12 great Canadian debut novels you should check out

Looking to discover a favourite new author? We've got you covered with this list of great first novels.

Looking to discover a favourite new author? The reveal of the 2018 First Novel Award shortlist inspired us to put together a list of great recent Canadian debut novels you should check out. 

American War by Omar El Akkad

Omar El Akkad
American War is Omar El Akkad's debut novel. (Michael Lionstar/McClelland & Stewart)

Omar El Akkad's American War takes place in a country devastated by environmental disasters and civil unrest and examines the risks people take to protect their families. It was a contender on Canada Reads 2018, where it was defended by actor Tahmoh Penikett. The novel is currently a finalist for the 2018 First Novel Award.

The Boat People by Sharon Bala

Sharon Bala is the author of The Boat People. (Nadra Ginting/McClelland & Stewart)

The Boat People tells the story of a group of refugees who survive a perilous ocean voyage to reach Canada — only to face the threat of deportation and accusations of terrorism in their new land. It was defended by Mozhdah Jamalzadah on Canada Reads 2018 and is on the shortlist for the 2018. First Novel Award.

The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan

Ahmad Danny Ramadan is the author of the novel The Clothesline Swing. (, Nightwood Editions)

In The Clothesline Swing, Hakawati, a storyteller, prolongs the life of his dying partner by telling story after story about his childhood in Damascus. Death joins the couple, eavesdropping on the series of cruel events that have brought Hakawati to love and to Vancouver. 

Dazzle Patterns by Alison Watt

Alison Watt is a Vancouver-based painter and author of Dazzle Patterns. (Freehand Books)

Dazzle Patterns is a fictionalized account of a year in the life of three young people in a love triangle, trying to deal with how their lives have changed in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. It is currently a finalist for the 2018 First Novel Award.

Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson

Demi-Gods is Eliza Robertson's debut novel. (Ellie Gillard/Penguin Canada)

Set in the 1950s over the long, nostalgic days of summer, Demi-Gods is narrated by a striking young woman who describes a series of brief, highly charged encounters with her stepbrother. 

The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka

The Dictionary of Animal Languages is Heidi Sopinka's debut novel. (Arden Wray/Penguin Random House Canada)

The Dictionary of Animal Languages is the story of Ivory Frame, a 90-year-old artist who is shocked to receive a letter from a granddaughter she didn't know she had. The letter turns Ivory's life upside down as she revisits her difficult past, and the secrets she thought she had left behind.

The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye

The Honey Farm is Harriet Alida Lye's first novel. ( Press)

When the bees in The Honey Farm start dying, Cynthia decides to create a residency where artists can stay, in exchange for working on the farm. When the artists feel they aren't getting enough creative work out of the deal, they begin to leave — but something even more sinister may be taking place than a scam for cheap labour.

In the Cage by Kevin Hardcastle

Kevin Hardcastle's debut novel is called In The Cage. (Biblioasis/Katrina Afonso)

In the Cage is about Daniel, a mixed martial artist whose career ends prematurely when he is injured. No longer able to fight, he attempts to escape poverty by moonlighting as muscle for a mid-level gangster he has known since childhood. 

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Jonny Appleseed is a novel by Joshua Whitehead. (sweetmoon photography, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Jonny Appleseed is about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral. 

Liminal by Jordan Tannahill

Jordan Tannahill is a playwright, director and author. (House of Anansi/Lacey Creighton)

Set during the split second between seeing his mother on her bed, and not knowing if she is alive or dead, and learning the answer, Liminal explores a man's relationship with his terminally ill mother — and what grief and death can mean for the living. 

Little Fish by Casey Plett

Revelations about the hidden identities in a Mennonite family appear in the plot of Casey Plett's first novel, Little Fish. (Sybil Lamb, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Wendy is a trans woman living in Winnipeg whose life is turned upside down when she is told a family secret: that her Mennonite grandfather was possibly also transgender. Wendy decides she needs to know the truth, and begins a quest to confront her family and the Mennonite culture she was raised in. 

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez is the author of the novel Scarborough. (Charm Torres, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Scarborough is the multi-voiced story of a neighbourhood that refuses to fall apart in the face of poverty and crime. Weaving together the stories of three children growing up in difficult circumstances with the stories of three adults who are doing their best to help them out, Scarborough is a vibrant and emotional debut.