This year’s crop of debuts you can’t miss includes kaleidoscopic fantasy-world visions, huge-hearted romance, a high-school story so true it’ll make you cringe-laugh, and thrillers set in distant cities and distant galaxies. Here are 15 of my favorites, introducing vivid new voices and fresh new stories, all releasing between January and June. (Check back in summer for our July through December previews!)
Look for more debut magic and loads more great reads in all our upcoming (first half of) 2017 previews, covering fantasy, contemporary, LGBTQ+ reads, thrillers, sophomores, and indies.
City of Saints and Thieves, by Natalie C. Anderson (January 24)
Tina, a Congolese refugee living in Kenya, was 12 when her mother was murdered while working as a maid for a wealthy family. At 16, Tina has spent the past four years on the streets, plotting revenge against her mother’s employer and former lover, whom she’s sure was also her murderer. As part of the Goondas gang, Tina has the backing she needs to bring rich Mr. Greyhill down—but after reconnecting with his son, her childhood friend, during a failed break-in, what she thinks she knows falls apart. With the help of Tina’s tech genius pal Boyboy, the two race toward the truth, which may be darker and more complicated than Tina’s thirst for vengeance allowed.
Caraval, by Stephanie Garber (January 31)
This fantasy debut (and duology starter) is a synesthetic delight, carrying readers away to a dream city of luminous magic and dark secrets, all seen through an enchanted haze that blurs the lines between real and make-believe. Scarlett Dragna is the abused daughter of a brutal man living on an island in a distant world. She sees marriage to the mysterious count with whom she has been exchanging letters as her only chance for escape—but her wild younger sister, Tella, has different ideas. The sisters have always longed to attend Caraval, a floating annual game in which participants navigate a fantastical arena in pursuit of a supernatural prize. A pair of free tickets from Caraval’s elusive ringmaster, Legend, leads the sisters into the heart of the game, where one will go missing and one will risk losing herself to Legend’s dangerous enchantments.
Hardcover $17.09 | $18.99
The Edge of Everything, by Jeff Giles (January 31)
As a blizzard rolls in one winter night, Zoe sets off in pursuit of her little brother, Jonah, who wandered off in the snow. What she finds will change her life: while hunkered down in a neighbor’s empty house, Zoe and Jonah are attacked by a man so evil hell itself—imagined here as the Lowlands, a place where the world’s most despicable criminals are pressed into service as bounty hunters of their own kind—has sent an agent to claim him. That agent is X, a man who committed no crime, yet lives his life out in underworld servitude. When Zoe stops him from reaping her attacker, it sets off a chain of events that leads to first love, terrible peril, and, maybe, a change in X’s world order.
Empress of a Thousand Skies, by Rhoda Belleza (February 7)
Rhiannon Ta’an isn’t just the last surviving member of her massacred family, she’s the last hope of the Ta’an people, meant to return to power when she has come of age in order to keep her royal father’s diplomatic efforts in play. But an assassination attempt en route to her coronation sends Rhee on a fugitive journey across the galaxy, where she gets wise to an even bigger conspiracy threatening her world. Her story entwines with that of reality star Alyosha, refugee of a decimated planet, who finds himself falsely accused of Rhee’s murder by a world that believes her to be dead. Belleza has created a satisfyingly lived-in sci-fi world, full of the same dusty vistas and historical awareness that make the best Star Wars films so relatable. She also presents an interesting plot thread in her world’s dichotomy of memory: everyone has access to both the “organic” stuff, “slippery and uncertain,” and the memories saved on the feed-like cube embedded in people’s brains, rendering every piece of their past ready for replay—and ripe for exploitation.
