Top Spring/Summer Debuts | 39 Titles To Know

This edition of LJ’s thrice-yearly list of top debut novels covers the spring/summer season, including some key April titles but focusing on especially promising works published from May through August and stretching to include two exciting September titles. Together, they reflect the strengths of publishing today and serve as a good starting point for collection development.

This edition of LJ’s thrice-yearly list of top debut novels covers the spring/summer season, including some key April titles but focusing on especially promising works published from May through August and stretching to include two exciting September titles. Together, they reflect the strengths of publishing today and serve as a good starting point for collection development.


Emerson, Ramona. Shutter. Soho Crime. Aug. 2022. 312p. ISBN 9781641293334. $27.95. THRILLER/SUPERNATURAL

Navajo forensic photographer Rita Todacheene loves the reservation, but it doesn’t return the favor; there, she is regarded fearfully because she can commune with the dead. She takes good pictures, though, helping to solve cases for the Albuquerque police force with insights quietly gleaned from the ghosts of crime victims. Now an especially furious ghost won’t leave Rita alone, sending her on a mission of vengeance that could get her killed. Diné writer/filmmaker Emerson blends thrills, horror, and a portrait of growing up on the reservation in propulsive language.

Souls don’t scatter like the rest of the body. They latch on for as long as they can, their legs pulled to the sky, fingertips white in desperation.

Abdullah, Chelsea. The Stardust Thief. Orbit. May 2022. 480p. ISBN 9780316368766. $28. FANTASY

Abdullah draws on stories she heard growing up in Kuwait to introduce cheeky young Loulie al-Nazari, the Midnight Merchant, who sells illegal magic with help from her jinn bodyguard. When she saves a weakling prince’s life, the sultan tasks her with finding an ancient lamp that will revivify their parched land—but would destroy all the jinn.

Adelmann, Maria. How To Be Eaten. Little, Brown. May 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780316450843. $28.

After her well-received collection Girls of a Certain Age, Adelmann offers a wickedly imaginative work envisioning fairy-tale characters as members of a trauma support group in contemporary New York. Did Ashlee find true love as winner of a TV dating show, and how is Bernice faring after her dangerous liaison with a blue-bearded billionaire psychopath?

Ahmad, Aamina. The Return of Faraz Ali. Riverhead. Apr. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780593330180. $27. LITERARY

Born in the Mohalla, Lahore’s red-light district, Faraz was kidnapped as a boy by his powerful father, and as an adult is being sent back to head the Mohalla police station and cover up the murder of a child prostitute. Pushcart and Rona Jaffe honoree Ahmad incisively examines class, politics, and identity while providing suspense.

Allen, Samantha Jayne. Pay Dirt Home. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781250804273. $27.99. MYSTERY

Winner of the 2019 Hillerman Prize, Allen’s multi-starred mystery features Annie McIntyre, working as a waitress after returning home post-college to her drought- and recession-wrecked Texas hometown. Alarmed when another waitress is strangled at a community bon fire—she realizes that she herself could have been the victim—Annie leaps in to investigate.

Angress, Antonia. Sirens & Muses. Ballantine. Jul. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780593496435. $28. CONTEMPORARY

As Occupy Wall Street erupts, Louisa Arceneaux transfers to Wrynn College of Art on a scholarship and is fired up both artistically and personally by prickly, gifted roommate Karina Piontek. She’s also fascinated by senior-class agitator Preston Utley, who’s feuding with a famed professor/painter struggling for relevance. Art and politics here enhance each other in liquid, luminous language.

Caña, Natalie. A Proposal They Can’t Refuse. MIRA. May 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780778386094. pap. $15.95. ROMANCE

Chef of her family’s Puerto Rican restaurant, smart, briskly forthright Kamilah Vega wants to update the spot in the face of gentrification. But her ailing octogenarian grandfather and his whiskey-distiller best friend Killian, co-owners of the building that houses both family businesses, threaten to sell—unless Kamilah marries Killian’s grandson, Liam, who’s not her favorite person.

Cañas, Isabel. The Hacienda. Berkley. May 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780593436691. $27. HORROR

After the Mexican War of Independence, Beatriz seeks safety by marrying wealthy, handsome Don Rodolfo Solórzano. But his home evokes terror—servants won’t enter at night, and awful visions taint Beatriz’s dreams—and soon Beatriz wonders what happened to Rodolfo’s first wife. Can young priest Padre Andrés help? Keen historical horror.

