Top Fall Debut Novels | 20 Titles To Know

LJ focuses on the most promising debut novels for fall, with titles ranging widely in theme and genre. 

In this issue, LJ focuses on the most promising debut novels for fall, with titles ranging widely in theme and genre. Some, like Victor Manibo’s The Sleepless, blend genres. Billy-Ray Belcourt’s A Minor Chorus and GennaRose Nethercott’s Thistlefoot are fiction debuts from award-winning poets. Sussie Anie’s To Fill a Yellow House and Onyi Nwabineli’s Someday, Maybe come from African British authors, while Carolyn Huynh’s The Fortunes of Jaded Women and E.M. Tran’s Daughters of the New Year consider Vietnamese history and the Vietnamese American experience. Jenny K. Howe’s The Make-Up Test and Celestine Martin’s Witchful Thinking are romances with refreshingly different protagonists. All the titles here make for great reading.

Adams, Erin E. Jackal. Bantam. Oct. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9780593499306. $27. MYSTERY/ HORROR

A Black woman named Liz is attending her best friend’s wedding in their predominantly white hometown when the newlyweds’ daughter disappears, reminding Liz of another Black girl who vanished years ago after walking into the town’s creepy woods with a stranger. That girl was later found with her heart ripped out, and Liz soon realizes that Black girls have regularly disappeared during summertime parties near the woods, to the town’s indifference. Haitian American author Adams blends mystery, horror, and social justice issues in a quickly preempted work.

Anie, Sussie. To Fill a Yellow House. Mariner: HarperCollins. Nov. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9780063087385. $27.99. LITERARY

When his family moves to a different part of London, first-generation immigrant Kwasi feels lost until he befriends Rupert, the white, middle-aged, widowed proprietor of a local charity shop that’s seen better times. Together, in a touching blend of coming-of-age and growing-older narratives, these two outsiders face roiling changes in their community and their lives. Of Ghanian British Anie’s debut, the Guardian said, “It is testament to Anie’s skill (and background as a short story writer) that [this book] rings with such keen and resonant themes.”


Belcourt, Billy-Ray. A Minor Chorus. Norton. Oct. 2022. 176p. ISBN 9781324021421. pap. $15.95. LITERARY

From the Driftpile Cree Nation, Canadian Belcourt may be a debut novelist, but he’s already a much-decorated writer. As a poet, he’s won the Griffin Poetry Prize for This Wound Is a World and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for NDN Coping Mechanisms, also an LJ Best Book; his Canadian best-selling essay collection A History of My Brief Body claimed Lambda and Governor General’s Literary Award finalist honors. Here, a queer, Indigenous doctoral student in Northern Alberta temporarily deserts his dissertation to write a novel. Meanwhile, he converses with a closeted hometown acquaintance named Michael and fellow student River, frustrated by the pressures on marginalized scholars, and ponders a cousin trapped in the awful cycle of police violence, drugs, and despair—all within the framework of crushing white dominance.

Braverman, Blair. Small Game. Ecco. Nov. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780063066175. $27.99. SUSPENSE/LITERARY

An adventurer, dogsled racer, and Outside columnist, Braverman examined the dangers of frigid climes in her well-received memoir Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Here, survival instructor Mara lands on a reality TV show with a mixed bag of competitors—a veteran outdoorsman, an Eagle Scout, a white-collar professional, and a new-to-it-all young woman—hoping to win a pile of money by out-surviving the others at some undisclosed (if chilly) woodlands campsite. But things don’t go as planned. Inspired by, though thankfully not replicating, Braverman’s experiences on the reality TV show Naked and Afraid.

DeForest, Anna. A History of Present Illness. Little, Brown. Aug. 2022. 176p. ISBN 9780316381062. $25. CONTEMPORARY

Plenty of doctors write books, whether fiction or nonfiction, but neurologist and palliative care physician DeForest does something a little different here. In quiet but steel-ribbed language, she re-creates the first days of a student doctor as she works her way through cadaver dissection, surgical rotation, birth, death, and the possibility of love. Meanwhile, DeForest considers who gets good health care, who doesn’t, and what living really means.

Howe, Jenny K. The Make-Up Test. St. Martin’s Griffin. Sept. 336p. ISBN 9781250837868. pap. $16.99. ROMANCE

Allison Avery is a graduate student in medieval literature, which is fun enough, and that she’s competing with former lover Colin for a key academic position makes for an intriguing plot. What’s more, as Howe explains in an opening note, “The Make-Up Test is the book that, as a fat woman, I needed most of my life…. My main character is a fat woman, but that is just one small facet of who she is.” Pushed big by Macmillan at the American Library Association conference in June.

