6 Superb Debut Novels to Read in 2017

The new year brings fresh opportunity for literary discovery in the form of a wave of debut novels. Here are six promising first efforts to look out for, including the story of the raucous friendship between two female cartoonists, a tale of a Chinese immigrant’s son forced into a new identity, and a coming of age novel about a young chemist who discovers a career in science might not offer her a path to happiness.

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich (January 3)
Fans of Western American literature have been anticipating Emily Ruskovich’s debut since her story “Owl” appeared in the 2015 O. Henry Award anthology. Idaho spans 50 years in the story of Ann, a woman living in rural Idaho with her husband, Wade, who is declining due to early onset dementia. Ann is determined to uncover the truth about Wade’s first wife Jenny, in prison for the murder of their daughter. Idaho is a Barnes & Noble Spring 2017 Discover Great New Writers selection.

The Futures, by Anna Pitoniak (January 17)
Anna Pitoniak sets her debut novel of young lovers coming to terms with making a living in the big, bad city in 2008 New York, during the financial crash that upended many well-laid plans. Evan Peck and Julia Edwards have been together since their freshman year at Yale, cementing a relationship they believe can help them take on the world. But when they graduate and move to New York, Evan takes a high-pressure job as a hedge fund associate, and Julia struggles to find meaningful work. Get out some popcorn and turn the pages of this debut to see how the tension generated by Evan and Julia’s divergent fates tears at their romance.

The Animators, by Kayla Raye Whitaker (January 31)
Terrific novels about complicated friendships among female artists might be a trend, with Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others, Clarie Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, and Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings all riveting readers in recent years. Now comes Kayla Raye Whitaker’s debut, The Animators, about two talented female cartoonists with distinctly different personalities who forge a bond in college and make a splash with their debut film, then must navigate the fallout of success together. The book, another Spring 2017 Discover Great New Writers selection, promises an energetic ride through a tumultuous friendship.

What to Do About the Solomons, by Bethany Ball (April 4)
Bethany Ball’s debut about an international family in turmoil will hit bookstores this spring. The story kicks off when authorities raid the Los Angeles home of Marc Solomon, formerly an Israeli navy commando who now faces accusations of money laundering. The rest of the Solomon family, living in a kibbutz in the Jordan River Valley, react to the unfolding scandal in different ways, as their own perspectives and secrets are revealed.

The Leavers, by Lisa Ko (May 2)
Lisa Ko’s debut novel The Leavers already has earned an impressive seal of approval: Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. One day, 11-year-old Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, heads to her job at a nail salon in the Bronx and never comes back. Two white college professors eventually adopt Deming, move him to upstate New York, and rename him Daniel Wilkinson. But Deming never forgets his heritage or his mother as he searches for answers about the mystery of her disappearance.

Chemistry, by Weike Wang (May 23)
Those of us who relish novels that explore the inner lives of scientists can’t wait to read Weike Wang’s debut about a female scientist whose chemistry research fails, leading her to question her life direction. The unnamed narrator’s Chinese parents expect continued excellence from her, and her long-term boyfriend whose research is going swimmingly is ready to marry her, but the narrator isn’t sure she can live up to their expectations. Wang knows her stuff—she graduated from Harvard with degrees in chemistry and public health, before switching her focus to writing. But you don’t have to take my word for it: National Book Award winner Ha Jin praised Chemistry as “a genuine piece of literature: wise, humorous, and moving.”

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