The Best Debut Books Published By Female & Gender Non-Binary Writers This Year (So Far)

Three years ago, Kamila Shamsie published a call to arms in The Guardian: The writer challenged the publishing world as a whole to publish books penned exclusively by women for a whole year. That year? 2018. And while most publishers did not pick up the mantle, this year has still seen a slew of incredible debut books from female and non-binary writers.

Shamsie's call was a comment on three notable, long-standing literary trends: The significant amount of space given to male authors and reviewers in the press, the slew of male protagonists, penned by male writers, in best-selling and award-winning novels, and the disproportionate number of men - the number has hovered around 60 percent, administrators told Shamsie - submitted for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious fiction awards in the world.

It all functions in one exclusive circle. After all, there's a reason why male writers so often win major literary prizes: male writers, particularly white men, are granted publishing contracts more often than women and non-binary writers. In a study by Nicola Griffith that analyzed major literary prize results between 2000-2014, women writers who wrote female protagonists rarely won; if a woman wrote from a male perspective, she was slightly more likely to win. But the overwhelming critical favorites were works by men, about men.

And in a long-standing study by Three Percent, a translated fiction outlet based in Rochester, only about 30% of books translated into English were written by women. The takeaway? Male narratives garner more value. More social capital, more prizes, more publishing contracts. But the writers in this list are fighting against those statistics, proving in their brilliant, passionate, idiosyncratic ways that narrative diversity is essential.

'Educated: A Novel' by Tara Westover

The first time Tara Westover stepped into a school classroom, she was 17 years old. Raised by an ultra-isolated survivalist family in rural Idaho, Westover had to sacrifice her family, her whole world, really, in order to pursue her nagging, pervasive sense of curiousness.

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'America Is Not the Heart' by Elaine Castillo

America Is Not The Heart is a sprawling saga charting the arrival — and refashioning — of a Filipino family who has settled in the Bay Area. When we cross borders, when we start over, asks Castillo, who do we become? Do we paste over our old identities with new posters? And when we peel back the layers, what's at the heart?

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'Welcome to Lagos' by Chibundu Onuzo

Chike Ameobi, an Army officer, is ordered to kill innocent civilians and he knows it's time to desert. As Chike embarks on a journey towards Lagos, he becomes the de facto leader of a new band of adventurers, all with the same dream: escape.

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'Love, Hate and Other Filters' by Samira Ahmed

Maya is a girl caught between worlds. Seventeen years old, Indian-American, and Muslim, Maya is constantly trying to find her footing. And in the aftermath of a crime that happens across the country, Maya is thrown off balance and is forced to dig through the hatred and bigotry in her community in order to name her own truth.

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'Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances' by Ruth Emmie Lang

Sure, Weylyn Grey knows his life is bit unconventional. Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud parent of a horned pig, Weylyn is content with his extraordinary life — until he, alone, stops a tornado and is thrown into a world where his powers are both a blessing and a curse.

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'Brass' by Xhenet Aliu

This tender-hearted novel set in working class Connecticut traces the intertwined heart lines of Elsie and her daughter, Luljeta, as they each discover that the past rarely stays in the past, and the present often doubles back into the past.

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'Peach' by Emma Glass

In visceral, rhythmic prose, Emma Glass builds a world around Peach, struggling to return to her life after surviving a violent sexual assault. But she can't outrun or wash out her trauma - it rewrites her pulse and forever alters the way she walks through the world.

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'Freshwater' by Akwaeke Emezi

Born in Nigeria, with "one foot on the other side," Ada grows up navigating the spirits inside her own body. Akwaeke Emezi explores the often wrenching, deeply painful path of navigating identity in a culture obsessed with a binary.

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'The Wedding Date' by Jasmine Guillory

When Alexa Monroe and Drew Nichols are stranded, alone, in an elevator, the day before Drew's ex's wedding, it seems like fate. Two beautiful, accomplished people, having fun for a night? But when sparks become a full blown fire, Drew and Alexa must navigate borders and boundaries, both geographic and cultural, in pursuit of honest love. Best part? Author Jasmine Guillory has a second novel, The Proposal, out this September, and while it's not a sequel to The Wedding Date, it's still a great romance.

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