The new year is finally here, and it's bringing lots of debut authors to your bookshelves. The
most anticipated debut books of 2021's first quarter include plenty of literary novels, passionate retellings, and poignant memoirs.
No matter what you enjoy reading, the first three months of 2021 have many great reads from new authors you're sure to love. For nonfiction fans, there's Elizabeth Miki Brina's
Speak, Okinawa and Georgina Lawton's Raceless, both of which untangle the authors' complex family histories. True-crime fans should check out Elon Green's The Last Call, which tells the gripping story of a serial killer who targeted New York City's gay community in the 1980s and '90s.
In fiction, the first quarter of 2021 brings ambitious new stories from debut voices. If family sagas are your thing, then Torrey Peters'
Detransition, Baby, Diane Wilson's The Seed Keeper, and Gabriela Garcia's Of Women and Salt are the right reads for you. YA fans have Mahogany L. Browne's Chlorine Sky and Crystal Maldonado's Fat Chance, Charlie Vega on the horizon, and speculative fiction readers can look forward to S.B. Divya's Machinehood and C.L. Clark's The Unbroken.
Here are the most anticipated debut books from the first quarter of 2021:
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article. 1 Jan. 5
A woman determined to be the perfect, loving mother finds herself frayed beyond belief in this tense, psychological debut. Blythe's past is mired in tragedy, and she's struggled in vain to bond with her daughter, Violet. The birth of another baby, a son named Connor, is poised to fix everything she thought was wrong. But when the unthinkable occurs, Blythe's life falls apart, and she fears that she may have passed something dark and dreadful along to Violet.
2 Jan. 5
A rallying cry for intersectional feminism, Koa Beck's debut lays bare the tactics that the mainstream feminist movement has used to advance the position of straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender women, at the expense of others. If we want to be better in 2021, we must learn from the past, and
White Feminism is a great place to start. 3 Jan. 5
Episcopal priest Liz Tichenor's debut memoir traces her fight for understanding and stability after the tragic loss of both her infant son and her mother. Perfect for anyone who has ever worked through the five stages of grief, or been incensed at a well-meaning bystander's platitudes,
The Night Lake is a tender and raw book from a powerful new voice in nonfiction. 4 Jan. 12
Italian author Ilaria Bernardini makes her English-language debut with
The Portrait: a novel of love, grief, and infidelity. When she learns that her married lover, a prominent figure, is on his deathbed, an equally well-known writer devises a way to be near him. She commissions the man's wife to paint her portrait, a move that gets her access to his home during his final days. But as the two women grow close over painting sessions and chats, it becomes clear that they're playing a knife's-edge game of secrets and lies. 5 Jan. 12
A poetic YA debut from "Black Girl Magic" poet Mahogany L. Browne,
Chlorine Sky centers on a largely overlooked teenage girl who's ready to take her place in the spotlight. When she and her BFF have a fight that could spell the end of their friendship for good, Browne's young protagonist begins to reflect on the person she's always been... and the person she truly wants to be. 6 Jan. 12
Ever since Reese's last serious relationship ended, her life has been a hot mess. Now, her ex, whose decision to detransition spelled the end of his relationship with Reese, desperately wants her back in his life. Ames has returned with an odd request: to ask Reese to be the second mother to the child his new partner, Katrina, is expecting.
7 Jan. 12
A young woman who wakes up in the hospital with amnesia must use her cellphone to piece together who she is and how she wound up with a head wound in Sam Tschida's uproarious debut,
Siri, Who Am I? When her singular lead fizzles out, Mia — who had to rely on her phone to remember her own name — teams up with Max, a stranger she's met on her own trail, to find out what's happened to her... before it's too late. 8 Jan. 12
An aimless college graduate working at an emergency call center takes center stage in this debut from Australian author Madeleine Watts. As the unnamed protagonist is forcibly connected to others' problems at her job, she drowns out her own personal issues in sex and alcohol in this captivating, complicated novel.
