Image: Penguin

Image: Penguin

It's been a weird time for everyone under lockdown. But spare a thought for the debut authors who ploughed their hearts and souls into their first novels, only for bookshops to close and events, signings and festivals to be cancelled, just as they got published.

We are committed to supporting all aspects of the book industry during this uncertain time. So here is a selection of some of the best debut novels you may have missed during the lockdown.

Keeper by Jessica Moor (19 March)

When the body of Katie Straw, a young woman working at a women's refuge, is found at a well-known suicide spot, police write it off as a run-of-the-mill suicide.

But when residents who knew her at the shelter point to darker forces at play, the false identity under which she'd been living begins to unravel in this tightly coiled and atmospheric thriller that explores the many faces of abuse, and how it can rob women of their lives and identities in more ways than one.

The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Daré (5 March)

This visceral tale of domestic slavery tells the story of Adanni, a 14-year-old Nigerian village girl desperate for an education. Instead, she's sold into an abusive marriage to pay her father's debts. After a terrifying ordeal at the hands of her old “husband”, she escapes and finds work as a servant in an abusive household where her predecessor mysteriously disappeared.

Yet, despite facing many unimaginable horrors of subjugation and sexual exploitation, Adanni resolves to break free, to get a western education and find her “louding voice”. It is, in short, a vital and unforgettable celebration of triumph over horrifying adversity, and of what it takes to fight for the right to live life on one's own terms.

Aria by Nazanine Hozar (12 April)

Margaret Atwood called this a “sweeping saga about the Iranian revolution as it explodes . . . a Doctor Zhivago of Iran”. It charts the life of Aria, an Iranian orphan found abandoned in an alleyway by a driver named Behrouz.

He adopts her and brings her up as his own with the help of three women: his abusive wife, a wealthy widow who loves her but cannot say so, and the impoverished Mehri, her birth mother, who hides a shattering secret.

Meanwhile revolution is sweeping Tehran, and it doesn't take long for Aria to make her mark in this beautiful meditation on love, loyalty, belonging and social and political upheaval.

This Lovely City by Louise Hare (12 March)

London is the lovely city in question. Only it's not that lovely for Laurie, a young Jamaican musician who's just arrived in post-War Brixton on the Empire Windrush. “Everywhere you walked in London you could see tragedy through absence,” he notes. He gets a job as a postman, while moonlighting as a nightclub jazz musician, and soon falls for the girl next door, a mixed-race Londoner named Evie.

But when he discovers a dead baby in a pond at Clapham Common, Laurie not only becomes the prime suspect of a murder he did not commit, but gets dragged into a dark web of racism and deceit that threatens to tear London – not to mention his and Evie's love – apart. Hare paints a painfully tender and thought-provoking portrait of immigrants struggling to belong in a country that needs them but doesn't seem to want them.

As You Were by Elaine Feeney (16 April)

Set over the course of one week in a chaotic Irish hospital ward, Sinead Hynes is dying. Only, she hasn't told her husband or three sons.

But through her interactions with a cast of vibrant female patients around her, she learns to confront her past, present and what's left of her future to gain a profound understanding of what it means to live with a terminal illness, and be a mother and a wife in contemporary Ireland.

At once heart-wrenching and wickedly funny, Feeney's unique narrative style breathes life through death – in all its beauty and urgency – throughout this dazzling debut.

Hashim & Family by Shahnaz Ahsan (31 March)

This expansive new novel explores themes of family, migration and belonging across 20 years and two countries. It follows Hashim, who in 1960 leaves his native East Pakistan, and new wife Munira, and travels to England in search of riches. Soon he's in Manchester, shacked up with his cousin, Rofikul and his girlfriend Helen.

When Munira finally arrives, she hits it off instantly with Helen, and the group must navigate this brave new world to lay down roots for themselves as a family. Only, when a war of independence breaks out in their homeland (what will become Bangladesh), loyalties are tested and friendships strained. A powerful portrait of the migrant experience, and a celebration of cross-cultural friendship.

The Ship of Shadows by Maria Kuzniar (16 July)

All Aleja wants is a life of swashbuckling adventure – the kind she'd only ever read about in books. Trouble is, she's a girl, and girls can't do adventure.

Not, that is, until The Ship of Shadows sails into port. When it's all-female crew of freebooting pirates ask her to join them in their hunt for something more priceless than any treasure, she learns that the high seas hold far more secrets than she ever imagined.

