Summer is here and the books aren’t stopping. The first half of 2021 ends with a pile of debuts so delectable it was hard to narrow Debutiful’s recommendations down to just ten. The books featured below range from dark queer romances to somber reflections on race in America to books filled with off-the-wall humor.
Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 18)
Parks-Ramage’s riveting novel is about a queer romance that turns darkly tense over the course of the affair. When a young man gets entwined with an older, successful, and famous man, everything seems perfect. That is until the two go away for the summer and sinister secrets and abuse start to spill out. The novel grips you on page one and doesn’t let go until the very last page.
Bewilderness by Karen Tucker (Catapult; June 1)
An intimate friendship between two young women drives this riveting novel set in rural North Carolina. Tucker writes a poignant and heartbreaking novel about opioid addiction, friendship, and desire filled with memorable and beautifully written passages.
The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin (Little, Brown; June 1)
Lin reimagines the Western novel in his debut that follows a Chinese-American on a tour of vengeance to find his wife. The page-turner has copious amounts of action that leans heavily into raw violence that is perfect for readers who ask, “Is there anything like a Quentin Tarantino movie as a book?”
Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti (Graywolf Press; June 1)
In her debut story collection, Nkweti blends and bends genre from story to story. One story leans into a zombie outbreak in West Africa. Another is a murder mystery that borrows from tropes in graphic novels. Everything Nkweti does feels completely refreshing as she twists and turns the expectations of what a short story can be.
Future Feeling by Joss Lake (Soft Skull; June 1)
A book so wild, trying to explain why you should read it would do it injustice. But let’s try? There’s a dog walker obsessed with a minor celebrity who he tries to put a hex on, but the hex gets directed to another man. All three are trans and the dog walker and celebrity are forced to team up to save the third from the misplaced hex.
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (Atria; June 1)
This is the story of the only Black employee at a company who has learned to curb the micoaggressions her white coworkers throw at her. Life is as good as it cane be until another Black employee is hired. Then things start to get… weird. She gets threatening messages telling her to leave the company. The result is a sharp social commentary and tense thriller that everyone will be talking about all summer.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (Doubleday; June 8)
When a young man leaves his broken home to start a new life, he realizes it will be more difficult that he imagined. He turns to sex work to help make ends meet in Mendez’s novel about race, class, and sexuality. The character is unlike anything I have ever read. He’s black, queer, and grew up a Jehovah’s Witness. He’s rough, raw, and real. Just like the rest of the book.
Doubting Thomas by Matthew Clark Davison (Amble Press; June 8)
An accusation about an openly gay elementary school teacher kicks off this novel that questions how progressive we can be as a society while old stereotypes still boil to the surface as an easy way to scapegoat someone. The novel is haunting in ways that are unexpected. It will break your heart but also leave you filled with anger after seeing the injustice queer professionals have to go through.
Something Wild by Hannah Halperin (Viking; June 29)
Beginning with two adult sisters returning home to move their mother out of their family home, the story is seemingly about sisterhood and the ebbs and flows of the closeness and distance the two shared. That is, until a secret about their mother’s violent relationship comes to the forefront. Halperin allows her characters to be flawed as the story bounces across time to paint a portrait of a complicated family and offers no easy answers.
Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James (Santa Fe Writers’ Project; June 30)
Fans of Hilary Leichter’s Temporary will enjoy this new, thought-provoking novel about employment. Here, Mona is 23, unemployed, and lost. In a country propelled by “what do you do” and “how much do you make,” so many novels have turned to these themes of what if you don’t work and what if you don’t make. Elizabeth Gonzales James allows Mona to be lost and expertly crafts her story in thoughtful passages that will make the reader fill adrift at sea.