25 sensational debut novels

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Writing your first book is no mean feat, as all you aspiring authors out there will know. All credit, then, to these super-talented writers, who achieved fame, fortune and a dizzying array of literary prizes - all from their debut novels. With the launch of Stylist's micro fiction competition today, there's no better time to grab some inspiration from fantastic first-time authors... From Monica Ali's Brick Lane (which was shortlisted for an award at manuscript stage) to Harper Lee's Pulitzer-winning To Kill A Mockingbird, below you'll find our selection of the most sensational debut novels, complete with the opening line from each.

Simply click on an image to launch the gallery. Do you agree with our choices or have we left out your favourite debut novel? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below

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  • Sensational debut novels: The Kite Runner

    The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

    "I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975."

    This lyrical and haunting tale of life in Afghanistan over four decades spent more than 120 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was adapted into a major film.

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  • Sensational debut novels: White Teeth

    White Teeth by Zadie Smith

    "Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgment would not be too heavy upon him."

    Zadie Smith's pacy and original take on multi-cultural Britain saw her hailed as "the new Salman Rushdie."

  • Sensational debut novels: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

    "It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Its eyes were closed."

    This darkly humorous and quirky story of a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome won a string of awards, including the Whitbread Prize.

  • Sensational debut novels: To Kill A Mockingbird

    To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    "When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

    Harper Lee's first and only novel, about racism in the Deep South - told through the irresistible narrative of Scout Finch - was awarded the Pulitzer prize in 1961.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Secret Life of Bees

    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

    "At night I would lie bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin."

    Sue Monk Kidd's account of love and racism in 1960s South Carolina topped best-seller lists for months and was made into a movie.

  • Sensational debut novels: Before I Go to Sleep

    Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

    "The bedroom is strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home."

    SJ Watson used his experience as an NHS audiologist to write this tense mystery about a woman suffering from amnesia. Ridley Scott has already secured film rights, with Lionel Shriver branding it "a cracking good thriller."

  • Sensational debut novels: The Book Thief

    The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

    "First the colors. Then the humans. That's usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try."

    Marcus Zusak's first book for adults set in Nazi Germany - and narrated by the shockingly frank and witty voice of "Death" - sold over 400,000 copies in 2007.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Bluest Eye

    The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

    "Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men with sober eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel."

    Toni Morrison's debut effort, centred on the loneliness and yearning of an 11-year-old girl, marked her out as a powerful and evocative voice way before she won the Nobel prize for literature.

  • Sensational debut novels: Before I Die

    Before I Die by Jenny Downham

    "I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted, I could get him out and he'd look at me the way boys do in films, as if I'm beautiful."

    A tragically hilarious and moving tale of a 16-year-old girl dying from leukemia, Before I Die drew widespread acclaim and won the 2008 Branford Boase Award.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Catcher In The Rye

    The Catcher In The Rye by J. D. Salinger

    "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

    J. D. Salinger's coming-of-age tale captured the very essence of disenchanted youth and acquired cult status as a classic in modern American literature.

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  • Sensational debut novels: The Outcast

    The Outcast by Sadie Jones

    "There was nobody there to meet him. He stood in line behind three other men and watched them get their things and sign the papers and walk out, and they all did it just the same way, as if you couldn't choose how to do a thing like that after all the time you'd been waiting for it."

    Sadie Jones' gripping story of a young boy wracked by tragedy amid the claustrophobia of 1950s society won the Costa First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Orange prize.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Help

    The Help by Kathryn Stockett

    "Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in August, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that’s what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime."

    This New York Times bestseller documents the lives of black maids in 1960s Mississippi and was quickly snapped up by movie moguls. It's now an Oscar-tipped film starring Viola Davis.

  • Sensational debut novels: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

    Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

    "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

    The first in the Harry Potter franchise scooped a string of prizes for children's fiction and put J.K. Rowling on the path to international stardom and a lifetime of fame and fortune.

  • Sensational debut novels: Gone with the Wind

    Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

    "Scarlet O'hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."

    Margaret Mitchell's epic account of love in the Civil War won her the 1937 Pulitzer prize and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.

  • Sensational debut novels: Sense and Sensibility

    Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

    "The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where, for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance."

    Jane Austen's first novel sold all 750 copies, quickly prompting a second edition - thus kick-starting the career of one of Britain's most famous and cherished writers.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Devil Wears Prada

    The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

    "The light hadn’t even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets."

    Lauren Weisberger's sharp and hilarious take on life as a fashion mag assistant struck a chord with fans the world over, with Meryl Streep starring in the hugely successful movie adaptation.

  • Sensational debut novels: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

    Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller

    "Mum says, 'Don't come creeping into our room at night.' They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, 'Don't startle us when we're sleeping.' 'Why not?' 'We might shoot you.' 'Oh.' 'By mistake.'"

    Alexandra Fuller's unflinching and fascinating memoir of growing up in war-torn former Rhodesia won her the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize in 2002, alongside rave reviews.

  • Sensational debut novels: Brick Lane

    Brick Lane by Monica Ali

    "An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen's life began - began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly - her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly."

    Monica Ali's moving and richly observed tale of a woman who moves from Bangladesh to London for an arranged marriage famously put her on the Granta best young British novelists list when it was still in manuscript stage.

  • Sensational debut novels: Doctor Zhivago

    Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

    "On they went, singing 'Eternal Memory', and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing."

    Boris Pasternak's sweeping love story set amid the chaos of the Russian revolution was initially banned in his native Soviet Union - but won the 1958 Nobel prize in literature.

  • Sensational debut novels: After You'd Gone

    After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell

    "The only bit Alice can see of her father is the soles of his shoes. They are a faded brown, striated with the grit and terrain of the pavements he has walked."

    A tear-jerking tale of contemporary love and loss, Maggie O'Farrell's debut was greeted with unanimous acclaim and won the Betty Trask Award for first-time authors.

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  • Sensational Debut Novels: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

    “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work.”

    Carson McCullers published her bestselling debut novel about a group of misfits living in small town America in 1940, when she was just 23. The perspective of the eternal outsider is rendered with poignant, almost painful accuracy.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Tiger's Wife

    The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

    "In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he take me to see the tigers. He puts on his hat, his big-buttoned raincoat, and I wear my lacquered shoes and velvet dress. It is autumn, and I am four years old."

    Tea Obreht's mythical, imaginative story of former Yugoslavia during the Balkans war made her the youngest ever person to be awarded the prestigious Orange prize earlier this year, aged 25.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Bell Jar

    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

    "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."

    Sylvia Plath's finely tuned and painful look at a young woman on the brink of destruction in 1950s Boston - widely acknowledged to be autobiographical - became an American masterpiece, not least because of the irony of Sylvia's death shortly after publication.

  • Sensational debut novels: The Virgin Suicides

    The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

    "On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."

    This compulsive coming-of-age story about five sisters in suburban America has been translated into 34 languages and was adapted into a film in 1999 by director Sofia Coppola.

  • Sensational debut novels: Wuthering Heights

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

    "I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society."

    This intense and passionate tale of love on a Yorkshire moor was initially greeted by mixed reviews; however, it is now acknowledged as a literary masterpiece, with Emily Brontë a doyenne of school curriculum literature.

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