10 debut books you should read this May

Can you believe it’s… checks notes… May. May 2021. Is it really?

As the year keeps on churning, so does the book world. Somehow, May has managed to put out a collection of debut books so delectable, it almost seems unfair to the other months. From indie memoirs to books about cults to short story collections that will knock you out. May did the damn thing.

Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger (Santa Fe Writer’s Project; May 1)

Dancyger, who previously edited the critically acclaimed essay collection Burn It Down, turned inward for her first full-length book. The memoir follows her happy childhood. Or, what she thought was a happy childhood. Now as an adult, she takes a new lens to her childhood and her parents’ lifestyles to give an unflinching memoir of the 1980s NYC art scene. It’s a searing portrait of grief and anger that you won’t be able to put down.

The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti (Hub City Press; May 4)

Enjeti’s debut novel follows the just recently released debut essay collection Southbound. Enjeti hit readers with a one-two punch. In her debut novel, she tells a decade-spanning story that starts with political unrest in New Dehli and ends up as an introspective novel in Atlanta. In between, the novels expertly explores many other locations and time in an expertly crafted epic about family and identity.

Leda and the Swan by Anna Caritj (Riverhead; May 4)

A thrilling mystery that is a twist on a classic story. Caritj provides readers with an enthralling and page-turning debut. At its core, Leda is a captivating and suspenseful mystery that blossoms into an insightful commentary on ambition and sex in contemporary society.

Pop Songs by Larissa Pham (Catapult; May 4)

Subtitled “Adventures in Art and Intimacy,” Pham’s memoir-in-essays captivates those small moments of falling in love. Falling in love with a person, a piece of art, or a song. It a pop culture book you could hang in the Louvre. The way she explores intimacy with objects and ideas but also with ourselves is beyond captivating. It’s the perfect meditation on what it means to be young in America right now.

What We Lost In the Water by Eric Nguyen (Knopf; May 4)

A family escapes war in Vietnam and settles in New Orleans in this family drama. The two young brothers grow in opposite directions as they learn what it means to survive in America. Nguyen expertly explores love, identity, immigration, and a full platter of themes with such precision. His prose is equally devastating and exciting.

The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado (Penguin; May 11)

This story collection moves in ways so many other collections wish they could. Peynado uses science fiction and fantasy, fabulism and magical realism to ask what it means to be an other and why society is constructed to keep people apart. She asks questions humans have been asking for centuries in new, refreshing ways. Every story is simply unforgettable.

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng (Simon & Schuster; May 11)

When Junie receives a letter from her parents who have left for America promising to move her from China in 1986, all her dreams seem to. be coming true. However, this novel reveals the pains and trauma of a fractured family. The novel moves back and forth from the 1960s to the 1980s to reveal how one moment in the past can fracture a family in the present. Feng provides a lyrical and haunting novel that will stick with readers for a long time after the final page is finished.

The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy (Atria; May 18)

Two friends decide to confront toxic masculinity by forming a cult for toxic men in McElroy’s darkly funny debut novel. It’s meant to be a way for these men to heal, but as it turns out bad men are bad men for a reason. The book is a reflection of today’s current society and gives us an insight to what could be. McElroy is wickedly funny on every page.

Revival Season by Monica West (Simon & Schuster; May 25)

Set during a summer when a young teen’s father goes on a tour preaching and forgiving sins of rural townsfolk, this coming-of-age story takes a turn when the girl discovers a shocking secret about her famous preacher father’s past. Revival Season is the perfect portrait of what it is like to be a young women in a Southern Baptist community.

Cheat Day by Liv Stratman (Scribner; May 25)

In Stratman’s comic and cozy debut, readers find a coupled over a decade into their marriage where he has a career and seemingly everything and she is stuck. Then comes in a flirtatious friendship and everything changes. Stratman’s book is perfect for a hot summer day when all you want is a mimosa and maybe an entire cheesecake.

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