The Best Debut Books of 2022 (So Far)

Below are the fifteen best debut books that Debutiful’s founder Adam Vitcavage has read and covered so far in 2022. The titles include not-quite-dystopian criticisms of our current society, coming-of-age tales that bend the genre’s tropes, family dramas built on memorable characters, and some of the most uniquely crafted short story collections you’ll ever read.

You can purchase all of the books listed below via Debutiful’s Bookshop.org page.

The School For Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

The publisher’s pitch: In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

An author’s blurb: “A terrifying novel about mass surveillance, loneliness, and the impossible measurements of motherhood—The School for Good Mothers is a timely and remarkable debut.” —Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House

Debutiful’s thoughts: A damn good “dystopian” novel that hits close to our current reality. Chan’s novel has launched itself into the pantheon of contemporary literature.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin

The publisher’s pitch: A fearless collection of stories that celebrate the humor, darkness, and depth of emotion of the queer and trans experience that’s not typically represented: liminal or uncertain identities, queer conception, and queer joy.

An author’s blurb: “Lydia Conklin writes with humor and tenderness about the way we love now. Rainbow Rainbow is an impressive and beautiful collection.” —Lorrie Moore, author of Bark

Debutiful’s thoughts: Conklin has a masterful grasp on how to craft the short story from character to tone; from humor to thought-provoking. These short stories should be studied by any aspiring writer.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

The publisher’s pitch: A dazzling debut novel set against the backdrop of the Chinese Exclusion Act, about a Chinese girl fighting to claim her place in the 1880s American West.

An author’s blurb: “An exhilarating rush of character, history, and storytelling. This novel of the American West illuminates the horrific realities of the Chinese Exclusion act of the 1880s. With unforgettable characters, resiliency, and poetic lyricism, Jenny Tinghui Zhang takes her readers on an unforgettable adventure. This carefully researched novel dazzles.”―Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina

Debutiful’s thoughts: An eye-opening story backed by brilliant prose. Zhang’s beautiful writing leaps off the page and helps ease the horrors she covers, but does not diminish them.

Read the author’s A Life of Books questionnaire here.

Nuclear Family by Joseph Han

The publisher’s pitch: Set in the months leading up to the 2018 nuclear missile false alarm, a Korean American family living in Hawai’i faces the fallout of their eldest son’s attempt to run across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea.

An author’s blurb:Nuclear Family is a world unto itself: Joseph Han’s novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds. Han’s prose is remarkable—both deadpan and compassionate—juggling the stories that we’re told with the ones we seek to tell ourselves. Nuclear Family is a singular work, and Han’s writing is truly special.” —Bryan Washington, author of Memorial and Lot

Debutiful’s thoughts: A memorable and innovative debut that encapsulates how we view the world right now. Han leans into family saga tropes and then bends them to his will.

Out There by Kate Folk

The publisher’s pitch: A thrilling new voice in fiction injects the absurd into the everyday to present a startling vision of modern life.

An author’s blurb: “Stories so sharp and ingenious you may cut yourself on them while reading.” —Kelly Link, author of Get In Trouble

Debutiful’s thoughts: Come for the weird, stay jaw-dropping plots and hilarious moments. Folk is so inventive it’s not even funny. Each story is a world unto its own.

How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

The publisher’s pitch: For fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven, a spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut that follows a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague—a daring and deeply heartfelt work of mind-bending imagination from a singular new voice.

An author’s blurb: “Haunting and luminous, How High We Go in the Dark orchestrates its multitude of memorable voices into beautiful and lucid science fiction that resembles a fitful future memory of our present. An astonishing debut.” — Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen and V for Vendetta

Debutiful’s thoughts: Expansive and breathtaking, Nagamatsu creates a novel that adds a new twist to climate and dystopian genres.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

The Boy With a Bird In His Chest by Emme Lund

The publisher’s pitch: Perfect for fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Thirty Names of Night.

An author’s blurb: “Emme Lund’s The Boy with a Bird in His Chest is the queer coming of age novel I wish I’d had when I was a teenager. Funny and gutting, tender and scorchingly honest, surreal and a little too real, this novel captures the pain and joy of learning to live with your body and all its desires. The Boy with a Bird in His Chest reads like The Perks of Being a Wallflowers written by Kelly Link. Lund’s vision is striking, resonant, and unforgettable.” — Isle McElroy, author of The Atmospherians

Debutiful’s thoughts: Lund’s brilliant debut is unlike any other coming-of-age out there. It encapsulates all of our teen experiences, regardless of how different we may all have been.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde

The publisher’s pitch: Willa Marks has spent her whole life choosing hope. She chooses hope over her parents’ paranoid conspiracy theories, over her dead-end job, over the rising ocean levels.

