When I get some free time over the holidays, all I want to do is read. The problem is, with so much going on in 2020, it hasn’t been easy to keep track of all the great first-time authors who burst onto the scene this year. But we found them: A former pastry chef, a former lawyer and a former dancer are among our picks for the best new novelists of 2020, talents from all over the world whose stories will electrify your downtime whether you’re into sci-fi, romance or coming-of-age stories.
This published oceanographer and award-winning cosplayer knows how to mix magic with reality. And that’s exactly what she’s done in her debut YA novel: The 17-year-old title character of Elatsoeis a Lipan Apache girl who lives in an America populated with vampires and ghosts. Little Badger, who is Lipan Apache herself, skillfully zigzags between humor and horror as Ellie and her ghost dog (yes, really) attempt to solve a murder. And her literary talents aren’t limited to novels: Last month, she published a story in Marvel’s first Indigenous Voices issue, about Cheyenne mutant Dani Moonstar.
2. Michael Zapata
After a career of teaching writing to high school dropouts in Chicago, Zapata founded MAKE Literary Magazine before releasing his debut, The Lost Book of Adana Moreau. Throughout the story of a package containing a mysterious antique manuscript, Zapata’s love for science fiction is palpable as he invents a whole new canon within the novel’s literary world.
3. Dolores Reyes
Some authors wait years for their early novels to be translated. This Buenos Aires-born mother of seven had to wait a year: Her first book, Eartheater, was published in Spanish in 2019 and is now wowing an Anglophone audience as well. You can interpret the title literally — Reyes’ protagonist actually eats dirt to give herself mystical visions as she grieves her murdered mother in a fantastical take on the very real femicide epidemic in South America.
4. Alechia Dow
Beforewriting The Sound of Stars, a classic road trip novel that happens to be set in a post-invasion, extraterrestrial-occupied New York, Dow was a pastry chef and a librarian. She’s still putting that food knowledge to work with her periodic Booky Cookies offerings, where she’ll whip up themed treats to go with whatever she’s reading and post the recipes on her website. As a writer, she’s already inked a deal to pen two more sci-fi/fantasy YA novels.
Discover cares about you and your financial choices. That’s why it offers simple rewards, like its automatic cash back match. With Discover, you’ll get a dollar-for-dollar match of all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. You could turn $100 cash back into $200. It’s that easy and there’s no limit to how much Discover will match. Click Apply Now for more details.
After quitting legal work, Malaysian-born Lauren Ho has found a new niche: the next Helen Fielding. Her novel Last Tang Standing stars Andrea, a 33-year-old Chinese Malaysian woman whose successful career doesn’t make up for her singledom with her traditional Singapore family. We know what your next question is, and the answer is yes, this will fill the hole in your life left by the end of the Crazy Rich Asians series.
2. Jane Igharo
When Nigerian-born writer Jane Igharo was 12, she emigrated to Canada. When Azere — the protagonist of Igharo’s first novel, Ties That Tether — is 12, she makes the same journey. But Azere is burdened by a promise to her dying father that she’d marry a Nigerian man … a promise that hits a snag when her white one-night stand turns into something more. It’s a story of identity, family and compromise that Igharo says she didn’t recognize herself in until after she’d written it.
Can we ever really know our parents? That’s the question writer and critic Masad explores in All My Mother’s Lovers, in which a queer protagonist comes home after her mother’s death to find five sealed envelopes addressed to different men. Delivering them to their respective addresses, she comes to discover who her mother truly was. Masad, American-born but raised in Israel, has a stunning ear for intergenerational conflict.
4. Simon Han
More than 1 in 3 Americans say that worry about the coronavirus disrupted their sleep this past summer. That might make Han’s Nights When Nothing Happened the book of the year: It’s all about a family where sleep is in short supply and disorders like sleepwalking run their lives. Han — born in China and raised in Texas — has crafted a sprawling family saga about immigration, anxiety and tradition.
Ever checked the ingredients in your dog’s food? It might scare you. Thankfully, our friends at Spot & Tango have sworn off mysterious ingredients and powdered meats for good. Their personalized Unkibble will provide your dog with exact nutrients they need to live their best life. With free shipping and vet-developed recipes, could it get any better? Oh yeah, their meal plans start at only $6.99 per week. Check out Spot & Tango’s Unkibble now, and use code OZY30 for 30% off!
Apparently, more than a decade in journalism taught Anappara how to tell a good story — her debut novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, wound up on best books of the year lists from the New York Times to Time Magazine. In it, three children in an unnamed Indian metropolis go on the hunt for their missing friend in a narrative that’s part detective story and part keenly observed social commentary.
2. Paul Mendez
Raised a Jehovah’s Witness in Britain’s Black Country, Mendez left his family and community behind at 22 to become a queer sex worker and an aspiring actor. That’s a similar trajectory to that of Jesse, the protagonist of his book Rainbow Milk. In fact, Mendez originally set out to write a memoir, but eventually veered off into fiction, telling Jesse’s story alongside that of a fictional 1950s boxer named Norman in an exploration of Black and immigrant culture in midcentury England.
3. Abi Daré
Daré, a Lagos native, found her first writing success in telling her own stories: Her blog about life in the U.K. while she was studying law at the University of Wolverhampton became such a runaway success that she actually shut it down to protect her privacy. But for her novel The Girl With the Louding Voice, she’s looking at someone else’s story: That of a young Nigerian girl sold into marriage who becomes a housemaid while dreaming of getting an education and finding her own identity.
4. Chelsea Bieker
When Bieker was 9 her mother abandoned her, forcing her to move in with her deeply religious grandparents — an experience that reverberates throughout her debut novel, Godshot, about a young woman whose mother’s adherence to a California pastor’s splinter group takes her own life in an unexpected direction. Dryly funny and fast moving, Bieker’s voice is ferocious … and eventually heartbreaking. Her next book, a short story collection, will be out in 2021.
Taylor didn’t receive her MFA until the age of 58, and wrote her first novel, Etiquette for Runaways, while sitting on her front porch for eight weeks with a broken ankle. One of those historical novels that will send you beelining for Wikipedia to research the real-life events sprinkled throughout the narrative, this Jazz Age tale of a farm girl turned costume designer hits up New York and Paris on the way to its roaring denouement.
2. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Born in North Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War, Quế Mai moved to South Vietnam at the age of 6. There she saw people maimed and left emotionally devastated by the losses of the conflict. That’s the emotional heart of The Mountains Sing, her first novel and first book written in English, which follows a family through four generations of turmoil from French colonialism to communism through the war itself.
3. Lisa Braxton
Raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Braxton — who’s spent most of her career as a journalist — chose to set her first novel, The Talking Drum, in the fictional New England city of Bellport, Massachusetts. It’s 1971 and a massive urban gentrification project is throwing the town’s communities into chaos. To research one of her main characters, a Senegalese immigrant who dreams of fame as a drummer, she enrolled in a drumming master class to better understand the art form.