A Debut Book: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

June 14, 2021 | Ames

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We're just about halfway through the year, and we're on to the first of the categories in our Advanced Challenge... a debut book! Have you ever read the first book an author ever wrote and thought, "Wow! This is their FIRST book?" Well, here's some recommendations to provoke just that reaction!

Of course, sometimes it's their first book but they're already well-established in the creative industry. A few examples could be journalists, scriptwriters, editors, short-story writers, podcasters and more. We promise it isn't cheating if "a debut book" doesn't mean "the first thing they've ever written"!

Welcome to night value

My first recommendation is from a duo of authors that tick almost all of those boxes. Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor is the first book based on their popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I was thrilled when it first came out. The surreal, spooky and magical world of Night Vale is exactly what I'd be interested in... but I'm not able to listen to and follow a podcast. This novel allowed me to explore the world in all its glory. And it's available in audio for the podcast fans too, of course.

Here's some other categories you could use it for:

  • A book that is the first in a series
  • A book set in the future (is it, though? that's up to you to decide)
  • A book by two or more people
  • A book where the main character is not human (are they, though?)
  • A book about someone who is living your dream (because I have really freaky dreams)


This recommendation may be cheating a little. But I'm going to say it technically counts. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is the story of a young dragon girl and her friends exposing corruption and villainy in their world. Stevenson began writing Nimona as a webcomic in 2012. So although she illustrated books in 2013-2014, and began publishing Lumberjanes in 2014, I count Nimona as her real debut. This is why we say "interpret the categories as broadly as you’d like" in our rules.

Sadly, Disney cancelled their planned adaptation of the Nimona film. It was "poised to become Disney's first feature-length animated movie to showcase queer lead characters". Also, Stevenson uses she/he/they/any pronouns! Very cool. I'm just using she here for consistency.

Here's some other categories you could use it for:

  • A book that is someone else's favourite (I have so many favourites)
  • A book about someone unlike yourself (no dragon wings on me!)
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book that made you feel comforted or hopeful
  • A book where the main character is not human
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book about someone who is living your dream (being a human-dragon hybrid would be amazing)


Staff Picks

Here's what our staff are reading and recommending for "a debut book".

The witch's heart

The Witch's Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

An epic adventure incorporating the lives of the gods and goddesses of Norse mythology (one of my favourite subjects). Beautifully written and quite humorous at times.

– Sephora, Department Head

The liar's dictionary

The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams

The story is set in the offices of Swansby's Encyclopedic Dictionary. Mallory (an intern who lied to get the job) has to find all of the fake words that Peter inserted into the dictionary. The story alternates between Mallory in the present day and Peter during the Victorian times. Instead of numbered chapters, it is alphabetical chapters. The book will really, truly expand your vocabulary. I switched to reading the ebook version so I could more easily look stuff up. (I learned that a sobriquet is a nickname). The key takeaway from the book: cats in offices should totally be an option.

Could also be used for:

  • A book that is someone else's favourite
  • A book about someone unlike yourself (if you're not a lexicographer)
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book about someone who is living your dream (if you'd like to work for a dictionary publisher)
  • A book published this year

– Pauline, Librarian

When all is said

When All is Said by Anne Griffin

This is one of two books I've read this year that I would give five stars. The other is Five Little Indians by Michelle Good. A lonely older widower comes to terms with his past and toasts five people who were the most important to him in a small town Ireland bar stool. It was sad, funny, and reflective. You really come to understand why he is feeling the way he is and you don't fight the conflict within yourself about the final decision he has made.

Other categories you could use it for:

  • A book about growing older
  • A book about your heritage or culture

– Despina, Branch Head


Ablutions by Patrick DeWitt

Shout out to anyone who has worked in a bar...or been a regular at a bar! This book is about a bartender making notes about his pathological regulars in order to write his first novel. Who doesn't love a novel about a novel? Hit rock bottom with this tragedy that is wickedly sharp and full of authentically sad characters.

Patrick DeWitt has since become a Candian treasure of dark comedy and lucky for us he has written a few novels since this debut:

Other categories you could use this book for:

  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A book by or about someone you'd like to meet
  • A book with a one-word title

– Reagan, Librarian

Here comes the sun

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

I haven't been to the tropics in a long time, but reading this made me feel like I was there. On the beautiful beaches of Jamaica and within an opulent resort, Margot sells herself for money. She's determined to make sure her younger sister, Thandi, doesn't end up in the same predicament. Once plans come forth to build a new resort in her community, Margot has the opportunity to make a change, and also admit her love for another woman.

As of today, there are unlimited ebook copies of this title.

– Nalini, Senior Branch Head

From the ashes

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Jesse is Métis-Cree-Scot and an incredibly talented storyteller and orator. It's his debut memoir that made it into the top 5 for Canada Reads 2020, and is being released in the United States this summer. I'm in the middle of my second read of the book right now.

I recommend Jesse's book because it's not just a story of what his experiences in loss, addiction and homelessness, it's also a story of coming home to community, friends and family, and finding love and support. His writing evokes emotion incredibly well and makes you feel like you are walking alongside him throughout the entire book.

– Jamie, Digital Content Lead

The nanny diaries

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

This isn't the newest novel, but it's based on the authors' own experiences of working as nannies in New York City. It's horrifying and entertaining at the same time. This book gives the readers insight into Park Avenue powder rooms. Readers learn that that working as a nanny can entail much more than one would think... slicing blueberries and reading Wall Street to a 3-year-old are some of the unexpected things. The authors (and the main character) also managed to find time for romance, and in a way it is also a coming-of-age story.

You could also use it for a book by two or more people.

– Anna, Public Service Assistant


More Recommendations from the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook Group

You don't need a Facebook account to check out the TPL Reading Challenge group. Here are a few of their recommendations:

You can read the rest of the group's recommendations in the Facebook thread.


We talked about this category in a Reading Challenge Online Book Discussion on April 28. You can watch the replay on CrowdCast or on Facebook for even more title suggestions. We have monthly discussions, and our next one is Thursday, June 24 at 4 pm. Everyone is welcome!


What book do you read or recommend for "a debut book"? Share below in the comments.