Chu, Lily. The Stand-In. Sourcebooks Casablanca. May 2022. 384p. ISBN 9781728242620. pap. $14.99. ROMANCE

Sick of her job, Toronto-based Gracie Reed is thrilled when Chinese cinema superstars Wei Fangli and Sam Yao appear beside her in an SUV and ask her to be Fangli’s stand-in—the two women are dead ringers. But playing the star and dealing with handsome but difficult Sam prove tough. Chinese Canadian author Chu has fun while folding in serious issues of identity, mental health, and more.

Dean, Sunyi. The Book Eaters. Tor. Aug. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781250810182. $26.99. FANTASY

In Dean’s big-print-run debut, Devon belongs to a venerable clan of Book Eaters—instead of food, they munch Hamlet, thrillers, and, for miscreants, dusty dictionaries—and she’s terrified to learn that her son hungers not for paper, printing, and binding but human minds. From a Leeds, England–based biracial author with autism.

Deb, Sopan. Keya Das’s Second Act. S. & S. Jul. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781982185473. $26. FAMILY LIFE

Divorced fiftyish Bengali American Shantanu Das bitterly regrets that he rejected teenage daughter Keya, now deceased, after she came out to him. Then he discovers an unfinished manuscript that Keya was writing with her girlfriend, and the entire family becomes involved in staging the manuscript as a play. From New York Times reporter Deb.


Escoffery, Jonathan. If I Survive You. MCD: Farrar. Sept. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780374605988. $27. LITERARY

Plimpton Prize winner Escoffery links together smart, penetrating scenarios to tell the story of a Jamaican family striving to make it in Miami. At its heart is younger son Trelawny, figuring out who he is as the family survives a hurricane, recession, marital breakup, lousy houses, lousy jobs, and discrimination, with issues of self and identity surfacing painfully. In the United States, they are Black, while back home folks say they’re no longer Jamaican. A standout work, fresh, original, and beautifully written—often in second person.

“Am I Black?” you ask her. That, after all, is what you want to know. Race has descended upon your world, sudden and grating. 

Donaldson, David Santos. Greenland. Amistad. Jun. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780063159556. $26.99. LITERARY

Practicing psychotherapist and Julliard trained Black playwright Donaldson crafts a novel-within-a-novel about a young author named Kip struggling to capture the love affair between E.M. Forster and Mohammed el Adl, the inspiration for much of Forster’s work. An intimate, compel ling look at race and racism.

El-Wardany, Salma. These Impossible Things. Grand Central. Jun. 2022. 416p. ISBN 9781538709306. $28. CONTEMPORARY

Egyptian Irish BBC broadcaster El-Wardany introduces readers to Malak, Kees, and Jenna, on the verge of adulthood and wanting to be good Muslim women while living on their own terms, beyond their families’ assumptions. A fun, witty, sharply observant work.

Fajardo-Anstine, Kali. Woman of Light. One World: Ballantine. Jun. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780525511328. $28. LITERARY

A National Book Award finalist for the story collection Sabrina & Corina, Fajardo Anstine traverses five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family in the U.S. West through the story of Luz “Little Light” Lopez, who must fend for herself when her brother is run out of 1930s Denver by a white mob.

Gilliss, Meghan. Lungfish. Catapult. Sept. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781646220915. $26. LITERARY

A couple driven by debts from the husband’s addiction hides away on a deserted island off the coast of Maine, where they plan to live illegally until the winter snows—or maybe the police—arrive. The story is essentially the wife’s as she tends to their daughter, forages for berries and mussels, and struggles with the vast emptiness within and without. From Pushcart nominee Gilliss.


Stevens, Nell. Briefly, a Delicious Life. Scribner. Jun. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781982190941. $26.99. LITERARY/ HISTORICAL

Short-listed for the BBC National Short Story Award and an award-winning author of two memoirs, including a meditation on writing, Stevens offers her first full-length fiction in this narrative about 14-year-old Blanca, who dies giving birth in a Mallorca monastery in 1473. But she hangs around in ghostly form for four centuries until the arrival of George Sand and her entourage. Blanca falls in love with the writer, who knows nothing of the passionate spirit she cannot see.

When I was alive, I lived in a time of beautiful men…. After I died, I found myself in a time of beautiful women.

Gutierrez, Katie. More Than You’ll Ever Know. Morrow. Jun. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9780063118454. $27.99. THRILLER

Dolores “Lore” Rivera marries Andres Russo in Mexico City, Mexico, despite her already being married to Fabian Rivera in Laredo, Texas, and launches a double life that leads to one husband’s arrest for murdering the other. Decades later, a true-crime writer asks the obvious question: Why did Lore marry two men? A high-stakes read.

