Debut novels are one of my favorite categories of books! When you hit it right and find a debut novelist, there’s a fresh and exciting voice to read and a new first-time author to follow.
Searching for a new book to read is a constant in the life of an avid reader. I have a love/hate relationship with the task. On the one hand, I love searching the never-ending book lists and social media touting the next new writer or cult classic. However, searching can be frustrating and time-consuming when you only want to relax with a good book.
Debut authors have delivered some of my favorite books in recent years, so I’m excited to delve into this list!
Below you’ll find 25 fantastic books by first-time novelists to read. Some are brand new authors, and others are the first book by some of our favorite established authors. Reading the early work is a reminder that we all start somewhere, and often, their first is their best novel.
There are so many talented authors it was hard to choose just a few. We tried to vary the genre and mixed in a few older favorites in case you missed them. We’ve included family dramas, historical fiction, coming-of-age tales, and books with complex issues.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing products through our links, we receive a small commission without additional costs to you. That’s what helps fund PrincetonBookReview.com so we can continue to help you find your next read. We truly appreciate it!
1. Lessons In Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
This first novel by Bonnie Garmus is heartfelt, charming, and funny all at the same time. I enjoyed all the characters, especially Elizabeth’s little dog, six-thirty, who was incredibly intuitive. Don’t miss this one! It would make an outstanding Book Club Choice.
2. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This book is a quick and emotional read about friendship and love. I read it in a single day! The characters are well-developed, and you can quickly get drawn into this love story. It will inspire some self-reflection and make an engaging book for discussion.
3. The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Dare’
A poor young girl from Nigeria works as a housemaid for a wealthy family in Logos. Her employers are cruel and unfeeling and treat her terribly. She is determined to break free, attend school and start a new life. This book will stay with you for some time.
4. A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Women’s issues are at the forefront of today’s news, and this story shines a light on several of them. This book offers a glimpse into the Arab/American woman and her struggle to assimilate into American life. Also, If you enjoy learning about different cultures, you’ll find this a fascinating read and will provide lively discussion for a book club meeting.
5. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
There is a lot of buzz around this book, and the acolytes are endless, from the NYT bestseller list to the most anticipated book of 2022 by TIME, Parade, Apple Books, Goodreads, Bustle, Kirkus, Barnes & Noble, BookRiot, The Rumpus, Boston Globe. The backdrop is NYC, 2017, and involves a wedding planner to the elite and her brother, a congressman. It’s filled with family drama, corruption, and more. This book is going on my TBR list.
6. The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Race is just one of the things this book is about, and the author does it well. But it’s also about motherhood and the pain of loss, discovering oneself, and the quest for the American dream. And then, there are the relationships depicted in this book. There are many, and they are all complex, well-thought-out, and well-developed.
7. A Man Called Ove by Fedrik Backman
Soon to be on screen, this absorbing read will be one of your favorites! Ove is a “don’t judge a book by its cover kind of man.” When you first meet him- he is different – the self-appointed mayor of the neighborhood who performs a series of daily tasks that annoy. It’s a delightful tale that is both sad and happy.
8. Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
This book is a New York Times bestseller and has landed on the Booker Prize Long list. Oprah Winfrey also recommended it. The New Yorker, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle also named it the best book of the year. The story takes place in Oakland, California, and covers topics such as police violence, family dynamics, and the criminal justice system. I can’t wait to read this one!
9. The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
A woman reconnects with a childhood friend, and long-buried secrets begin to surface. This book is one of Reese’s Book Club picks and an NYT bestseller. The author also worked on shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Big Love as head director.
10. The Push by Ashley Audrain
This psychological thriller deals with motherhood and all that it encompasses. Touted as intense and a page-turner, this book follows a new mother, Blyth Connor, as she struggles in her new role.
11. Slammed by Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is wildly popular and has a long history of writing page turners, so we had to see where it all began! Slammed is her debut novel about a young couple reuniting after a tragedy. A surprise rocks their world in this romantic mystery. We can’t read enough of this author!
12. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
I ended up reading it almost non-stop. And, the ending. Wow, it’s good! The title may sound ordinary, but the book is not. You are constantly questioning why? Don’t miss this one.
13. The Cloisters by Katy Hays
Ann Stillwater thinks she’s being assigned to a job at the Met only to learn she will be working at The Cloisters, a gothic museum. This book is one of the Today’s Show, read with Jenna Book Club selection and a Barnes & Noble book club pick. It’s also an NYT best seller.
14. Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
This is a charming and heartfelt book you won’t want to put down. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t like a book about an octopus as a character. It was one of my favorite books I read this year and one I recommend the most. I can’t wait for Van Pelt’s second novel. Don’t miss this one!
15. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen
Wow, this book really kept me guessing. It’s good, cleverly written, fast-paced, suspenseful, and perfectly plotted. There are many twists and turns you won’t see coming, but be warned, the first twist is positively brilliant.
16. The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner
This historical novel is a keeper. It’s a fabulous debut with a leading lady who is just a little wicked but in a good way. This is a well-paced, very satisfying story about two women who are independent, flawed, and seeking truth.
Coming of Age
17. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
I loved this book! It’s a layered family saga that touches upon many topics, such as gender equality, friendship, coming of age, and survival. I couldn’t put this one down and enjoyed it until the final page. I highly recommend it for book clubs.
18. Every Summer After by Carley Fortune
Every Summer After by Carley Fortune is a beautiful coming-of-age story of two childhood friends, Sam and Percy. It’s romantic and emotional and is an excellent beach read.
19. Solito by Javier Zamora
New York Public Library rated Solito one of the year’s best books, along with The Washington Post and Kirkus Reviews. This memoir is about Javier Zamora’s 3,000-mile journey from El Salvador to the United States.
20. The Love That Split The World by Emily Henry
Young Adult fiction is a genre I don’t gravitate toward, but I have enjoyed several of them lately. I’m also an Emily Henry fan, so I can’t wait to read her debut novel published in 2016. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone with this paranormal magical story.
All Time Favorites
21. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This book was the first time I read Donna Tartt, and I have been a fan ever since. I read this book so long ago, but I still consider it one of my all-time favorite books. It falls in the category of literary fiction, which I like to take my time reading and get totally immersed in. One of her more current books is The Goldfinch, which I also liked.
22. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Hannah Kent’s debut novel is inspired by the true story of the last woman put to death in Iceland during the 1800s. I didn’t want to put this book down. With razor-sharp writing and beautiful prose, Kent explores the mind of Agnes, the convicted killer. As she awaits execution, Agnes is placed in the home of a judge and his family.
23. All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
The title of the book is perfect and sums up the complexities of this tale; it contrasts the beauty of love and trust against the ugliness of neglect and addiction.
24. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
Shrouded in mystery and laced with magic, this book makes the imagination come alive. It’s about a very special, sophisticated circus that suddenly appears in town and creates the ambiance of New Year’s Eve just as the clock strikes twelve. I recommend this for those that like fantasy stories or can suspend belief long enough to go with the flow of this beautifully written, captivating debut.
25. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
This book is Gothic Fiction at its finest! Originally published in 2006, it’s still one of our favorites. Also, we love books about books, and this one hits the mark. Filled with family secrets, the author weaves an incredible story you won’t want to put down.
We hope this list will introduce you to some new names and a few long time favorites! But the only thing we want is to share an excellent reading list with our community and some new friends we meet along the way.
Tell us some of your favorite debut novels in the comments!