6 Literary Debuts to Read in 2019

We all love a book by an old favorite writer who never disappoints, but those lifelong reading relationships have to start somewhere. Debut novels offer the promise of not only encountering a new voice, but of beginning a beautiful friendship. Here are six debuts with globe-spanning settings that should be on your radar this year.

Golden Child by Claire Adam (January 29)
Those of us who were blown away by A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza’s affecting debut novel of a Muslim family in California that was Sarah Jessica Parker’s first choice for her new book imprint, are ready to follow Parker wherever she leads us next. Her second release as the Editorial Director for Hogarth’s SJP is Golden Child, Claire Adam’s debut novel set in Trinidad. Like A Place for Us, it concerns a father trying to connect with a wayward son he has never understood, a young man named Paul who disappears in the bush one day. Author Adam grew up in Trinidad, studied physics at Brown University, and currently lives in London.

We Cast A Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (January 29)
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut will please lovers of biting political satire. An unnamed black narrator works at a law firm where he serves as proof of their “committment to diversity,” and becomes the center of a publicity campaign pushed by a shareholder. Meanwhile, the narrator encourages his son to apply skin lightening cream in the hopes that he can be spared some of the violence, racism, and indignity his father has dealt with all his life. We Cast A Shadow seems poised to contribute to the thriving artistic movement literary critic Sheri-Marie Harrison has called the “new black Gothic,” including such exemplars as the movie Get Out, Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied Sing, and Childish Gambino’s song and video “This is America.”

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer (February 5)
Whitney Scharer’s debut focuses on Lee Miller, a larger-than-life figure who worked as a fashion model in 1920s New York, before traveling to Paris in 1929 and apprenticing herself to photographer Man Ray. She eventually became his collaborator, lover, and muse as she developed her art and started her own photography studio. During World War II, she was a war correspondent photojournalist for Vogue, and that’s only a handful of the twists and turns of this dynamic woman’s trajectory. Scharer earned her MFA from the University of Washington, has published stories in literary magazines, and works as a graphic designer as well as a writer. The Age of Light is poised to become a historical fiction hit, appealing to fans of Paula McClain’s books.

The Old Drift

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The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (March 26)
Even before publishing a book, Namwali Serpell has been racking up honors including the Caine Prize for African writing and the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. The Zambia-raised, California-based writer seems set to fulfill her early promise with debut novel The Old Drift, an epic set in the colonial settlement known as Old Drift, near Victoria Falls. The book spans more than a hundred years, detailing the clashes and struggles of three Zambian families sparked by a mistake an Old Drift settler makes in 1904.

Walking on the Ceiling by Ayşegül Savaş (April 30)
Nunu is a young woman living in Paris at a time in her life when she has no discernible direction. She has parted ways with her college boyfriend and sold her mother’s apartment in Istanbul following her death. She decides to move to Paris and enroll in a literature program—but not attend any classes. While she wanders the city’s streets, she meets M., an older British writer who takes an interest in Nunu because he’s writing a novel set in Turkey, and they strike up a friendship. As the book opens, Nunu recalls how she would “hold a square mirror up to the ceiling. I examined every inch of this flat, white expanse, entirely removed from the jagged world on the opposite pole where people lived in shadows, weighed down by troubles. I understood that all anyone can do in the midst of darkness is retreat to their own, bright landscapes.” If you enjoyed the off-kilter, low-key philosophical musings of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot or the friendship between an older male writer and a young woman in Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, Walking on the Ceiling looks like a promising debut.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Artnett (June 9)
Kristen Artnett’s debut novel tells the story of Jessa-Lynn Morton, who finds her father’s body one day in the family taxidermy shop. In the wake of her dad’s suicide, Jessa-Lynn steps up to take over the taxidermy business, while struggling with her affections for her brother’s wife and puzzling over her mother’s increasingly bizarre artwork. Karen Russell, an authority on all things strange and funny, called it “one of the strangest and funniest and most surprising first novels I’ve ever read.”

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