Let’s all just say it: good riddance to 2020! While the literature produced last year was unbelievably breathtaking and groundbreaking, the year itself was… a let down. As we enter 2021, let’s all remember to take care of one another and continue to discover debut authors together.
January’s debuts gives readers everything they could possibly want. There’s a trans-melodrama, gut-wrenching memoirs, a psychological thriller, and stories that take us across the globe.
The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr. (G.P. Putnam and Sons; Jan 5)
Jones uses the forbidden love of two Black men on a Mississippi plantation to orchestrate a symphony of lyrical prose that enlightens readers on everything from pain, love, joy, and power. The fluidity of his writing is a masterclass in what language can teach us about our past, present, and future.
The Push by Ashley Audrain (PCD, Jan 5)
Audrain’s page-turning debut uses newfound motherhood as the centerpiece of this psychological drama. The mother in question thought she would instantly love and nurture her daughter, but she starts to question whether or not something is off about her, she also begins to question her own sanity. The Push is unsettling in all the right ways.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour (HMH; Jan 5)
Askaripour hits all the right notes as a young man who is eager to prove himself is given a a job in a cult-like startup where he is the only Black salesman on the team. The result is a hilarious but also sobering satire of modern capitalism and the toll it takes on our minds, bodies, and souls.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (One World; Jan 12)
Peters set out to write a bourgeois, melodramatic, domestic drama about three people tangled up in love, sex, and family that happens to include both trans and cisgender characters. Her story is complex and messy, just like our lives our in 2021. She doesn’t shy away from that and she allows cis-readers to see trans characters for who they really are: whole people and not just caricatures.
Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel (Riverhead; Jan 12)
Loedel offers a complex kaleidoscope exploring grief, deception, and trauma as he follows a young man who left Argentina a decade prior return to the love of his life who is on her deathbed. The book is an interrogation of what we’ll do for ourselves but won’t do for others and the cost it has on our relationships. Loedel, like life itself, offers no easy answers.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu (Simon & Schuster; Jan 12)
Owusu’s memoir about her nomadic childhood takes readers across the globe as her father works for the United Nations. Her Armenian mother disappeared from her life early on and it was when her Ghanian father passed away that Owusu’s life took a turn when her stepmother revealed secrets she was not ready to hear. Aftershocks explores a life’s worth of story in one seismic and concise punch.
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller (One World; Jan 12)
Geller returns to the Navajo reservation to trace her recently deceased mother’s life to learn the truth about her family in her raw and intimate debut memoir. In Dog Flowers, she acts almost as an investigator trying to piece together a story she only has fragments of while also acting as a curator, preserving the stories and art of a family one piece at a time.
The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts (Catapult; Jan 12)
Watts expertly weaves two stories, told centuries apart, to reveal how our anxieties about our place in the world and the safety and future of the world have remained unchanged. In the present, a young woman begins to unravel after she takes a job as a 911 dispatch operator who hears crisis after crisis over the course of a shift. In the past, her distant relative searches Australia for the mythic inland sea, a resource that will change life on the continent as they knew it. Both lives cross similar thoughts and feelings about the world even though their lives could not be more different.
The Divines by Ellie Eaton (William Morrow; Jan 19)
Eaton investigates whether or not we every truly can escape our past selves as she moves between modern Los Angeles and a 1990s British boarding school. It all starts when a former mean girl visits her former school a rush of memories come flooding back and she realizes there are moments in life she never came to reckon with. The Divines is stunning, sharp, and scandalous. Eaton provides a fresh coming-of-age novel that both respects its predecessors and opens new doors for stories to come.
No Heaven for Good Boys by Keisha Bush (Random House; Jan 26)
Bush’s debut is devastating. The plot following two young Senegalese boys who were promised an education but end up beggars on the streets is heartbreaking. She’ll also devastate you by how powerful her language is. Bush allows the characters to be tough and resilient while her prose is delicate and concise. This is a story that’s not easy to digest but completely worth the effort.