9 Jan. 19
A former boarder at a private school in England comes back to reckon with the events of those sordid days in Ellie Eaton's
The Divines. It's been 15 years since Josephine put her life at St John the Divine behind her, but now the past is catching up. Returning to her old school unearths long-buried memories of her time within its hallowed halls, and the nature and details of those recollections have very real, present-day consequences for Eaton's protagonist. 10 Jan. 26
Faye lost her mother 30 years ago, and she's never passed up an opportunity to let her own daughters know just how much they mean to her. But when she slips backward in time 31 years, Faye not only gets the chance to meet her younger self, but she also meets and connects with her mother as a peer. Emotionally fraught,
Faye, Faraway is an unputdownable debut from a writer to watch. 11 Jan. 26
When her husband divorced her and returned to Saudi Arabia shortly after the birth of their daughter, Sadeeah took Hanadi and went into hiding, afraid of losing her daughter as well as her husband. Now that Hanadi's all grown up, she's forced to reckon with the aftermath of her mother's decisions in
Bride of the Sea. 12 Feb. 2
Wall Street Journal correspondent Te-Ping Chen comes this exciting collection of stories from China. Told with tongue-in-cheek twists and moving across genres, Land of Big Numbers is a thrilling trip through modern-day China. 13 Feb. 2
Edgar Award-winner Elle Cosimano's first book for adults is
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It. A mystery writer struggling to have it all, Cosimano's eponymous heroine needs a break. She has no time to rest, though, because someone just mistook her for an assassin after overhearing a discussion of her latest book project. To make matters worse, poor Finlay just accepted a contract to kill someone! What's a writer to do? 14 Feb. 2
Nancy Johnson's debut novel,
The Kindest Lie, centers on Ruth Tuttle, a Black engineer whose conflicted feelings about the child she gave up for adoption years earlier prevent her from starting a family with her husband. She goes home to the small town she left behind, searching for direction, and meets Midnight: an aimless white boy looking for his own kind of answers. As the town's racial tensions come to a head, however, Ruth and Midnight are thrust together amid the turmoil. 15 Feb. 2
Set in Barbados, this #OwnVoices debut centers on Lala, a woman whose husband plans to break into an expat's mansion... with disastrous results. Shots are fired, and four people — two women and two men — find their lives irrevocably changed in
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House. 16 Feb. 2
An #OwnVoices story perfect for fans of
Dumplin', Crystal Maldonado's Fat Chance, Charlie Vega follows its eponymous heroine as she navigates her first romance. Her star seems to be on the rise when she hooks up with a cute guy at school, but when she finds out he originally wanted to date her BFF, Charlie's self-esteem takes a hit. To make matters worse, her mother keeps pressuring her to lose weight. Can she keep shining on, or will her insecurities get the better of her? 17 Feb. 2
After learning that her boyfriend published conspiracy theories on the Internet, a woman devises a plan to get out of their relationship while attending the 2017 Women's March. Getting out eventually leads to leaving the country entirely, but her faith in humanity continues to crumble in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit.
18 Feb. 2
After she commits a minor — but uncharacteristic — crime, homecoming queen Alice disappears the night before her school dance. She's gone off to follow Wesley, enticed by his promises of self-discovery. But she and the four other women who live in his bungalow soon find themselves pushed to their breaking points in Alison Wisdom's
We Can Only Save Ourselves. 19 Feb. 9
Sense and Sensibility retelling, Lauren Edmondson's Ladies of the House centers on widowed mother Cricket and her adult daughters, Daisy and Wallis. While still mourning the death of Cricket's husband, the late Sen. Gregory Richardson, the women learn that the man they loved was embezzling political donations to fund a lengthy extramarital affair. Pushed out of their home and reviled in D.C., the little family must find a way to reinvent themselves in this tender novel. 20 Feb. 9
An atmospheric tale of rural intrigue, Lucie Elven's
The Weak Spot centers on a mountaintop apothecary, where pharmacist and mayor August Malone heals the ailments of all who come to him. He's a well-respected man, or so some people think. But when a young aspirant seeks him out as a mentor, she finds that all is not as it seems in August's remote village. 21 Feb. 9
A novel in the vein of Madeline Miller's
Circe, Genevieve Gornichec's The Witch's Heart breaths new life into Norse mythology. After angering Odin and losing her prophetic abilities, ice giant Angrboda falls into the arms of another jötunn, the trickster-god Loki, and gives birth to three children: the wolf Fenrir, the world serpent Jörmungand, and Hel, the ruler of the dead. But as Angrboda's clairvoyance returns, she begins to see disaster everywhere, and must make a series of perilous choices for herself and her family. 22 Feb. 16
