman coming into her own as she juggles an interracial relationship, sexist microaggressions, twentysomething rootlessness, and the intricacies of being Asian American in a racist society.
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker
A struggling town turns to a pastor cult leader for a sense of community. Fourteen-year-old Lacey begins questioning everything when her mother is exiled from the community and the pastor begins to push his views and goals in an even more extreme manner. Bieker’s novel is an explosive telling of girlhood, family bonds, and finding your place in the world.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
Zhang’s novel is an intimate family story set against an epic backdrop. Set during the California Gold Rush, it follows newly orphaned siblings after their father dies in the middle of the night. They set out to bury him and bury their past to begin afresh live in the American West.
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Thammavongsa is an award-winning poet and short story writer from Canada. Her work has been heralded for its surreal portraits of tenderness and brutality. This collection features that same sentimentality as it focuses on characters outside of their comfort zone and navigating unfamiliar territory.
Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
Sara Sligar’s dark novel situates readers in an idyllic community where former journalist Kate is archiving the life of a controversial artist. She falls for the painter’s son and slowly discovers secrets that were never meant to be uncovered. The plot is built to be explosive and it delivers on all fronts. Each page shows us how obsession can pull us apart from the seams.
F*ckface by Leah Hampton
These twelve stories—including “Meat,” previously published in Recommended Reading—offer a tender, realistic portrait of life in modern rural Appalachia.
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
Masad is the host of The Other Stories, a podcast about and for emerging writers. In her debut, Maggie’s mom dies suddenly, leaving five sealed letters addressed to unknown men. As Maggie traverses the country delivering the letters, she learns more about herself and the mother who never fully accepted her.
The Lightness by Emily Temple
As a senior editor of Literary Hub, Temple has written numerous essays and criticism of the literary landscape. She now directs her skills to her own novel to be released this summer. The Lightness is about a teen finding a group of close friends to help her navigate adolescence—and learn to levitate.
Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Described as a wryly funny novel in the same vein as The Idiot, this novel follows a pregnant 18-year-old pizza delivery girl who becomes obsessed with a customer. Frazier’s novel already has a lot of fans, including National Book Award finalist Julia Phillips, who said Frazier “will make you laugh with one sentence and break your heart with the next.”