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8 of the Best Sophomore Novels

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

Spoiler alert: the so-called “sophomore slump” is fake! I don’t know where this idea came from or when it started, but I promise you that it is not real, and guess what? I have the books to prove it! This list was wildly easy to make (there are so many amazing sophomore novels I love) and simultaneously extremely hard to make (there are so many amazing sophomore novels I love). I did not include my favorite sophomore novel of all time, Circe by Madeline Miller, because I’m guessing you’ve already read that one (or at least heard of it). If not, well, lucky you!

Instead of writing an essay about how much I loved Circe, I made a list that includes a range of different kinds of sophomore novels. Some of these books share similar themes and styles to their author’s debuts. Some of them are so radically different that it’s almost like they could have been written by someone else entirely! Honestly, I think both of these scenarios are pretty awesome. I’ve also included books written shortly after an author’s debut and books that we’ve waited a long time for (worth it). In conclusion: I adore all of these books. Don’t be afraid of sophomore novels—celebrate them and seek them out!

Book cover of Any Other City by Hazel Jane Plante

Any Other City by Hazel Jane Plante

This might be my favorite sophomore novel ever, partially because Plante’s debut was so good I could not imagine anything topping it. Surprise! This creative novel is a love song to punk music, trans women, and queer friendship. Told in two distinct sections set 20 years apart, it’s the fictional memoir of trans musician Tracy St. Cyr and her meandering journey through many different versions of self and community.

cover of Land of Milk and Honey

Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang

There’s almost nothing as exciting as when an author’s second book is nothing like their first one. Zhang’s sophomore novel shares the gorgeous, lyrical prose of her first one—but that’s about it. This one is set in a dystopian future in which a grey haze has settled over the world, and huge swaths of plants and animals have gone extinct. An unnamed chef takes a job at a mysterious restaurant at an elite research facility in Italy and discovers monsters: in herself, in the people she works with, in the people she loves. It’s a stunning, layered book.

cover of O Beautiful by Jung Yun

O Beautiful by Jung Yun

I haven’t yet read Yun’s first book, Shelter, but after having devoured this one last year, it’s on my list. O Beautiful is a remarkable novel about a journalist who returns to her small North Dakota hometown to cover the oil boom. While there, she uncovers the fraught web of power, greed, silence, desperation, racism, and exploitation that defines the place she grew up. It’s as much about how and why we tell stories as it is about one specific story. It’s a haunting book; I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it.

cover of Blackouts by Justin Torres

Blackouts by Justin Torres

Look, I won’t lie: there’s something magical about authors whose books come out years and years apart. Torres’s debut, We the Animals, came out in 2011. Is Blackouts worth the 13-year wait? Yes! It’s a sprawling and creative novel about queer history that defies categorization of any kind. It’s a conversation, an archive, a story-within-a-story, a meditation on queer generational change. You probably haven’t read anything like it.

Book cover of The Luis Ortega Survival Club

The Luis Ortega Survival Club by Sonora Reyes

I know I’m not the only reader who gets a little bit scared when an author whose debut I loved releases a sophomore novel. Will it be as good? The answer is almost always yes and is absolutely yes in the case of Sonora Reyes’s second book. This novel is full of the same complex characters, queer joy, bits of hilarity, and careful, serious consideration of tough subjects that made their debut so special. If you’ve been sleeping on this one—stop!

Skye Falling book cover

Skye Falling by Mia McKenzie

This book has gotten a fair bit of attention (rightly so, it’s wonderful), but before I also sing its praises, let me take a moment to beg you to read McKenzie’s debut novel, The Summer We Got Free, which is an underrated queer masterpiece. Okay, and now that you’ve added that one to your TBR, I can tell you about her sophomore novel, which is a warm and hilarious book about queer family, falling in love, Philadelphia, what it means to be a mother (or not) and getting your shit together.

A graphic of the cover of True Biz; a colorful illustration of a hand signing

True Biz by Sara Nović

Set at a fictional School for the Deaf in Ohio, this novel follows the lives of three characters during one tumultuous year. There’s a new student who’s never been around other Deaf people before; the headmaster, a child of Deaf adults who’s trying to run the school and save her marriage; and the school’s golden boy whose life and understanding of his family changes when his sister is born hearing. Through these characters and their various entanglements, Nović explores a slew of issues facing the Deaf community today—and tells a compelling story while she’s at it.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon cover

The Deep by Rivers Solomon

It’s always a pleasure when a sophomore novel is just as good (or better) than a debut. But something I like even more is falling in love with a sophomore novel by an author whose first book wasn’t for me. That’s the experience I had with The Deep, which is a book I still think about constantly. (An Unkindness of Ghosts, Solomon’s debut, is very good—just not my favorite genre!) The Deep is set in an underwater world populated by the descendants of African women thrown overboard during the Middle Passage. It’s a dark and haunting book about violence and collective memory, but it’s also full of deep healing and communal care.

Looking for more fantastic second books? Check out these fantastic sophomore novels from 2021 and this collection of great YA sophomore novels.