Han, Joseph. Nuclear Family. Counterpoint. Jun. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781640094864. $26. LITERARY

In 2018, the year of the accidental ballistic missile alert in Hawai‘i, the Cho family’s dream of franchising their Korean plate lunch restaurants throughout the state is disrupted when son Jacob wanders across the Korean demilitarized zone, possessed by the ghost of a grandfather desperate to find those he left behind in the north. Evocative.

Hokeah, Oscar. Calling for a Blanket Dance. Algonquin. Aug. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9781643751474. $26.95. LITERARY

A citizen of Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma on his mother’s side, and of Mexican heritage on his father’s, Hokeah presents a young Indigenous man seeking his identity as he wrestles with rage over centuries of murderous injustice and more immediate family problems, including his father’s injury by the police.

Hutchings, Ren. Under Fortunate Stars. May 2022. Solaris. 480p. ISBN 9781786185921. $24.99. FANTASY

Adrift and dangerously low on power, a ship rescued in space seems to be the Jonah, whose captain famously led the crew in a battle that ended a near-galaxy-destroying war. But captain and crew don’t seem the same, and the war happened 150 years ago. A time-traveling brain teaser.

Khalid, Zain. Brother Alive. Grove. Jul. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780802159762. $26. LITERARY

Dayo’s heritage is Nigerian, Iseul’s Korean, and Youssef’s undefinedly Middle Eastern. Adopted brothers, they live above the Staten Island mosque where their imam father passionately preaches against Western values, and traveling with him to Saudi Arabia forces the boys to rethink their lives. Khalid’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, n + 1, and more.

King, Ella. Bad Fruit. Astra House. Aug. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9781662601491. $27. THRILLER/PSYCHOLOGICAL

Torn between her mercurial Singaporean mother and distant British father in the summer before starting Oxford, Lily suffers flashbacks she knows aren’t hers and begins unknotting horrific secrets about her mother’s past. A story of inherited trauma; based in Greenwich, UK, Singaporean King is a corporate lawyer who has done volunteer work countering human trafficking and domestic violence.

Kohda, Claire. Woman Eating. Harper. Apr. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780063140882. $26.99. LITERARY/SUPERNATURAL

Born of a human Japanese father and a British Malaysian vampire mother, Lydia is struggling to become an artist in London, where she must be careful not to get too close to fellow artists and finds fresh pig’s blood hard to source. From British Japanese violinist Kohda; an unexpected take on the vampire legend.

Mottley, Leila. Nightcrawling. Knopf. May 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780593318935. $27. LITERARY

In this buzzing debut, Black teenager Kiara lives with her brother in a grubby East Oakland apartment and supports them both by streetwalking. Eventually, she becomes a key witness in a scandal involving the Oakland Police Department. Echoing a real-life 2015 case; Mottley was the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate.

Newson, Rasheed. My Government Means To Kill Me. Flatiron: Macmillan. Aug. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9781250833525. $27.99. LITERARY

Leaving behind his wealthy Black family in Indianapolis, young, gay Earl “Trey” Singleton flees almost penni less to 1980s New York, where he soon becomes active in gay rights and is a founding member of ACT UP. From TV writer/producer Newson (Bel-Air); strong social-justice issues and a relatable protagonist.

O’Connell, Ryan. Just by Looking at Him. Atria. May 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781982178581. $26. CONTEMPORARY

TV writer Eliot is overdrinking and cheating on his loving boyfriend, and he struggles for acceptance in a world indifferent, even hostile, to his cerebral palsy. But in this brisk, bright work, he decides he’ll triumph. From Queer as Folk actor O’Connell, the Emmy-nominated creator, writer, and star of Netflix’s Special, based on his memoir.

Oduor, Okwiri. Things They Lost. Scribner. Apr. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781982102579. $27. LITERARY

In an African town, Ayosa lives in her grandmother’s house with her only companions the cruel Jolly-Annas birds, the silent milkman, sweet-natured café owner Sindano, and the mysterious Fatumas, who teach her to dance. And she can’t shake her obsession with her here-today, gone-tomorrow photographer mother. Breathtaking work from Caine Prize winner Oduor.

Pollard, Clare. Delphi. Avid Reader: S. & S. Aug. 2022. 160p. ISBN 9781982197896. $26. LITERARY

Upended by the COVID lockdown, a British classics professor specializing in prophecy decides she would rather be predicting the future. Soon she’s invested in palm reading, then zoomancy (prophecy by animal behavior) and oenomancy (prophecy by wine), but she completely misses the problems unfolding at home in real time. From poet/playwright/translator Pollard.

