The Best Debut Books of 2022

Debutiful’s goal since launching in January 2019 has been to help readers discover debut authors. Sometimes ‘debut’ means renowned poets publishing a novel for the first time. Sometimes it means authors publishing on a bigger print after finding success in the indie world. Sometimes it’s a collection of essays or stories from someone who released a longform project.

Precisely defining debut never was what Debutiful wanted to do as long as we’re introducing readers to damn good writer entering the fray.

With that being said, two of the best books this year that are debuts in a new form have been left off this list because Debutiful has included the author on previous Best Of the Year lists. Chelsea Bieker was previously introduced by Debutiful for her debut novel Godshot. This year’s story collection Heartbroke is hands down one of the best collections this year. Similarly, Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s collection Sabrina and Corina was listed as a Best Debut a few years ago. Her first novel Woman of Light is a novel everyone should read. When it comes down to semantics, they were both debuts, but hopefully those authors have been discovered by Debutiful’s readers before. This list includes authors Debutiful have never covered before.

Below are the Best Debut Books of 2022.

You can purchase the books on Debutiful’s Bookshop.org store by clicking each title. Each purchase will help support the Debutiful website and podcast.

The Debutiful Dozen

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.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

The publisher’s pitch: A major debut, blazing with style and heart, that follows a Jamaican family striving for more in Miami, and introduces a generational storyteller.

An author’s blurb: “If I Survive You is a collection of connected short stories that reads like a novel, that reads like real life, that reads like fiction written at the highest level.” ―Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

Debutiful’s thoughts: The linked stories in Escoffery’s book are masterfully written. Each is a perfect rise and fall that can stand alone. Together, they are a masterclass in family drama and trauma. The relationships in this book, especially the one between father and son, are so expertly crafted. Escoffery clearly understands the human psyche and experience.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty

The publisher’s pitch: Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.

An author’s blurb: “Morgan Talty’s Night of the Living Rez is a beautifully crafted, raw and intimate book about youth, friendship, and family on the reservation. These stories are profoundly moving and essential, rendered with precision and intimacy. Talty is a powerful new voice in Native American fiction.”― Brandon Hobson, author of The Removed

Debutiful’s thoughts: Talty is a maestro of the short story. Each of the linked pieces is tender, chock full of memorable characters and moments, and paced to perfection.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

When They Tell You To Be Good by Prince Shakur

The publisher’s pitch: Prince Shakur’s debut memoir brilliantly mines his radicalization and self-realization through examinations of place, childhood, queer identity, and a history of uprisings.

An author’s blurb: “A story that combines so much―sociocultural criticism, religion, and politics while centering on the microcosm of one Jamaican family and the aftermath of two male relatives’ untimely deaths. . . . Commands a tension and doesn’t release you well after the last sentence.”― Morgan Jerkins, author of This Will Be My Undoing

Debutiful’s thoughts: This memoir of trauma, identity, and race will move you. Move you to tears. Move you to action. Shakur’s exploration of self is revelatory. He is the voice for readers forgotten by publishing.

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.

Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell

The publisher’s pitch: t’s 2013, and Circus Palmer, a forty-year-old Boston-based trumpet player and old-school ladies’ man, lives for his music and refuses to be tied down. Warrell spins a provocative, soulful, and gripping story of passion and risk, fathers and daughters, wives and single women, and, finally, hope and reconciliation, in answer to the age-old question: how do we find belonging when love is unrequited?

An author’s blurb: “A modern masterpiece.” —Jason Reynolds, author of Look Both Ways

Debutiful’s thoughts: Warrell takes an expected story – a womanizing musician seeks to change his ways – and flips it on its head. Warrell uses a multitude of voices to give the women oft overlooked in these types of stories to give them unforgettable voices. Plenty Rhythm is also a novel whose writing should be studied. The language sings in every sentence.

Listen to our podcast episode with the author here.

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.

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 our interview with the author here.

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

The publisher’s pitch: From a brilliant new voice comes an electrifying novel of a young immigrant building a life for herself—a warm, dazzling, and profound saga of queer love, friendship, work, and precarity in twenty-first century America.

An author’s blurb: “All This Could Be Different is an extraordinary novel, spiny and delicate, scathingly funny and wildly moving. Sarah Thankam Mathews is a brilliant writer, one whose every ringing sentence holds both bite and heart.” —Lauren Groff, author of Matrix

Debutiful’s thoughts: Filled with poignant prose, Thankam Mathews perfectly encapsulates what it was like to be a twenty-something during a turbulent recession. Sharp-witted and sexy, this enters the canon of millennial literature and beyond.

Listen to the author read from the book on First Taste 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.

My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson

The publisher’s pitch: A fierce and riveting queer coming-of-age story following the personal and political awakening of a young, gay, Black man in 1980s New York City.

An author’s blurb: “Full of joy and righteous anger, sex and straight talk, brilliant storytelling and humor… A spectacularly researched Dickensian tale with vibrant characters and dozens of famous cameos, it is precisely the book we’ve needed for a long time.” ―Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less

Debutiful’s thoughts: This 1980s-set, queer, coming-of-age book will wreck you. Newson has written a book that needs to be instantly added to the Queer NYC Canon. So many times media has fumbled these stories, but Newson carefully tells the story of a young, Black, queer man in 1980s New York City without falling into tropes or relying on trauma to propel plot. This book is a reckoning.

Listen to the author read from the book on First Taste 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.

The Rest of the Best

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