Do you ever read a new book and wonder: why isn’t everybody talking about this novel (or memoir, or short story collection, or thriller, etc.)? Sure, the book might have great blurbs, a fair number of favorable reviews, and the obsessions of more than a small handful of book bloggers — but still, they haven’t exactly gone, shall we say, “Gone Girl-viral”. You know what I mean: they’re the books that deserve WAY more buzz than they’re already getting.
As a serious book lover and someone who spends the vast majority of my non-reading time thinking about, writing about, and sometimes smelling (don’t judge) books, I see a lot of the good, the not-so-good, the downright strange, and the great of what’s out there, just waiting to be read. So, believe me when I say the books on this list fall into the latter category.
Have you ever fallen in love with an author for the first time through their third, or fourth, or even fifth book and wondered: where have you been all my life and why didn’t I discover you sooner?! (And then proceeded to buy everything they’ve ever written?) These are those authors. Except, thanks to me, you don’t have to wait until they’re on their eleventh title to discover them — I’m giving you the heads up now. So, once everybody is talking about these writers, you’ll be able to say: “Psh, I’ve been reading her for years.”
Here are 14 new books that deserve way more recognition than they’re already getting.
1‘The Wanderers’ by Meg Howrey
I don’t know when Mars transformed from science fiction to the next frontier, but maybe after reading Meg Howrey’s The Wanderers you’ll reconsider booking that first flight on Mars Airlines (or, whatever they’ll call it.) The Wanderers takes readers on a 17-month Mars landing simulation in the Utah desert, via the three folks who think themselves perfect for the job: Helen Kane, Yoshi Tanaka, and Sergei Kuznetsov, all global leaders in their country’s respective space programs. During the 17 months, the team will be observed around the clock, while everything from their survival skills and their increasingly-complex interpersonal dynamics, to their own person struggles are weighed and evaluated. No pressure.
2‘A Book of American Martyrs’ by Joyce Carol Oates
Sure, every bibliophile knows Joyce Carol Oates, but her recent novel, A Book of American Martyrs, might just be her best; as hauntingly timely as it is eye-opening. A Book of American Martyrs tells the story of two American families, the Dunphys and the Voorhees, whose lives are torn apart by their political and moral convictions. When Luther Dunphy, a fanatical Christian, murders small-town-Ohio abortion provider Augustus Voorhees, both of their families are thrown into the spotlight, and into a volatile national debate that has been raging for generations. Oates’ ability to give even the irredeemable some small redemption is magnificent.
3‘The Last Days of Cafe Leila’ by Donia Bijan
The Last Days of Café Leila, Donia Bijan’s debut novel, was inspired by the writer’s return to her country of exile, Iran, and tells the story of a woman who, similar to Bijan, returns to her father’s café in Tehran in search of answers about her mother’s disappearance during the Islamic Revolution. But life in Iran isn’t easy for Noor or her American-raised daughter, Lily. This multi-generational novel about mothers and daughters explores myriad forms of rebellion, coming-of-age experiences, and how the struggles of both pre- and post-revolution Iran are as personal as they are political.
4‘There's More Than One Way Home’ by Donna Levin
Anna Kagen’s son, 10-year-old Jack, is on the Autism spectrum and suffers from Asperger’s syndrome — and when he’s accused of murdering a fellow student, Anna suddenly finds herself defending her son in a literal life-or-death situation. During a class field trip, Jack and three classmates went to the bathroom unaccompanied, and when they were found, one was dead. Everyone is pointing their fingers at Jack, but Anna is sure he’s innocent and being targeted because of his disability. Donna Levin’s There's More Than One Way Home sheds light on the misunderstanding and hostility that so many people, especially young people, with disabilities face.
5‘Allegedly’ by Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson’s recent Bustle book club pick, Allegedly, gives readers an up-close-and-personal look at American juvenile criminal justice system, introducing Mary B. Addison, a young black girl who was convicted of killing a three-month-old white baby while babysitting, when she was only nine. Now, a teen who has transferred from a juvenile prison to a group home, Mary is pregnant herself and will do anything to prevent the state from taking her baby away. Girl Interrupted meets Orange Is The New Black, for sure.
6‘American War’ by Omar El Akkad
Dystopian novels are drawing in all kinds of readers these days (wonder why) even those who have never embraced the genre before. In debut novelist Omar El Akkad’s American War, the year is 2074 and the second American Civil War has just broken out — a war fought over resources, climate change, and widespread illness. Louisiana native Sarat Chestnut is only six-years-old as she witnesses rising sea levels, the criminalization of oil consumption, and drone warfare. But when Sarat is relocated to a displaced persons camp after her father is killed, she is radicalized into an instrument of war herself — demonstrating the catastrophic effects of a conflict in which all sides are wrong and children are recruited by terrorists.