Rothchild, Sascha. Blood Sugar. Putnam. Apr. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780593331545. $27. THRILLER

Emmy-nominated screenwriter Roths child debuts with psychological suspense starring happily married, friendship-affirming, animal-hugging therapist Ruby, who happens to have murdered three people in her past. But she didn’t kill husband Jason, whatever the police think. A high-five reception.

Seckel, Emma. The Wild Hunt. Tin House. Aug. 2022. NAp. ISBN 9781953534224. pap. $16.95. HISTORICAL

After her father’s death, Leigh Welles returns to her tiny island home off the Scottish mainland, struggling with painful memories even as she finds herself attracted to an RAF veteran. What’s worse, it’s October, when the sluagh—brooding, birdlike creatures of Celtic legend—threaten to do their worst. Promising premise, beautiful writing.

Straton, Wesley. The Bartender’s Cure. Flatiron: Macmillan. Jun. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9781250809070. $27.99. CONTEMPORARY

After personal crisis in San Francisco, Samantha Fisher moves cross-country and takes what she sees as a stop-gap job as a bartender in Brooklyn. Soon, though, she begins enjoying herself and even finds a new love interest. Should she stay, or should she return to her old dreams? Entertaining and thoughtful; from a Brooklyn bartender.


Van Pelt, Shelby. Remarkably Bright Creatures. Ecco. May 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780063204157. $27.99. LITERARY

When recently widowed Tova Sullivan starts working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, she is befriended by a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus after rescuing him from a nasty predicament. Marcellus has little use for humans, but he wants to help Tova, who is still mourning the disappearance of her son 30 years ago in Puget Sound; he thinks he can figure out what happened. A joyous book about one of the more distinctive relationships you’ll likely encounter in literature.

I am a giant Pacific octopus. I know this from the plaque on the wall beside my enclosure.… Yes, I can read. I can do many things you would not expect.

Stronach, Sascha. The Dawnhounds. Saga: S. & S. Jun. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781982187057. pap. $17.99. FANTASY

The 2020 winner for best novel of a Sir Julius Vogel Award, administered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand, this work from Māori author Stronach features Yat, a police officer demoted for being queer, who is murdered, mysteriously revived, then charged with protecting her futuristic city from evil.

Vara, Vauhini. The Immortal King Rao. Norton. May 2022. 400p. ISBN 9780393541755. $27.95. DYSTOPIAN

King Rao created a new world with his personal computer, and a corporate-run government now reigns supreme. His daughter, who belongs to a resistance group wanting to live tech-free, is accused of his murder and sits in prison accessing memories of his Dalit childhood in 1950s India via a biotechnological innovation.

Buzzing. Villada, Camila Sosa. Bad Girls. Other. May 2022. 208p. tr. from Spanish by Kit Maude. ISBN 9781635422023. $24. WORLD LITERATURE/LGBTQ+

In Córdoba, Argentina, as a group of trans sex workers do their nightly rounds, their 178-year-old leader discovers a barely alive baby who’s quickly adopted into their surrogate family. Family member Camila tells their story, both gritty and fantastical. A Premio Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz winner.

Watkins, LaToya. Perish. Tiny Reparations: Random. Aug. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9780593185919. $27. FAMILY LIFE

In a saga reuniting a Black Texan family at the deathbed of matriarch Helen Jean Turner, ongoing trauma is revealed through the stories of four characters: Julie B., who regrets her wasted opportunities; troubled police officer Alex; Jan, a mother of two who dreams of leaving her hometown behind; and Lydia, whose repeated miscarriages threaten her marriage.

Wenzel, Olivia. 1,000 Coils of Fear. Catapult. Jul. 2022. 288p. tr. from German by Priscilla Layne. ISBN 9781646220502. $16.95. WORLD LITERATURE

The daughter of a Black Angolan father and white East German mother, the Berlin-based protagonist of playwright Wenzel’s award winner confronts neo-Nazis and ends up in New York on the night of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, discussing race, politics, and identity in a mostly Q&A format.

Zhang, Jenny Tinghui. Four Treasures of the Sky. Flatiron: Macmillan. Apr. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781250811783. $27.99. LITERARY/ HISTORICAL

Kidnapped from China, Daiyu lands in the 1880s Wild West as anti-Chinese hatred surfaces throughout the United States and the Chinese Exclusion Act is passed. As she moves from calligraphy school to a brothel to a small shop in Idaho, she reclaims her own story and identity. Multiple starred reviews.

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