Huynh, Carolyn. The Fortunes of Jaded Women. Atria. Sept. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9781982188733. $27. CONTEMPORARY

Years ago, a Vietnamese woman named Oanh bravely abandoned her marriage for true love, and her descendants were cursed by a witch never to find happiness or have sons. The Duong sisters of Orange County’s Little Saigon still labor under the curse, estranged from one another and from their own daughters. But that’s about to change. Says Atria editor Loan Le, “For the longest time, I didn’t see Vietnamese American women like me in fiction…[But] there’s so much to celebrate. Vietnamese women are happy, loud, stubborn, angry, funny, dramatic, and loving. We are everything.”

Malhotra, Aanchal. The Book of Everlasting Things. Flatiron: Macmillan. Dec. 2022. 480p. ISBN 9781250802026. $29.99. HISTORICAL

A Delhi, India–based writer and oral historian, Malhotra frequently addresses India’s 1947 Partition and its consequences; her Remnants of a Separation was shortlisted for the British Academy’s Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding and the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. In her fiction debut, two lovers—perfumer’s apprentice Samir Vij, who is Hindu, and calligrapher’s apprentice Firdaus Khan, who is Muslim—are violently torn apart during the Partition, their love now forbidden.

Manibo, Victor. The Sleepless. Erewhon. Aug. 2022. 336p. ISBN 9781645660460. $27.95. SF/MYSTERY

Recently launched publisher Erewhon offers distinctive works of speculative fiction, as exemplified by this bracing page-turner. In 2043, a pandemic has left a quarter of the population without the ability or the need to sleep, including crack Filipino American reporter Jamie Vega, who’s suspicious when he finds his boss dead of an apparent suicide and decides to investigate. Discovering gaps in his memory puts him on a dangerous, twisty path. An immigration and civil rights lawyer, Manibo multitasks regarding theme and genre, blending sf and mystery/thriller tropes with social justice concerns to discuss discrimination, ambition, betrayal, family, memory as defining who we are, and capitalism’s devastating will to power.

Martin, Celestine. Witchful Thinking. Forever: Hachette. Oct. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9781538738078. pap. $15.99. PARANORMAL ROMANCE

Homebody witch Lucy Caraway has a good life, but she keeps wishing for more, and suddenly her wishing becomes an unbreakable spell compelling her to sing karaoke in public and run a 10K. Meanwhile, her high school crush, a merman named Alex, returns home to Freya Grove, NJ, to a house across the street from Lucy, and even as he hires her to unjinx the house (so that he can sell it), all her wishing is going to keep him there. Featuring Black characters and infused with her family history and love of magic, Martin’s “Elemental Love” series has titles slated for June 2023 and June 2024.


Nethercott, GennaRose. Thistlefoot. Anchor. Sept. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9780593468838. $28. FANTASY

Both a folklorist and a poet whose kaleidoscopically gorgeous The Lumberjack’s Dove was chosen by Louise Glück for the “National Poetry” series, Nethercott brings strong gifts to bear on this retelling of Slavic folktales, particularly the Baba Yaga story. Here, the estranged Yaga siblings—woodworker Bellatine and street performer Isaac—are brought together by a surprising inheritance from Russia: a sentient house on chicken legs. Alas, the Longshadow Man has followed the house to the United States and is now tracking down its new owners with evil intent. What results is at once a modern folktale, a road trip–like saga, and a chiller featuring ghosts, golems, and flesh-eating witches.

Nossett, Lauren. The Resemblance. Flatiron: Macmillan. Nov. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781250843241. $28.99. MYSTERY

A student at the University of Georgia is struck dead by a hit-and-run, and witnesses concur that the driver—who bore an uncanny resemblance to the victim— was cheerfully smiling as he swooped away. Det. Marlitt Kaplan’s investigation uncovers some ugly truths about the victim’s fraternity, and she puts her career and her very life in danger as she seeks not just to nail the killer but the fraternity itself. An engrossing, nicely twisty tale from university professor Nossett with a big first printing.

Nwabineli, Onyi. Someday, Maybe. Graydon House: Harlequin. Oct. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9781525899805. $26.99. CONTEMPORARY

Nigerian British author Nwabineli’s narrator adored her husband, and he seemed like such a happy guy despite a tendency to go quiet at times. So his suicide one New Year’s Eve was a brutal shock, especially as she was the one who found him. Now she’s got to deal with her difficult in-laws, the concerns of her perhaps overly embracing immigrant family, and the subtle but pervasive pressure she feels to get on with her life. Bought in a six-figure preempt.