An author’s blurb: “I was deeply moved, provoked, inspired, and challenged by Eleutheria, an astonishing debut from a truly visionary writer. Willa Marks’ audacious hope, and her courageous efforts to unseal the fate of our only home touched me deeply, as did this story’s ability to hold so many contradictions within its pages–love and betrayal, dream and nightmare, selfish manipulation and collective action. A book that never gives up on the possibility of kindness and justice without denying the challenges we live with every day, including inside our own hearts and heads.” —Karen Russell, author of Orange World and Other Stories

Debutiful’s thoughts: Allegra Hyde has added another novel to the environmental fiction canon. She tackled idealism and survival in such a tender way. It’s the kind of novel that teeters on introspection and propulsive narration. Every page is a knockout.

Read an interview with the author here.

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej

The publisher’s pitch: Combining the sticky sexual politics of Luster with the dizzying, perceptive intimacy of CleannessLittle Rabbit is a wholly new kind of coming-of-age story about lust, punishment, artistic drive, and desires that defy the hard-won boundaries of the self.

An author’s blurb: “A darkly sensuous tale of awakening that will quietly engulf you in flames.” ―Ling Ma, author of Severance

Debutiful’s thoughts: This was the first great book of Summer 2022 and it’ll certainly be one of the best books of the decade. The power dynamics Songsiridej explores are expertly crafted in a refreshing lens.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Post-traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson

The publisher’s pitch: A “deeply original” (Elif Batuman), “violently funny” (Myriam Gurba), “brilliant and unforgettable” (Deesha Philyaw) debut about a young lawyer finally confronting her dark past.

An author’s blurb: Post-traumatic‘s Vivian is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read in contemporary fiction: self-aware and lost, cutting and wounded, resilient and vulnerable — all those misfit bits that add up to the whole of a real human being. And Chantal V. Johnson writes her with a startling intimacy that makes reading feel like an illicit thrill.”―Dawnie Walton, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

Debutiful’s thoughts: Original and darkly hilarious. Johnson taps into the psyche of the modern trauma and enlightens readers via one of the most memorable characters of the year.

Hope and Glory by Jendella Benson

The publisher’s pitch: A brilliant debut by a British-Nigerian author—a heartfelt family drama that will delight book club readers and fans of books like The Girl with the Louding Voice and Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.

An author’s blurb: “Jendella Benson has drawn such a compelling world. The book and the characters stayed with me long after I’d turned the final pages!” —Candice Carty-Williams, bestselling author of Queenie

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Debutiful’s thoughts: Benson’s family drama is filled with compassion and heartfelt moments. It lifts the soul.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

The publisher’s pitch:  A dazzling novel about a young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system—the debut of a blazingly original voice

An author’s blurb: “The writing in Leila Mottley’s Nightcrawling erupts and flows like lava, makes hot bright an Oakland that runs the city’s uncontrollable brilliance, its destructive and generative veins the same, Mottley’s energetic writing here too, bursts at the seams of every page, pushing you deeper into a story you can’t help but continue swallowing, stay thirsty for, while it swallows you whole.”  —Tommy Orange, author of There There

Debutiful’s thoughts: A timeless novel about the violence a young woman faces and overcomes. Mottley’s book can help change the world.

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara

The publisher’s pitch: In an Indian village in the 1950s, a precocious child is born into a family of Dalit coconut farmers. King Rao will grow up to be the most accomplished tech CEO in the world and, eventually, the leader of a global, corporate-led government.

An author’s blurb: “Vara comes out the gate with a masterwork: a book that is three great novels in one–the tale of a thriving and chaotic Dalit clan in the first decades of independent India; an immigrant success story in ’80s America; and a dystopian nightmare of the post-Trump future.” ― Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

Debutiful’s thoughts: Vara has crafted a sprawling story that is paced so well it feels like a concise novella. The novel blends historical fiction, tech criticism, and family drama perfectly.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Little Foxes Took Up Matches by Katya Kazbek

The publisher’s pitch: An arresting coming of age, an exploration of gender, a modern folktale, a powerful portrait of a family―Katya Kazbek breaks out as a new voice to watch.

An author’s blurb: “Sometimes in the face of perversity, neglect, and growing up in a rundown Moscow flat one-bedroom too small, one needs to do their own myth-making. And in this unflinching, yet achingly humorous look at millennial Russia, Katya Kazbek celebrates a wonderfully heroic self-deification. Proving we can become the gods and goddesses this world truly needs.” ― Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout

Debutiful’s thoughts: Little Foxes is a heartwarming tale of finding yourself even when it doesn’t seem possible to do so.

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon

The publisher’s pitch: Two sisters unite to survive a traumatic upbringing—from absentee parents to a wilderness camp for troubled teens—in this “relentless and spooky” (Joy Williams) debut from an essential new voice.

An author’s blurb: “A self-assured debut that explores complicated bonds of sisterhood, Dont Say I Didnt Warn You strikes the perfect balance of a story that feels both singular and universal. Dixon is a talented writer with a fresh voice that had me hooked from the first page.”—Sara Nović, author of True Biz

Debutiful’s thoughts: Haunting at times, this book will linger with you for days to come after finishing it.

Read an interview with the author here.

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