There’s nothing like opening a book by a previously unknown author and finding a new favorite. Luckily for readers, 2012 seems like a particularly promising year for new voices—we’ve already discovered and loved authors like Naomi Benaron. This two-part series highlights upcoming first efforts you won’t want to miss.
The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson (Dutton).
Halverson’s story of a young widow who has to fight her husband’s ex for custody of her stepchildren is a proven tear-jerker that is full of profound moments and beautifully written descriptions of the aftermath of loss.
For fans of: Marisa de los Santos, Carolyn Parkhurst, Leah Stewart
No One Is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel (Riverhead).
Like her characters, Ausubel has done something that’s seemingly impossible. They made their small village disappear to escape the ravages of World War II; she created a World War II story that feels fresh.
For fans of: Jonathan Safran Foer, Ben Marcus, Olga Grushin
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Regan Arthur).
Lovable characters, a mysterious sprite of a child who may or may not be real and a vivid Alaska setting put Ivey’s debut ahead of the pack.
For fans of: Keith Donohue, Lauren Groff, Karen Russell, The People’s Act of Love by James Meek
The Lost Saints of Tennessee by Amy Franklin-Willis (Atlantic Monthly).
This family saga set in Tennessee and Virginia follows a family attempting to heal their fractured bonds after a staggering loss. Angst abounds, but there’s a touch of romance.
For fans of: Pat Conroy, Ron Rash and other Southern fiction masters
The Darlings by Cristina Alger (Pamela Dorman Books).
Set during the early days of the financial crisis that began in 2008, this realistically sketched portrait of one upper-crust family is incisive and fast-paced.
For fans of: Jonathan Dee, Claire Messud
Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung (Riverhead).
Like The Tiger’s Wife, Chung’s accomplished debut weaves folklore with a modern-day tale to tell a compelling story of two Korean-American sisters—one practical, one emotional—who handle a family crisis and their complicated family history in very different ways.
For fans of: Téa Obreht, Lisa See, Amy Tan
The Expats by Chris Pavone (Crown).
An expat mom becomes involved in an intrigue when she senses that another couple is not who they claim to be. In doing so, she risks exposing secrets of her own. Pavone is a former expat stay-at-home dad and cookbook editor; his background should lend verisimilitude to this debut.
For fans of: Ken Follett, Alan Furst, Daniel Silva
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Regan Arthur).
It’s 1914, and Grace Winter is sailing back to America from England with her new husband in high style. But when the ocean liner sinks, she’s just one of 34 people in an overcrowded lifeboat. How far will she go to survive? How far should one go? Those are just two of the questions that haunt this suspenseful, psychologically acute debut.
For fans of: Valerie Martin (especially Property), Lionel Shriver, Geraldine Brooks, Andrea Barrett
The Land of Decoration by Grace McLeen (Holt).
A young girl raised by fundamentalist parents collects the detritus of life to construct a world where things make sense, which she calls “The Land of Decoration.” Told in episodic chapters through a pitch-perfect 10-year-old voice, this is a publisher in-house favorite.
For fans of: Room by Emma Donoghue, Mark Haddon, Alice Sebold
A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois (Dial).
When life gives you a bad hand, how do you react—and why? Is pursuing a lost cause ever worthwhile? DuBois isn’t afraid to take on big questions in her ambitious debut, which somehow ties together Russian politics and chess with friendship, loss and terminal illness. Read an excerpt from the book here.
For fans of: Arthur Philips (especially Prague), Stefan Merrill Block, Sigred Nunez, Ann Patchett
The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O’Melveny (Little, Brown).
Historical fiction fans will lap up this debut set in Renaissance Italy, where a young woman has trained to be a physician under her father’s auspices. When he disappears, she sets out in search of him across continents.
For fans of: Sarah Dunant, Ariana Franklin, Karen Essex
A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash (Morrow).
When a tragedy occurs during a Pentacostal church service, young Jess learns that he can’t always trust the teachings of his faith, or even the beliefs of his family. Cash explores the mysteries of religion, grounded solidly in the mountains of western North Carolina.
For fans of: Bloodroot by Amy Greene, Tom Franklin
Overseas by Beatriz Williams.
A cynical Wall Street analyst falls in love with a British billionaire, only to learn that they have met before: In the trenches of World War I. Swooningly romantic and well grounded in both history and the world of modern-day finance (the author has an MBA).
For fans of: Diana Gabaldon, Anne Fortier, Lauren Willig, Kate Mosse
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson (Bloomsbury).
A modern-day Londoner longing for adventure befriends a lonely Yemeni man. Two missionary sisters travel by bicycle (a BSA Lady’s Roadster, to be precise!) to Kashgar way back in 1923. Somehow, their stories intertwine to explore themes of friendship across cultures and the repercussions of globalization. This unique debut is likely to capture readers’ imaginations (it captured mine back when I first heard about it!).
For fans of: The Maisie Dobbs series; Kate Walbert
All Woman and Springtime by Brandon Jones (Algonquin).
If reading The Orphan Master’s Son piqued your interest in North Korea, this one’s for you. Jones’ debut—which is very different from Johnson’s recent bestseller—depicts the harsh life of women in North Korea, and then the even harsher realities after they are smuggled out of the country and sold into the sex trade in Seattle. Gritty and dark. Read an excerpt.
For fans of: Janet Fitch, Adam Johnson
What debuts are YOU excited about for 2012? Let us know in the comments, and look for our Summer and Fall debut preview post sometime in February.