Parikh, Amita. The Circus Train. Putnam. Dec. 2022. 384p. ISBN 9780593539989. pap. $17. HISTORICAL

Parikh’s luminous narrative opens with the Beddington and Sterling World of Wonders circus train traversing interwar Europe. Those aboard include illusionist Theo Papadopoulos and his daughter, Lena, who lost her mother as an infant and uses a wheelchair after having contracted polio. An excellent student of science, Lena discovers love when the performers rescue badly injured teenager Alexandre, who’s on the run from the Gestapo. And the train heads straight into the horror of World War II. A Canadian best seller that taps into continuing interest in World War II fiction.

Rowbottom, Allison. Aesthetica. Soho. Nov. 2022. 264p. ISBN 9781641294003. $27. LITERARY

Jell-O Girls, a memoir of Rowbottom’s business-empire family, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, an Indie Next Pick, a Real Simple Best Book, and a starred LJ title, and her graduate writing degrees (and teaching experience) embrace fiction as well as nonfiction. All of which bodes well for this futuristic fiction debut about an Instagram has-been who at age 35 decides to locate her true self by electing to reverse all her plastic surgery.

Swanson, Tegan Nia. Things We Found When the Water Went Down. Catapult. Dec. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9781646221691. pap. $22.95. CONTEMPORARY/SMALL TOWN

Since artist-advocate Swanson graduated from the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University, it’s not surprising that her first book features a crusading environmentalist blamed for a miner’s death. She’s now missing, and as her 16-year-old daughter struggles to find her, the story unfolds partly through artifacts like fictional interviews, police transcripts, and the author’s own collages. Winner of the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize, now discontinued, which was awarded to an unpublished work of original fiction.

Tran, E.M. Daughters of the New Year. Hanover Square: Harlequin. Oct. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781335429230. $27.99. LITERARY

As Tran explains in an opening note, her meditative first work stemmed from her realizing that she had participated in the erasure of her family, and she envisioned a family like her own in which Vietnamese children were “purposefully and maddeningly separated from a cultural history too difficult to recall.” In the book’s first part, Xuan Trung, a former beauty queen from Saigon now living in New Orleans, uses the Vietnamese zodiac to counsel her daughters, who have ideas of their own. The haunting and haunted second part imagines a past for these young women that plumbs the burdens of Vietnam’s colonial history.


Warrell, Laura. Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm. Pantheon. Sept. 2022. 368p. ISBN 9780593316443. $28. LITERARY

“Jazz music is to be played sweet, soft, plenty rhythm,” proclaimed Jelly Roll Morton, and Warrell plays her story with rhythm, tenderness, and mordantly gorgeous language. Aiming to highlight the women connected to men in jazz, she dreams up fortyish jazz trumpeter Circus Palmer, a charismatic heartbreaker who performs regularly but hasn’t made it to the top, and startling female characters that include his lovers and ex-lovers, his former wife, and his daughter. Each woman has her own life, her own story, and as in any good jazz piece these stories play off one another seamlessly. Among the first titles from Lisa Lucas, Pantheon/ Schocken senior vice president and publisher and formerly executive director of the National Book Foundation.

Wong, Ryan Lee. Which Side Are You On. Catapult. Oct. 2022. 192p. ISBN 9781646221486. $24. LITERARY

When a Black man is killed by a Chinese American NYPD officer, Chinese Korean American Reed is ready to storm out of his Columbia classes and dedicate himself to Black Lives Matter. But he reconsiders the best way forward after discussing what makes for effective politics and a meaningful life in an unjust world with his father and mother—once a labor organizer and leader of a Korean-Black activist coalition, respectively. Wong’s debut pulls on personal history and was inspired by the 2014 Akai Gurley/Peter Liang case in Brooklyn, NY.

Wurth, Erika T. White Horse. Flatiron: Macmillan. Nov. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781250847652. $27.99. HORROR

Of Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee heritage, Wurth debuts with the story of young, urban Indigenous Kari James, who inadvertently summons both her mother’s ghost and a dangerous, unidentifiable creature when she is given an old bracelet belonging to her mother. No one in her family can help her, so to understand what’s happening Kari must plunge into a past and heritage she has long ignored. Wurth’s work has appeared in venues like Buzzfeed and the Kenyon Review.

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