Best BIPOC debut books of 2020

There is nothing like a great debut novel.  It is so exciting to open a book to the pages of a fresh new literary voice. I remember reading first novels of greats like Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing or Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X. It is hard to believe that they were debut authors not so long ago. Part of the fun is reading along as they grow and explore as writers.  Now with “Bookstagram”, it is a passion of mine to do my part to amply and welcome new BIPOC authors to our community of readers. I have included some of my favorites of 2020.


The Girl with The Louding Voice by Abi Daré

This is one of those books that you cannot put down, yet do not want it to end!  At age 14, a young Nigerian girl, Adunni is sold off to become the third wife to a much older man. She runs from his abuse to what she hopes to be a better life working for a wealthy family. However, it turns out to be another form of abuse and oppression. She does not give up as her mother’s words of wisdom and love live within her.  She knows to have the life she wants and pave the way for other little girls, she must fight for her “Louding Voice”. She knows that voice begins with education. Adunni will capture your heart and have you right there fighting along with her.


Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King is a story about how the sins of mothers and fathers follow for generations.  There are some heavy topics as those sins include domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse. The way that the layers of the story are revealed is masterful.  The story is told from Ruby’s point of view, her devoted friend Layla and from the father that she needs to be rescued from. It is a story about fathers and daughters, mothers that cannot protect themselves or their children and life saving friendship.  There are secrets and mystery around every corner as the Chicago community turns a blind eye on Ruby’s mother who is murdered. The story was heart-breaking at times, but I never gave up hope for Saving Ruby King.


The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

This is a story of 17-year-old Lakshmi escaping from an arranged marriage and abusive husband. She travels from her rural village to the colorful pink city of Jaipur. She becomes a talented, sought after henna artist. Although she becomes a confidante to the rich upper class, she has secrets of her own that she must never reveal.  Lakshmi’s past catches up with her as she is tracked down by her husband and a sister that she did not know she had. The life and livelihood that she has so carefully crafted is threatened.  This is a beautiful story with strong female characters set against the backdrop of the colorful vibrant culture of India.


Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli

Virgil Wounded Horse has his flaws. He is a recovering alcoholic who is called upon to use his fists when traditional law enforcement is not upholding the law on the Rosebud reservation. The drama begins when the nephew he is raising gets involved with drugs.  Virgil and his ex-girlfriend unite and take matters into their own hands to track down the cartel that is infiltrating the reservation with heroin.  There is danger, mystery, and suspense as the reader roots for Virgil to catch the bad guys and to overcome his own demons.


The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Margot and her friend make a trip from Seattle to her hometown of Koreatown, Los Angeles to find out why her mother is not answering her phone calls. Margot discovers her mother has died from what appears to be an accident.  The story kept my attention as it toggled back and forth between Margot’s journey to uncover how her mother really died and her mother, Mina Lees’ story of a lonely, hardworking immigrant building her life in America. This is a great story of a mother and daughter relationship that was much closer in death than in life and a reminder to appreciate our loved ones while they are here.


A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A story is centered around three main characters and one devastating event that connects them. Jivan is a Muslim girl with dreams of making it out of the slums of India.  Her biggest crime may have been leaving a careless comment on Facebook but when she is accused of being a terrorist, it becomes much more. Pt Sir a gym teacher plans to use politics as his way out, even if it means taking Jivan down in the process.  Lovely, who has her own dreams also has the truth that could set Jivan free, but is she willing to risk her future for a friend? I found this story to be a strong statement on poverty, class, corruption, and justice.


His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

If you are looking for an enjoyable meaningful read, this is it! It seems like a dream come true that Afi and Eli’s families have arranged for them to be married. Marrying into a wealthy family will not only change her life but her widowed mother as well. The marriage starts out on the wrong foot when Elikem does not show up to his own wedding.  Several weeks later when her husband arrives at their luxury apartment, it appears that she does have a handsome, sexy and kind husband. It seems to be going well until she discovers that she is sharing him with another women. She believes she loves him but is she willing to share? Afi fights to maintain her independence and respect in the relationship.  The story is wonderfully steeped in African culture, fashion and foods.

Tonja Wheatley

I am a lifelong reader based out of Southern California. I’m mom to 3 kids, 2 dogs and a cat. I joined Bookstagram 3 years ago. I have a passion for reading and promoting BIPOC authors. I especially like giving visibility to debut authors. I’m very active with my IRL book club and my IG chat buddies. I am an avid yogi, thus my handle, booksnbikram. In my “day job” I am the V.P. of sales for a non-profit, The California Credit Union Association. I’m a pretty outgoing bookworm!

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