9 Mesmerizing Debut Novels You Won’t Want to Miss in 2021

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Michelle Regalado

Staff Writer

Michelle Regalado is a New York-based digital writer and editor. When she's not hunting down her next must-read book (recommendations are welcome!) or writing about all things pop culture, you can probably find her drinking iced coffee and hanging out with her dog, Lola. Follow her on Twitter: @mar8289

The new year has arrived, and it’s bringing a slew of buzzy new titles to your bookshelves. While many favorite authors are releasing their anticipated latest novels this season, there’s also a slew of debut works you won’t want to miss out on. From decade-sweeping epics to smart satires, here are nine of the most anticipated 2021 debut novels to read this year. 

Black Buck book cover

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour, January 5

One of the earliest releases of 2021 is also one of the buzziest. This razor-sharp satirical debut follows Darren, a 22-year-old man whose life is changed when he’s suddenly offered a job as the only Black salesperson at a mysterious tech start-up. The wild, fast-paced, and occasionally absurd journey that follows is full of both irresistibly funny moments and biting commentary on race, corporate America, and the compromises made in the name of ambition. 

Girl A by Abigail Dean, January 20

In this gripping first novel from former London bookseller Abigail Dean, Lexie is known to the public as Girl A, the girl who escaped her parents’ “House of Horrors” in England and also freed her five siblings. When their mother dies in prison and leaves them the family home, Lexie and her siblings must return to the house to confront each other and their dark past. This psychologically astute book offers a gripping and visceral portrait of love, family, and survival. 

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson, February 2

Nancy Johnson’s debut novel centers on Ruth Tuttle, a Black engineer in Chicago who has been wrestling with the idea of starting a family while coping with conflicting feelings about the child she gave up for adoption as a teenager. Determined to reconnect with her son, she returns to the small town she left, where she strikes up a friendship with Midnight, a young white boy also looking for connection. Set in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration, this stunning book captures the realities of racism in America with a thoughtfulness and precision that will continue resonating long after the final page. 

All Girls by Emily Layden, February 15

Emily Layden’s promising debut takes place at a prestigious all-girls boarding school in New England, where a past sexual allegation has resurfaced and sent shockwaves throughout the campus. Told from the varying perspectives of nine young women at the school, this sensitive and innovative coming-of-age novel offers an insightful snapshot of a long-overdue institutional reckoning and the ripple effect it has on its students.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton, March 30

Set in the 1970s, Dawnie Walton’s spectacular debut follows young aspiring musician Opal, as she journeys to New York from Detroit, where her radical politics and Afro-punk style always made her feel out of place. After forming a rock duo with British singer/songwriter Nev, the two quickly rise to fame, but their career is cut short after a violent controversy erupts. While The Final Revival of Opal & Nev has drawn comparisons to The Daisy Jones and the Six, Walton’s hugely entertaining novel offers its own fresh take on fame, power, and racial identity. 

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia, March 30

Spanning five generations of women and four countries, from 19th century Cuba to present day Miami, this sweeping, ambitious debut centers primarily on Jeanette, the daughter of a Cuban immigrant who journeys back to her mother’s native country to uncover her family’s history. Told with gripping detail, Of Women and Salt offers a profound portrait on mothers and daughters and the shared legacy they carry.

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin, April 27

In this heartwarming debut, three strangers — Alice, a beekeeper still reeling from the unexpected death of her husband; Jake, a troubled, paraplegic teenager; and Harry, a young man with crippling social anxiety — meet and form an unexpected bond. Fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will enjoy this touching and uplifting novel about the healing power of friendship. 

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, June 1

Tired of being the only Black employee at her esteemed publishing imprint, Nella Rogers is thrilled when another Black woman starts working in the cubicle besides hers. But her initial excitement quickly turns to trepidation when her new co-worker becomes increasingly competitive — and notes suddenly start appearing on her desk warning her to leave the company. Inspired by the author’s own experience in publishing, this electrifying, twisty thriller is an excellent observation of the microaggressions that can turn a workplace into a toxic environment. 

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, July 20

This whip-smart novel centers on an ambitious artist who puts her career on hold after the birth of her son. Two years into being a stay-at-home parent, she becomes increasingly convinced that she’s turning into a dog. Yes, it’s as outrageously funny and original as it sounds — and bonus: a movie adaptation starring Amy Adams is already in the works.