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You know how it is sometimes. You read a book and love it, but feel like few other people are talking about the book and you just want to get it in more people’s hands. I think of these as “Underrated Gems.” They’re books that just didn’t seem to get the hype they deserved and didn’t gain quite the traction they should have. That was especially true this year, with SO much else to keep readers distracted, often making reading more difficult than normal. So, today I’m sharing six 2020 books that I think you might want to take a serious look at!
- The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah – This book begins with Afaf Rahman, the principal of a Muslim girls’ school, praying in a small office, as a shooter enters the building. While that part of the storyline weaves throughout the book, the real star is the story of Afaf’s life. The child of Palestinian immigrants, Afaf’s family was never a happy one, and after her older sister vanished things grew even worse. This is a dark story, but within it is beauty, healing, and ultimately forgiveness. (my review)
- A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet – I’ve been a cheerleader for A Children’s Bible since the day one. In it, Millet brilliantly told a quasi-dystopian story of a group of children left largely alone to deal with the aftermath of an apocalyptic storm and the resulting new world. What made it so incredible was that their story was driven by parallel Bible stories. Nothing felt overtly religious at all, but instead she built clever scenarios from stories we all know, This one is short, so give it a try! (my review)
- Greenwood by Michael Christie – I first picked up Greenwood because of a couple reviews I saw on Instagram, and I’m so glad I did. This is wonderful story about four generations of a wealthy Canadian lumber family. It actually starts and ends in the near future with the youngest generation, and moves both backward to 1908, and then again forward in time as it tells the story of each generation and how all are connected. This is a deeply character-driven novel. One I devoured! (my review)
- Want by Lynn Steger Strong – Let’s begin with the cover of this book. Simply gorgeous! Another gorgeous thing about Want was Steger Strong’s writing. She masterfully wove told the story of Elizabeth, a deeply depressed woman, who in many ways has a wonderful life, but just can’t seem to eke much joy out of it. Now, I know that sounds very dark, and it is, but the story is so well told, that you’ll ache for Elizabeth and long remember her struggles. (my review)
- When These Mountains Burn by David Joy – I’m a diehard fan of David Joy’s grit-lit books, so was pretty confident I’d like his latest. I was right. This is the story of a community ravaged by drugs, first by meth and more recently by heroin. In this setting, Joy tells a story of a father’s grief and need for revenge as he watches his 41-year old son, unable to fight his life-long addiction. Combine that with cops/DEA agents, small town concerns and tribal lands and you’ve got quite the story! (my review)
- Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami – I feel like I’m the only one who has read this insightful memoir/essay collection by the author of one of my favorite books from last year, The Other Americans. In it Lalami examines the many ways citizenship in this country is not equal, be it because of race, gender, class, or country of birth. She deftly explores social structure and the historically white, male-dominated hierarchy that has tended to marginalize so many others. (my review)
What are your favorite 2020 underrated gems?
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Deb Nance at Readerbuzz says
Want sounds fascinating, perhaps even a mood-boosting novel. It seems to be on sale as a Kindle book today, too. Tempting.
It’s definitely NOY mood boosting. Want is a depressing, slightly dark story.
JoAnn @ Gulfside Musing says
Just added Greenwood to my list. Thanks, Susie!
Yay! I think you’ll really like it.
Thanks for your post. Of all of these I’m most interested to check out Greenwood and I actually bought a copy – especially since it’s by a Canadian … but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it (maybe early 2021). It looks big but perhaps as you say it’s fast. Good to know!
I think you will really appreciate the writing and story in Greenwood. So good!
I have The Children’s Bible – it sounds like one I’d like. I’ve enjoyed this author in the past. Now I need to check out the others you mentioned.
I need to check out Lydia Millet’s backlist. Glad to hear you’ve liked her earlier books.
I am fascinated by your love for Want. You generally don’t seem to like depressed or whiny protagonists. I remember that’s why you didn’t care for Craigslist Confessional- too depressing. But this woman is the worst in that way. What do you think is the difference?
I didn’t really find Elizabeth whinny. Yes, she was very depressed, but I still enjoyed her story. Maybe because she was stuck in a job she didn’t like. Craigslist Confessional just got old for me because there were so many depressing stories!