The 12 Best Debuts of 2020 (So Far)

This year hasn’t gone the way any of us thought it’d go. One thing that we can always count on is a crop of debut and emerging writers to produce delectable books. 

So many stellar books came out in the first half of 2020 that I had trouble narrowing it down. The books featured on this list are the ones that I have recommended or have thought about the most. Of course, there are so many delectable books that were left off this list. Like I always say: art is subjective.

Here are the dozen debuts that I feel everyone should pick up at one point this year.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

I’ll be honest, the moment I finished Real Life around last Thanksgiving I wrote a ‘best 2020’ on a sticky note and stuck it on the cover of the book. I felt it in my bones that this book would stay with me for a very long time. The world Brandon Taylor creates is so palpable that it’s so easy to feel like you’re hanging out with Wallace in the waning days of summer. The atmosphere is great, but the character study he offers up is delectable. Taylor takes us into the far reaches of Wallace’s loneliness and isolation. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with Brandon Taylor.

Godshot by Chelsea Bieker

Throughout 2019, I kept hearing the name of this book pop up when I asked author’s for upcoming recommendations. Those countless recommendations were completely on point. Through teenager Lacey May’s eyes, Chelsea Bieker navigates trauma and religion in a breathless manner. Lacey must deal with her alcoholic mother’s abandonment, a religious cult, and her world falling apart around her. Bieker’s novel is a slow burn that picks up pace until it crescendos into an unforgettable climax. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with Chelsea Bieker.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

I tend to not read book descriptions when a book lands on my doorstep. Based on the cover alone, I thought this would be one thing; however, it was something entirely different and even better than I assumed. This dark slacker comedy seems like it has been told by countless white guy films from the mid-2000s. But what Jean Kyoung Frazier offers is a pregnant 18-year old girl who doesn’t give a fuck. The irreverent comedy is striking and Frazier knows when to throw a punchline and when to make us question how unfair life can be all within a paragraph. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with Jean Kyoung Frazier.

Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

The stories in Ashleigh Bryant Phillips’s are mostly quiet and take place in tucked away corners of North Carolina. The voice she gives to these characters are on full blast in surround sound. There is no doubt Phillips has a strong point of view you’re going to hear more about in years to come. Click here to read Debutiful’s interview with Ashleigh Bryant Phillips.

The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg

This was my first official obsession of 2020. Part true crime (but only barely), part memoir, part anthropological study. Emma Copley Eisenberg’s book is about systematic violence, being a woman in modern America, and queerness. That is to say: it crosses genre and is extremely vital ever step of the way. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with Emma Copley Eisenberg.

You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South

The stories in Mary South’s collection are unforgettable. She reflects on how technology has changed us and has left us broken. Her scenes will haunt you – not because they are overtly horrific, but because they are so eerily familiar. Her observations on what makes us tick allows for a lot of reflection. By the end, South’s collection is a lot like a therapy session. You’ll cover a lot and be left with a necessity to self-reflect. Click here to read book recommendations Mary South gave to Debutiful.

Here For It by R. Eric Thomas

This book is funny. Full stop. R. Eric Thomas is one of the funniest culture writers in America and that translates perfectly into this memoir in essays. During a year when there doesn’t seem to be anything to laugh about, Thomas offers reprieve with laugh out loud (but equally heartwarming) stories about his life. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with R. Eric Thomas.

Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson

Genevieve Hudson’s debut novel (after 2018’s impeccable story collection Pretend We Live Here) has launched them into the queer canon. Exploring sensitive and peculiar teens who themselves are exploring their sexuality and, at times, witchcraft, the book offers a new perspective on coming-of-age in the rural south. Click here to read Debutiful’s interview with Genevieve Hudson.

Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang

Alexandra Chang’s novel deftly unravels what it means to be an Asian-American woman in the technology world. It follows a young woman on a quest to find herself while questioning why she wants to be apart of certain worlds. The novel is fragmented and pieced together in a mosaic to give the whole view of a very specific picture. Click here to listen to Debutiful’s podcast episode with Alexandra Chang.

I Know I You Know Who I Am by Peter Kispert

The characters in Peter Kispert’s short stories are mostly queer. They’re also as complicated as can be. He tackles momentous occasions as well as the minutia of every day life with equal passion and the same observant eye. Kispert shows how vital the in between moments are; the moments we often forget but can leave hidden scars on us forever. Click here to read Debutiful’s interview with Peter Kispert.

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

A generational family saga unlike any other. Maisy Card begins in Jamaica and ends up in New York. The family’s journey is distorted by lies and secrets. Maisy Card’s willingness to dive into the messiness of her characters with such beautiful details makes this a compelling and page-turning read.

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland

Jenn Shapland has created a book unlike any I have ever read. It all began when Shapland uncovered love letters from the late Carson McCullers. As she began to uncover the author’s hidden life, Shapland also begins to pull at the strings of her own in this unique memoir/biography. Click here to read book recommendations that Jenn Shapland gave to Debutiful.

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