With such a vast number of books published each year, and the major award ceremonies putting the spotlight on only a handful, it’s easy to miss some true literary gems. With that in mind, we offer up our top 12 underrated books of the year. Keep them in mind as potential gifts for avid readers.
The Story of a Brief Marriage
by Anuk Arudpragasam
A powerful, slim novel of brutal atrocities and sparks of hope, written in the most breathtaking prose, and set over the course of one day of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
by Natashia Deón
An unflinching historical saga of love and violence set against the backdrop of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation in America. Worthy of as much attention as “The Underground Railroad.”
by Saleem Haddad
A young gay man living in an unnamed Arab country tries to make a life for himself amid social and political upheaval. A sensitive, beautiful novel.
The Wolf Road
by Beth Lewis
Possibly the best dystopian novel of the year, this is the story of an orphan named Elsa who is taken in by a dangerous stranger and taught how to survive after most of civilization is destroyed.
Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South
by Beth Macy
The horrifying true story of two African-American brothers kidnapped in 1899 and forced to perform in a circus, and their mother’s 28-year fight to get them back. The amount of research that went into making this book is astounding.
The Unseen World
by Liz Moore
Raised and homeschooled by her brilliant, socially inept scientist father, a young woman struggles to learn more about him and his work after his mind starts to fail him. Liz Moore is a gem.
by Tim Murphy
Life, love, and death, set in the iconic Christodora building in New York City, spanning from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s through present-day New York and the building’s changing neighborhood.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
by Madeleine Thien
This beautiful, consuming novel about family, secrets, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square massacre won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, but still deserves more hype.
Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy
by Heather Ann Thompson
An enlightening and infuriating look at the Attica Correctional Facility riots of 1971 that resulted in the deaths of 39 prisoners and correctional officers, and the cover-ups and lawsuits stemming from the incident that have continued for four decades.
Children of the New World: Stories
by Alexander Weinstein
Like “Black Mirror”? Like “Westworld”? Then you’ll love Weinstein’s brilliant stories set in a future filled with technology and despair — a future we may see very soon.
by Monica Wood
When a young boy dies, his estranged father sets out to complete the requirements for the boy’s Scout badges, which includes doing chores for a 104-year-old woman. This one will get you right in the feels.
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa
Grief, heroics, and violence set amid the 1990 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. This is a powerful novel that has been lost in the shuffle because it came out at the very beginning of the year.