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke (23 July)

The year is 1898. Five orphans - Lotta, Egg, Fenna, Sem and Milou – have formed a family of their own in the horrible Little Tulip Orphanage where they were abandoned 12 years earlier. So tight is their friendship that they have been dubbed “The Unadoptables”.

But when a mysterious and sinister gentleman arrives and threatens to break them up, they have one choice: to escape the walls of captivity and go in search of their families.

Except, they soon realise that what awaits them may not provide the answers they are searching for. Those answers, in fact, may have been with them all along.

Tennis Lessons by Susannah Dickey (16 July)

This powerful coming-of-age novel pinpoints the pains of young womanhood in unflinching detail. We follow the narrator - “you” - from the age of three to 28 as she grapples with a parents' failing marriage, low self-esteem, school bullies and lots of bad sex.

But far from a bleak portrait of a life in limbo, Dickey's darkly comic novel perfectly captures the vicissitudes of growing up, through which friendship might just be her saviour.

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (12 April)

Having already earned comparisons to the work of Sally Rooney, Exciting Times sucks us into a vortex of millennial self-examination and insecurity, social confusion, friendship and female sexuality.

It follows Eva, a 22-year-old Dubliner transplanted into Hong Kong to teach English. When she meets posh English banker Julian, she's seduced by his money, but not his brash apathy towards her. Still, she moves in with him because he has a nice flat.

Then she meets Edith, a corporate lawyer from a well-off Hong Kong family who is everything Julian is not. What follows is an acerbically witty story of a love triangle that also delves into colonialism, language, race, class and the influence of technology on love and lust.

What’s Left of Me Is Yours by Stephanie Scott (21 April)

What starts as a crime drama morphs into a love story. But this bitingly humane debut novel is also based on a true story – that of a Japanese man who is hired by a divorce-hungry husband to seduce his wife and break up their marriage, only to end up falling in love with her.

So far so sexy, until the hired help murders her. The question Stephanie Scott asks is: can you really love someone and then kill them? It's a fascinating examination of the Japanese culture of “wakaresaseya" (literally "breaker-upper"), as well as a lovely tale of passion, possession and morality, told through multiple viewpoints, including the dead wife's now-grown-up daughter.

Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez (30 April)

“When did you last read a novel about a young, black, gay, Jehovah Witness man from Wolverhampton who flees his community to make his way in London as a prostitute?” wrote Booker-winner Bernadine Evaristo of Paul Mendez's grippingly erotic debut.

It's a coming-of-age story about 19-year-old Jesse McCarthy who... well, see above. Mendez pulls no punches in describing the sex, racism and religious fervour Jesse encounters on his journey in what becomes a searingly immediate and gorgeously self-assured story about race, class and what it can take to find true freedom in a volatile world.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (23 July)

Set in Seoul, this thought-provoking novel slices open a culture’s obsession with beauty, in a city where a woman's success is largely determined by her looks.

Told in shifting first-person prose, it becomes a biting social commentary on gender inequity, female choice, class, and, of course, plastic surgery.

Yet, in a society engineered to stifle women's dreams by telling them they “do not live for tomorrow”, Cha's brilliantly painted women find freedom through each other.

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright (30 July)

Marea is born covered in bird feathers, and watches the world go by from a basement window in the tumbledown house which she's forbidden to leave. For that, she knows she is different. But when a mysterious professor arrives to further her education, he brings with him maps and books and magical stories that excite her curiosity of the world outside.

So – fuelled by a desire to know who she really is (and why all the feathers?!) she sets off on a quest to find the father she's never met. She soon arrives in the City of Murmers, a magical world of witches and mermaids where she learns about love and identity and the life-affirming power of taking pride in one's differences. This is a beautiful fairytale for grown ups.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (30 July)

This is a love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers - between mother and daughter. It follows wayward mum Tara, who runs out on her marriage to join an ashram and live her life exactly as she wants to.

Only, she does all this with her child in tow. As she grows older, her mind begins to wilt in the heat of old age, leaving her daughter to care for a mother who never cared for her. The question it raises, ultimately and poignantly, is: it may not be a child's duty to love her parents, but is it a parent's to love her child?

Visceral and angry, yet gorgeously written, it squeezes the reader like toothpaste through the toxicity of these two women's relationship. Hard to read, impossible to forget.

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