Set in Chile during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet, María José Ferrada's
How to Order the Universe centers on M, a 7-year-old girl who travels around the country with her father, D, a hardware salesman. Ferrada's English-language debut explores the tumult of a changing country through the eyes of a child too young to understand the precarity of her own existence. 23 Feb. 23
In her debut memoir, Elizabeth Miki Brina reflects on her parents' relationship and its impact on the author herself. The mixed-race daughter of an American G.I. and the Japanese woman who followed him to upstate New York, Brina examines her multicultural identity and all its tensions in
Speak, Okinawa. 24 Feb. 23
Another memoir of ethnicity and family, Georgina Lawton's
Raceless tells the story of a long-held secret. The Black daughter of Anglo-Irish parents living in the English suburbs, Lawton lacked the means to explore her racial identity until her father's death, when she learned that he was not her biological relative. 25 Mar. 2
S.B. Divya's debut novel,
Machinehood, takes on artificial intelligence, aging, and gig work. Set in the year 2095, the novel centers on Welga: a bodyguard whose client is murdered by a terrorist group — the titular Machinehood — hellbent on ending humanity's pharmaceutical dependence. In a world where everyone relies on designer drugs to live and work and compete, the rise of The Machinehood throws the world into a panic and leaves Welga holding the keys to humanity's survival in the face of chaos. 26 Mar. 2
Still reeling from their mother's death, siblings Rafa and Rufina spend one fateful weekend in the resort town where they grew up. Rafa has plans to kill himself, and so Rufina devises a bet to save him: if the two of them can earn enough cash from the tourist crowd to buy a plane ticket out of town, her brother must not take his own life. It's a risky move, and as both siblings are thrown backward under a wave of childhood memories, it becomes clear that they may not be able to save themselves, much less one another.
27 Mar. 2
Bouncing between the late 18th century and the modern day, Sarah Penner's
The Lost Apothecary focuses on a series of unsolved poisonings. In 1791 London, Nella uses her abilities as a chemist to mix deadly concoctions for women who want — or need — to kill the good-for-nothing men in their lives. In the present, a woman who has recently discovered that her husband has been unfaithful finds a link to Nella's legacy, one that will lead her down a rabbit hole of generational intrigue, one from which there may be no return. 28 Mar. 9
In the 1980s and '90s, as the AIDS epidemic decimated the gay community, another, more tangible killer was at work. The Last Call Killer targeted gay men in New York City, but his crimes have never been the subject of intense scrutiny... until now.
29 Mar. 9
One woman relives and reckons with her old relationships, which include one stunningly toxic affair, in Megan Nolan's
Acts of Desperation. Told through the protagonist's interior monologue, Nolan's debut explores the ways in which we shape our identities through others. 30 Mar. 9
In this #OwnVoices debut, a Dakhóta woman returns to her remote childhood home after the death of her white husband, searching for a place to belong. Through its examination of the protagonist's life in the foster care system,
The Seed Keeper confronts the legacy of American Indian genocide and sets Diane Wilson apart as a rising star. 31 Mar. 16
Late Show with Stephen Colbert writer Jen Spyra comes this debut story collection of weird, wonderful, and sometimes wacky tales. With stories that focus on a time-traveling actress and the anti-Frosty the Snowman, Big Time serves as the perfect introduction to Spyra's work outside the realm of TV. 32 Mar. 23
In this sapphic tale of political intrigue and war, a child soldier and a revolutionary heir work together to stop a rebellion and start a coup. Kidnapped as a child and turned into a weapon, Touraine's just been ordered back to her homeland, where the people are on the verge of a revolt. Meanwhile, Luca, the heir to the empire that destroyed Touraine's childhood, needs to unseat her uncle, no matter the cost.
33 Mar. 23
A bookseller becomes preoccupied with a customer's odd requests and seeks him out overseas in Nicola DeRobertis-Theye's
The Vietri Project. Gabriele knows nothing about Vietri, aside from the books he orders, but when she travels to Rome to learn more about him, she discovers that they may have more in common than either of them realizes. 34 Mar. 30
When a 110-year-old woman proves to be the only hope he has of finishing his research project, Sawyer finds Honoree racked by a recent loss. He takes her on an 80-year trip down memory lane that will lead to shocking discoveries for both of them in Denny S. Bryce's
Wild Women and the Blues. 35 Mar. 30
Living in Miami and struggling with her substance addiction, Jeanette, a Cuban immigrant's daughter, searches for answers to questions of her heritage and tries to support her neighbor's daughter, who has been left alone in the wake of an ICE detainment. While Jeanette journeys to Cuba, her mom, Carmen, rehashes the details of a fraught relationship with her own mother in
Of Women and Salt.