The 10 best debut novels of 2019
The next class
Dozens of promising new literary voices burst onto the scene in 2019, but these 10 wowed us the most. Check out our top 10 first novels of the year, and in case you missed it, see our best books list, too.
Fleishman Is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The instant New York Times best-seller and National Book Award nominee presents itself as a sort of Rothian story of New York misery before finding its feminist sweet spot. Those familiar with Brodesser-Akner’s magazine work shouldn’t be surprised by the journalistic clarity and twisty sense of perspective that propels her saga of divorce and discovery.
The Falconer, by Dana Czapnik
The NYC coming-of-age novel is hardly underrepresented in debut literary fiction — but first books this alive, energized, and heartfelt don’t come around too often.
The Unpassing, by Chia-Chia Lin
Not for the faint of heart, Lin’s devastating family story, set in Alaska and centered on Taiwanese immigrants, is so suffused with grief it can feel overwhelming at times. But its insights into parent-child dynamics and the American dream are too powerful to deny.
Going Dutch, by James Gregor
Gregory’s gay millennial novel may be too sour for some, but its acidity works in tandem with a wistfulness that sneaks up on you. Going Dutch is also just really, really funny — a dizzyingly satirical tapestry of the absurdities of contemporary urban life and love.
Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips
This chilly suspense novel has racked up plenty of endorsements beyond EW’s — indeed, it’s a National Book Award finalist — but allow us to sing its praises once more. Composed of interlinked stories, and set on a remote Russian peninsula where two girls go missing, Disappearing Earth invites readers into a world far beyond their own, illuminating a community of women contending with loneliness and broken hearts. Assured and humane, this series of intricate character studies builds, bracingly, toward an unforgettable — and hopeful — climax.
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott
Prescott’s eminently readable, whip-smart dip into Cold War spycraft was as intriguing as it sounded, depicting an international conflict over the publication of Doctor Zhivago in serious style.
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong
The award-winning poet announced himself as a major novelist with this aching piece of autofiction. We could go into everything Vuong does so well — the graphic and intimate and wild sex scenes, the poignant meditations on the immigrant experience, the sensitive but clear-eyed dissections of trauma — but in the interest of space, trust that all that and more make this worth a read (and reread).
The Dearly Beloved, by Cara Wall
This superb exploration of faith and marriage flew under the radar until Jenna Bush Hager selected it for her Today club. Of all the books on this list — maybe this year — it’s the gentlest, a wise and searching story of purpose and passion, spanning decades and filled with empathy.
American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson
How does one reinvent the spy novel? Mix a little John Le Carré, Beyoncé, and James Weldon Johnson together, sure. But the most important ingredient — originality — comes straight from its author. Wilkinson constructs a new kind of espionage thriller, deftly introducing riveting and groundbreaking new narratives to the genre’s well-worn tropes.
Frankly in Love, by David Yoon
The year’s best YA debut spins a rom-com staple — the fake-dating scheme — into a sweet, nuanced, and brilliantly entertaining take on Korean-American adolescence and the distance teens project from their parents. Specific in nature, the novel soars in its universality.