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The 10 Best Debut Novels of 2020

If you haven’t already, put these exciting debuts on your to-read list.

There are so many reasons to pick up a debut novel. We love getting to know an author early, before they become household names, and following their career into the future. This year brought a wealth of talent to the shelves, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.

By Jessica Dukes

Saint X

By Alexis Schaitkin

Claire never really knew her older sister, Alison, who died on a family vacation to the Caribbean island of Saint X. For years, Alison’s death remain unsolved. Now, Claire is an adult living in Brooklyn, and she has just run into Clive Richardson, one of the men initially accused of her sister’s murder. As race and privilege swirl around her decision to confront Clive, Claire has to decide whether she’s ready for the truth about what happened to Alison so many years ago.

Other People's Pets

By R.L. Maizes

La La Fine’s talents as an animal empath really come in handy to her father, a house thief. Together, they’ve had quite a string of successes: La La calms anxious pets while her dad relieves the family of their valuables. But luck doesn’t last forever, and when her dad is arrested, La La helps the only way she knows how, by dropping out of veterinary school and robbing houses to pay his bail. Now that she has taken up the family business, she wonders how long it will be before her luck runs out, too.

Real Life

By Brandon Taylor

Wallace, a gay black man from Alabama, is trying to adjust to university life in the Midwest. Eager to move on from the pain of the past, he manages to assemble a small circle of friends. He even has a turbulent but passionate moment with a white student he swore was straight. As Wallace tries not to buckle under the stress of academia, not to mention the endless macroaggressions hurled his way, one fateful weekend will expose his and the town’s deepest wounds.

Shuggie Bain

By Douglas Stuart

Hugh “Shuggie” Bain lives with his family in a working-class neighborhood of Glasgow, Scotland, but it’s his relationship to his alcoholic mom that takes center stage. Agnes struggles to stay sober, feed the family, and create tiny moments of joy for everyone, although she usually fails at all three. Her husband and their older children go out frequently, leaving Shuggie and Agnes at home alone. This is how Shuggie and Agnes both strive for normalcy where there’s none to be found.

All My Mother's Lovers

By Ilana Masad

Maggie and her mother, Iris, haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, especially since Maggie began a relationship with a woman. Then Iris tragically dies in a car accident, and Maggie is left to pick up the pieces. What she finds there is a new picture of her mother, and of her parents’ marriage. She also finds five sealed letters, each addressed to a different man. Now, Maggie is determined to deliver each one and finally understand the woman whose approval meant so much.

How Much of These Hill's Is Gold

By C. Pam Zhang

Lucy and Sam, 11- and 12-year old siblings, are orphaned as the western United States burns with the excitement of the Gold Rush. Immigrants from China, their ability to make a home in this new, rugged land feels impossible. Racism and sexism are but a few of their obstacles, and the pull to return to China is often overwhelming. But life cannot move forward until they complete one very important job — honoring their father’s burial wishes.

These Ghosts Are Family

By Maisy Card

Thirty years ago, Abel Paisley faked his death and stole the identity of Stanford Solomon, his best friend at the time. Near death, his family has hired an at-home nurse. What they don’t know is that his new caretaker is Irene Paisley, Abel’s first daughter. Irene knows what she’s getting into, though, and she’s determined to get her father’s story before the end of his life so that she can fill in the blanks of her own.

My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

By Kate Elizabeth Russell

When Vanessa Wye was 15 years old, she had a life-changing affair with a teacher 27 years her senior, Jacob Strane. Now 32 years old, Vanessa is forced to rethink the relationship when another former student accuses Jacob of sexual assault. Difficult questions arise: It was a consensual relationship, wasn’t it? She wasn’t manipulated, right? Wasn’t Jacob her first true love? Was she, too, abused? How much agency can a teenager really have?

The Girl with the Louding Voice

By Abi Dare

Adunni is a teenager in rural Nigeria, dreaming of her future. The first step into the future, for her, is to get an education. Surrounded by poverty, this is no easy task. It requires basic things like materials and teachers, and it requires elements that only Adunni can provide — courage and perseverance. Not content to speak out for herself, Adunni is determined to bring other girls along on her educational journey, so that they may all live a life of their choosing.

What's Left of Me Is Yours

By Stephanie Scott

Satō decides to divorce his wife, Rina, but divorce in Japan is a complicated feat. In order to gain an advantage, he hires another man, Kaitarō, to seduce his wife and ruin her reputation. What he doesn’t expect: Rina and her seducer fall genuinely in love with each other. Told from the point of view of all involved, as the fateful relationship unfolds, dire consequences await Satō, Rina, Kaitarō, and Rina’s daughter, Sumiko.

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