Each month, Debutiful will recommend a handful of buzzworthy and under-the-radar debut books for you to read.
We all need an escape right now. Covid-19 has disrupted our normal daily lives and has given us a new normal. While Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ seem like the easiest options to take us away from our reality, books are needed now more than ever. Getting your books from indie bookstores, Indiebound, or Bookshop.org are equally important. We need to shop as local as we can when we can.
Many of the books picked for May were read before Covid started. They may emotionally wreck you and aren’t necessarily the best way to escape, but they are damn good writing. The books range from a modern gothic novel to a daughter dealing with her mother’s death. There are a few books here that aren’t technically first books, but are debuts in a way. For instance: one writer previously released a collection of poetry while another had a short story collection. They’re included because they are some of the best damn books I have read this year and, like I said, are technically debuts of sorts.
Vanishing Monuments by John Elizabeth Stintzi (Arsenal Pulp; 5/5)
Stinzi’s debut novel is about a non-binary photographer who must face their mother they haven’t seen in years as she is battling dementia. The tender story is about belonging and identity. It is one of the few books that has moved me to tears as they explore how the past haunts and shapes all of our lives. Especially those who don’t fit into the binary world created by those in power. Stinzi also just recently released a book of poetry titled Junebat.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas (Custom House; 5/12)
Something is askew in this debut from Elisabeth Thomas. Set in the titular Catherine House, a unique school filled with haunted memories and is both figuratively and literally falling apart. There are secrets down every hallway and hidden behind the countless doors. Thomas wanted to create a new type of gothic and she success in every single way.
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (Riverhead; 5/5)
In her memoir, Burns reveals the intimate details of her childhood in Western Pennsylvania. In her debut novel, she moves every so slightly to the south to West Virginia. At the center of this novel is young teen girl in a rural town stricken by poverty. There’s moonshine (like the title suggests) and a lot of growing up. Both of wish her father doesn’t want her to touch. Burns creates a warm blanket of setting, characters, and rich dialogue Shiner that makes for a memorable read.
Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson (Liveright; 5/19)
Hudson previously released Pretend We Live Here, a story collection that was a 2019 Lambda Literary Finalist. Fans of that collection will not be disappointed into their first foray into long form fiction. This novel is a queer Southern gothic coming of age story that instantly adds itself to whatever canon it wants to belong to. Southern canon? Yeah. Queer canon? You bet. Boys of Alabama feels familiar, but also equally unfamiliar. Hudson allows their characters a chance to make their own rules.
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad (Dutton; 5/26)
There’s a lot of soul searching in Masad’s debut novel. In the wake of her mother’s death, main character Maggie discovers letters her mother wrote but never sent to five mysterious men. Maggie sets out on the road to discover more about these men, her mother’s secrets, and herself. It’s an intriguing set up, but what makes Masad’s work memorable are the emotional passages that tackle love and grief. The language effortlessly flows with beauty and grace.
The Talking Drum by Lisa Braxton (Inanna; 5/30)
This small press book is filled with big ideas. Braxton tackles gentrification in her debut book set in 1970s Massachusetts. She spent time as a journalist where she was nominated for an Emmy Award, which help lends to the craft of the novel. It’s very matter of fact and provides a thorough insight into intra-racial relations of the time.