3 Debut Novels to Get Excited About

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Julia Rittenberg

Senior Contributor

Julia is a professional nerd who can be spotted in the wild lounging with books in the park in Brooklyn, NY. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago and an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute. She loves fandom, theater, cheese, and Edith Piaf. Find her at

Writers are still writing, and their books are still coming out. Bookstores are still providing their services through curbside pickup and delivery, because art and writing is what we need to comfort us right now. For all the authors who had book tours cancelled, there are virtual events that are trying to make up the gap. However, there is nothing quite like wandering a bookstore and finding new authors because you’re looking over spines, covers, and idly flipping through random titles.

Now more than ever, I have a hankering for stories that transport me outside of my current situation. I’ve also been looking for debut authors specifically because they are most likely to be pushed aside by the current media fracas. Not everyone’s books can be pushed to the fall, but it is pretty exciting that these books are coming out now—they’re all super engrossing and really fun. I’m setting myself the goal of continuing to find debut authors and lesser known authors during this time.

Catherine HouseCatherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

What would you give up for the grand pursuit of knowledge? Catherine House, the school in Elisabeth Thomas’s stunning debut novel, demands you devote yourself to the practice of learning and cut yourself off from everyone and everything you knew before. It’s a thought experiment my friends and I played constantly growing up: would you leave everything to go to Narnia? Or Hogwarts? Or any fantasy world? For the main character Ines, it’s a welcome change. The gothic atmosphere quickly turns from comforting to terrifying, and the mystery just doesn’t stop getting weirder. It’s a fantastic debut novel and it will make you an early, devoted fan of Elisabeth Thomas.

Saving Ruby KingSaving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

If you hear about a death on local news, you rarely hear about the grief that hangs over the lives of the ones left behind. Catherine Adel West’s debut novel tracks the fallout from Ruby King’s mother’s death. Set on Chicago’s South Side, Ruby tries to navigate her new reality with the help of her friend, Layla. The darkness of the story is mitigated by the beautiful relationship between Ruby and Layla and the ways they try to make it through the impossible situations they’re stuck in. The narrative is told through multiple POVs, heightening the intensity until the interweaving plots start clicking into each other. As we find out more about the conditions of Ruby’s mother’s death, we as readers see more of the ways the warning signs were ignored.  This is definitely a book to read as a group, process together, and then talk about how amazing the writing is. Anyone who reads this book will want to follow West’s writing for years to come.

If I Had Your FaceIf I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

In a time where we can’t travel, this novel is a fantastic trip into the beauty mores of modern Seoul. Beauty is not just the physical attributes in this novel—it’s a bargaining chip that, allows you to acquire what you need and cement your status in society. The four women we follow in the novel have different relationships with men, but understand looks are how they can power up in the ruthless culture of Seoul. The friendship these four women have together is a refuge, but also deals with the nature of the intense hierarchy in women’s beauty, driven even further by plastic surgery. Cha touches on issues of single women, motherhood, the idolization of pop stars, and how power and money can inspire cruelty. This is a complex book that takes you on a journey, especially if you’re currently stuck elsewhere.

As we all deal with what my current favorite podcast calls The Weirds, I’m trying to be more intentional about consuming new media. Even though sitting down to read new books has been difficult, I know it’s important to support debut authors who aren’t getting the same opportunities as they could have expected in the past. You can still support your favorite indie bookstore and attend virtual events, and keep yourself updating with Book Riot’s recommendations and news for making it through COVID-19.