American Street, by Ibi Zoboi (February 14)
Fabiola leaves Haiti to claim her piece of the American dream, but when her mother is detained, it casts a shadow over Fabiola’s new Detroit life with her aunt and trio of tough-as-nails cousins. Zoboi’s debut is set in America but never forgets its heroine’s Haitian roots, seen in the texture of her homesickness, the food she cooks, the Creole that colors her words, and the Haitian voudou beliefs that give her story a magical realistic flavor. As Fabiola falls in love, navigates her family’s extralegal activities, and takes increasingly desperate risks to bring her mother safely to her side, she’s watched over by an old busker who may be Papa Legba in disguise, and sees aspects of Haitian spirits in her family members and in the violent boyfriend her cousin can’t manage to leave. Fabiola is a steely, pure-hearted heroine whose beautifully specific American journey reminds readers this is a nation of immigrants.
The Education of Margot Sanchez, by Lilliam Rivera (February 21)
Margot will do anything to fit in at ritzy Somerset Prep, even if it means leaving her best friend and artsy style behind, and lying about her family’s South Bronx grocery stores. But when an ill-advised shopping trip with her parents’ credit card leads to a summer spent working it off her debt at the family store—instead of sunning herself at the Hamptons beach house of a prep school friend—Margot thinks she’s in for the most boring three months of her life. Instead she gets a crash course in community activism, real friendship, and family secrets, including the ones she’s keeping from herself.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (February 28)
Thomas’s hotly awaited debut, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and already the subject of a planned film adaptation: believe the hype. The story of Starr Carter, sole witness to her childhood friend’s killing by a white cop during a traffic stop, is a breathless, topical, and heartbreaking take on an issue that trends with horrifying frequency. But it’s also a warm, hilarious look at the life of a family and a neighborhood, rendered with vivid, loving specificity. Her eye for telling detail is true, her dialogue is perfect, and her characters are so concisely drawn you can see every one of them with perfect clarity. Pre-order this one now, it’s going to be huge.
Hardcover $16.19 | $17.99
Confessions of a High School Disaster, by Emma Chastain (March 7)
A diary-style contemporary tale made crazy bingeable by way of its Austen-level observational wit, Confessions of a High School Disaster is the funniest, most painfully real high school story you’ll read this year. Over the course of 365 diary entries covering her freshman year, Chloe Snow has high highs—school play stardom! Flirtation with a sexy upperclassman!—and low lows—BFF awkwardness, sort of accidentally trying to steal the coolest girl in school’s boyfriend—all under the shadow of missing her mom, who has jetted off to Mexico to finally finish her novel. Chloe is a hilariously sharp, ridiculously relatable teen, who grows up a little bit (but not too much) during a year of disasters both comic and heart-tugging. I’ve already read her diary twice.
Seven Days of You, by Cecilia Vinesse (March 7)
It’s Sophia’s last week living in Tokyo before her mother’s job prospects carry them back to their native U.S., and she’s on a seven-day countdown of saying goodbye to all the things she loves about her expat life: the food, the glittering, kinetic city, her best friend Mika and longtime crush David. Then Jamie comes back to town just in time to crash her weeklong goodbye party—Jamie, who was once on the verge of being her favorite person. Jamie, who crushed her feelings just before he moved away back in junior high. But as Sophia’s life starts coming apart in the face of her imminent departure, she realizes she may have been wrong about him…and starts to think seven days won’t be long enough to say goodbye.
You’re Welcome Universe, by Whitney Gardner (March 7)
Gardner’s art-infused debut centers on an escalating graffiti battle between a deaf Indian teen and the unknown provocateur who keeps adding their own work to the pieces she’s spraying around town (and maybe even improving them). Since being ratted out by her supposed best friend for tagging the wall of their high school, Kingston School for the Deaf—and subsequently getting kicked out—Julia hasn’t had much use for friends. She’s attempting to fly under the radar in her new, mainstream school, but it’s hard to avoid bullies when you have an interpreter trailing you to every class. And it’s hard to avoid trouble when you’re being pulled into a street art battle you didn’t mean to start. A breezy introduction to both graffiti and deaf culture, with a heroine whose need for and love of creating is palpable.
