It’s hard to believe it’s March again. The past year has been difficult for us all, but hopefully debut books helped get you through 2020. Let’s kick off the “new year” with another 10 debuts that will make you laugh, cry, and question everything you thought you knew.
These debuts are about families coming to terms with their grief, mothers moving on from dark times in their life, women named Sarah, and money.
Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa (Catapult; Mar 2)
This debut has been pitched as a cross between Jesymn Ward and Tommy Orange. While some comparisons are a stretch, this book is actually a perfect blend of those two authors. In style and content, Figueroa manages to capture what makes those authors shine. She invites readers into a family where a sister is doing everything in her power to keep her brother from destructing. Figueroa’s prose is soft yet completely powerful. As the family course corrects spinning out of control after the mother dies, readers will feel their pain on every page.
The Scapegoat by Sara Davis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Mar 2)
A quintessential postmodern novel. This book follows N, well-known and well-respected employee at a prestigious California university. His life is upended when he starts hallucinating and the lines between reality and fantasy start to blur until he can’t tell them apart anymore. Readers are in for a surreal rollercoaster with this debut.
The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood (Hogarth; Mar 2)
Smallwood’s book is an eye-opening and introspective story about a woman who feels lost. She is at a job with no future. She had a miscarriage that is straining everything from her personal life to work life to love life. She has two therapists that don’t seem to help. Finding peace and one’s self is at the center of this novel. While all that sounds heavy, Smallwood is able to bring wit and humor into it, reminding us that there is hope… if even for a moment.
Abundance by Jakob Guanzon (Graywolf; Mar 2)
Guanzon’s book is both a money about a father and son as well as a money novel. The father is down to his last dollars, something we are reminded of at the beginning of every chapter. He needs to fend for himself and his son but it’s not always easy. He’s up against a system stacked against him. Guanzon’s writing is urgent. Set over the course of a night, we don’t get time to rest. We’re in the father’s shoes every step of the way in a way not often felt in literature. By the end of the novel, I felt I had less than $100 to survive.
The Recent East by Thomas Grattan (MCD; Mar 9)
When a woman discovers her family estate, that was abandoned years ago when the family fled East Germany, is up for grabs, she is determined to leave her life in New York behind to start anew. She takes her two teens with her and the move begins to tear the family apart. The once close siblings drift apart to different lifestyles and the mother hasn’t quiet found what she’s looking for. Grattan carefully crafts this story with exquisite empathy. As the family fractures, the narrative tightens to a pitch perfect multigenerational drama.
Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan (Little Brown; Mar 9)
Nolan’s debut is a blistering and provocative romance about a woman who becomes desperately obsessed with a writer. Romance maybe isn;’t the right world. A lustful affair is more appropriate. What starts off steamy turns into a fiery critique on relationships, especially ones with imbalanced power.
Sarahland by Sam Cohen (Grand Central; Mar 9)
A story collection that can simply be pitched as a story collection about Sarahs. But that would do it injustice. Each Sarah is a revitalization of how stories are told and how our stories as humans shape us. Cohen showcases how unbelievably unique and talented she is. Her mind offers stories we seem to be familiar with but allows them to stretch to unexpected places.
Silence Is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar (Algonquin; Mar 16)
A Syrian refugee moves to an unnamed city where she loses her sense of voice. Both figuratively and literally. She has lost her sense of community but she observes her new one with precision. So much so that she writes an anonymous column in her new local paper. Eventually though, she must decide to remain voiceless or speak out against what she has witnessed. AlAmmar allows readers into a very specific world that speaks globally. It’s a poignant commentary on the war torn world we live in now.
Of Woman and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (Flatiron; Mar 30)
Set mostly in modern Miami, a daughter fights her own demons while discovering the demons of her mother’s journey from Cuba to America. Garcia’s book intertwines history into the present day story to explore familial bonds, mistakes, and and perseverance. Garcia beautiful investigates personal and global legacies.
Who Will Pay Reparations on My Soul? by Jesse McCarthy (Liveright; Mar 30)
This essay collection is the perfect collection for someone wanting to learn why essays are beautiful. McCarthy has style but he also has substance. He provides and education on race, art, identity, and culture. He touches on everything from French rap to what makes a poet to historical musics. McCarthy takes a little bit of everything to show us it’s all connected.