7‘Waking Lions’ by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Set in the novelist’s native Israel, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions begins with a murder: the hit-and-run of an undocumented Eritrean immigrant by Israeli doctor Eitan Green. Eitan, speeding down a rural road late at night, slams into Asum and after a quick inspection of the immigrant’s body, decides to flee the scene. Except he’s left some evidence behind — evidence that Asum’s wife, Sirkit, will use to blackmail the doctor into operating a free, nighttime health clinic for Israel’s undocumented immigrants and refugees. This is another novel in which the bad guys are the good guys, the victims are the perpetrators, and the ending will totally surprise you.
8‘The Fortunate Ones’ by Ellen Umansky
A beautiful and complex story about a missing painting — one that connects a woman, Rose, who was orphaned as a child during the Holocaust, and a young lawyer, Lizzie, who has just suffered the death of her father — The Fortunate Ones, by Ellen Umansky, questions who art really belongs to, and demonstrates how even one work of art can inform and transform lives irreversibly. At the center of The Fortunate Ones is the expressionist painting The Bellhop, which made its way around the world, in and out of the lives of Rose and Lizzie in significant ways: the painting was stolen from both at pivotal moments in their lives, and both are concerned about its fate. This novel is elegant, engaging, and smart.
9‘Border Child’ by Michel Stone
A story about the risks immigrants are forced to take for safety, freedom, and improved quality of life, Border Child by Michel Stone introduces readers to a woman named Lilia, who left her Mexican village of Puerto Isadore three years earlier, only to later return — but this time without her toddler daughter in tow. Lilia was separated from Alejandra during her crossing, and for years herself and her husband Hector have been desperate for news of their baby girl. Both risk their safety and lives to reconnect with the human smugglers who helped Lilia cross the border for the first time, demonstrating that the effects of an inhumane immigration system are numbered and far-reaching.
10‘The Weight of Him’ by Ethel Rohan
I absolutely devoured this novel, and I invite all my fellow readers to do the same. Ethel Rohan’s debut, The Weight of Him, introduces readers to Billy Brennan, an obese father and food-addict who embarks on a public weight-loss campaign in the wake of his teenage son, Michael's, suicide. Rohan’s characters are as real, tender, and complicated as any from the best that literature has to offer, and Billy will definitely warm his way into your heart (and maybe even stomach) as he struggles with compulsive eating, weight-loss, suicide and suicide prevention, and what it means to be left among the living in the wake of profound loss.
11‘This is How It Always Is’ by Laurie Frankel
Laurie Frankel’s latest novel, This Is How It Always Is, it is a timely, big-hearted, and open-minded family story about the unexpected curveballs of parent and sibling relationships, the limitless boundaries of love, and what it’s like to raise a transgender child. The fifth son of the Walsh-Adams family, Claude, loves peanut butter sandwiches and wants to be a girl when he grows up — but while parents Rosie and Penn want their child to be happy, accepted, and free, they struggle with a world that doesn’t always feel exactly the same way.
12‘All That's Left to Tell’ by Daniel Lowe
Daniel Lowe’s debut novel, All That’s Left To Tell, will definitely mess with your mind a little, in the most interesting possible way. Grappling with sensory deprivation, emotional disconnection, and deep longing, this novel introduces readers to Marc Laurent, an American businessman who has been taken hostage by an unknown entity in Pakistan, and who spends each night bound and blindfolded as a mysterious woman interrogates him about his past. Although the playing field seems to distinctly disadvantage Marc, readers will quickly become as disoriented as Marc himself is, as Marc’s story begins to merge with that of his interrogator, and the lines between victim and perpetrator blur.
13‘A Word for Love’ by Emily Robbins
If Syria has been on your mind a lot lately, love probably isn’t the first word you think of. But that just might change after reading Emily Robbins’ extraordinary debut novel, A Word for Love, which takes readers into pre-revolution Syria, where Bea, a young, American foreign exchange student spent months living and learning Arabic: a language in which there are 99 words for love. But in a country on the brink of civil unrest and subsequent war, Bea learns a lot more than Arabic; becoming entangled in her host family’s personal and political lives, and witnessing a forbidden romance that will change her understanding of love — and loss — forever.
14‘The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea’ by Bandi
Now I know North Korea has been on your mind lately, which is why I’m shocked this story collection isn’t at the top of everyone’s TBR pile. The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea is considered the first collection of fiction smuggled out of North Korea that was written by a North Korean writer still living under the regime — and the story about how the book was smuggled into the western world is just as captivating as the fiction within it. Written by the pseudonymous Bandi (“firefly” in English) The Accusation is made up of seven stories set in 1990’s North Korea, during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, and depicts what life is really like for those living under the dictatorship.