A Psalm for Lost Girls, by Katie Bayerl (March 14)
Callie’s sister, Tess, was taken away from her in life, by people who wanted to believe she could perform miracles. Now, after Tess’s death from an undiagnosed heart condition, they still want to take her and make her into something she’s not: because Tess could hear a cryptic voice, which helped her warn people away from impending disasters, the church is considering canonizing her. Before she died, a neighbor girl went missing, and the voices that spoke to Tess weren’t enough to get her back. Afterward, the girl escaped her captor and was found, alive, at one of Tess’s makeshift shrines. With the help of Tess’s secret boyfriend, Callie fights to debunk this last miracle and force the world to remember her sister not as a saint but as the human she was. Instead the two find themselves tangled in a mystery with unexpectedly deep roots—as well as in a forbidden attraction.
The Hidden Memory of Objects, by Danielle Mages Amato (March 21)
Contemporary books with a speculative element are my jam, so I knew I’d love this book, about a girl affected by the trauma of her brother’s sudden death in a wholly unexpected way: she discovers she has the ability to read memories attached to objects that were meaningful to him, from a coat button to a mysterious box found hidden among his possessions, engraved with the likeness of Abraham Lincoln. Through these objects Megan gets to know a different Tyler from the one she thought she knew—one with an angry streak and a passion for justice, and one who had heroin in his system when he died. With the help of a classmate unafraid of crazy theories and a boy whose full connection to her brother’s life remains tantalizingly unclear, Megan navigates a world of dark memories, uncovering secrets that extend back decades and putting herself at risk of getting sucked under by her increasingly powerful psychic gift.
When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon (March 30)
This book is a hug you can carry, but it’s also a smart exploration of how hard it can be to hold onto who you are and what you want if you dare to let someone else in. Dimple is a hardheaded coder who dreams of making life-saving apps and fights hard against her traditional Indian mother’s expectations (makeup, marriage, mini-Dimples). Rishi is a born romantic, deeply respectful of tradition and his parents’ wishes and sacrifice. The two first-generation Americans meet at Insomnia Con, a coders’ paradise where Dimple hopes to win the grand prize and Rishi hopes to win Dimple, whose parents have failed to reveal they sent her to the con in order to throw her together with their friend’s son. Despite herself, Dimple finds herself falling for Rishi, and the two must navigate parental hopes, the even heavier burden of self-expectations, and nefarious fellow con attendees on their way to a Bollywood-worthy romance (complete with a Bollywood dance number).
Song of the Current, by Sarah Tolcser (June 6)
Tolcser’s debut, set in a watery world of nature gods, royal intrigue, and the river-faring life, is a good old-fashioned (irresistible) fantasy adventure. Caro is a wherryman’s daughter, sailing up and down the river delivering goods, with a side of smuggling. But when she’s blackmailed into making a dangerous run without her father, who will be held in prison until her return, it makes her life a lot more complicated—and her horizons a lot bigger. The world building is delicately done, weaving a slow, convincing spell, and life on Caro’s wherry is rich with sharp detail and an undertone of magic. The combative relationship between her and her unwanted cargo, an alleged courier with a secret, shades satisfyingly into something richer. And all along there’s the tingling sense of something more under the surface of her life: like the wherries’ river god, speaking to his chosen people from beneath the water, there’s something bubbling up in Caro, a mystery that starts with strange dreams and hints at a bigger magical destiny to come. This is second-world fantasy you won’t want to miss.
Aftercare Instructions, by Bonnie Pipkin (June 27)
When Genesis is left at Planned Parenthood by her boyfriend, Peter, just after she has ended her pregnancy, the betrayal razes her plans for their future together. Gen is an aspiring actress whose family tragedies—a deeply depressed mother, a dead father, and all the gossip that surrounds his death—have caused her to put her dreams aside. In a book that incorporates passages written out as acts of a play, Gen navigates her life’s new order, making wild missteps and taking crazy chances on her way to figuring out who she’s meant to be—and claiming who she’s allowed to be, after everything she has endured.