By Adam Vitcavage
Debut authors have always been a highly sought-after commodity. Everyone is quick to jump on a book and call it the best debut of the year. My site Debutiful recommends six debuts per month, but are they all really standout books.
But which ones are the cream of the crop? Which debuts have stuck with me the longest since I read them? The ones that have truly stood out were ones that pushed me and made me question something about myself. Beautiful writing, unique structure, and a gripping plot are always key to my literary heart, but the following (in no particular order) are the ones that I think about randomly when I am brushing my teeth or walking my dog.
The debut for genre lovers tired of genre tropes
Wilkinson’s spy novel is both a thriller and a mediation on race and gender. It follows a female intelligence officer in the 1980s. It’s a Cold War novel set in Africa and not Europe. It also flashes forward to what happens when a spy stops being a spy and becomes a parent.
The debut for grappling with your adolescence
Madden’s memoir explores everything from her difficult relationships with her parents to her queerness and everything in between. It is an honest portrayal of ’90s youth and early 2000s teeny bopping. It’s funny even when it’s sad and thoughtful even when it’s goofy.
The debut for finding hope in the bleakest of times
Lin’s family drama set in Alaska is dark. It’s about a young child’s death and the family trying to gain its footing after the tragic event. While the story is heartbreaking, the prose is breathtaking. It’s comparable to poet Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous in the sense that each sentence feels necessary and beautifully so.
The debut for discovering the importance of your place in the world
The (mostly interconnected) stories in Washington’s collection all take place within Houston. They’re about being black. They’re about being queer. They’re about family bonds. Friendship. Love. Lust. Food. Location. It is so elevated yet so simple and raw. By the end of reading these stories, it really does feel that he’s your friend. Someone you can kick it with because you know him so well.
The debut for getting educated about a different culture that is kept in the shadows
The two timelines in Rum’s novel deal with similar themes. It’s about Arab-American women coming from silence to tell their stories. To reveal who they are and step away from men who have controlled them. It’s a culture often misrepresented in media.
The debut with the year’s most unforgettable main character
Winslow’s story is about secrets in a small town. At the center of it is Azalea “Knot” Centre. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s messy, but her flaws make her as realistic as a character on page can be. Her mistakes, which happen often, are relatable. She is one of the best characters I have read in recent literature.