The Fiction Fox
Most underrated reads of 2020
Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Last year, the "Underrated Reads of the Year" made its debut in my Year in Review, and it was one of my most fun lists to compile. Often times we all talk the same books over and over, and the bookish community becomes an echo--chamber of hype for works that already are on everybodys radar to begin with. I'm often guilty of this myself, but with this post I try to make an effort to shout out 10 of my favourite reads that haven't gotten nearly as much attention as they deserve. There may be some overlap with my favourites or most-surprising list, but I will try to keep that to a minimum. All these books have <2000 ratings on Goodreads, and all of them are ones that I haven't heard many other bloggers/booktubers/reviewer speak about. Note: they are ordened from "least unknown" to "most unknown", so not in any preferential order.
10. Latitudes of Longing - Shubhangi Swarup
1600 ratings Goodreads
Compared to the other novels on this list, Latitudes of Longing may not be as underrated as some, but when taking into account the incredible skill and beauty that is hidden in this book 1600 ratings is an unacceptably low number of people to have enjoyed this. This is a literary masterpiece written in a stunning voice by a debut author from India, that will take the reader on a vividly sensory journey around the world. Along the way you meet characters that feel real enough to be actual encounters along your travels, where you get a glimpse of their personal lives as you pass through. With the Corona-virus still limiting traveling for almost everybody, I’d highly recommend this beautifully written novel to take you on a journey around the world from the comfort of your living room.
9. Doors of Eden – Adrian Tchaikovsky
1400 ratings on Goodreads
This one was a huge surprise to me, as Adrian Tchaikovsky is a very well known and loved author, and I'm not sure why his newest release just didn't get the buzz I expected it to. I'm personally very glad I picked it up as soon as I did though, as I enjoyed it equally as much (if not more) as his most famous work Children of Time. Doors of Eden doesn't have the easiest plot to summarize. It all begins when teenage girl Mal vanishes without a trace whilst cryptid hunting for the legendary "Birdman of Bodmin Moors." Her lover Lee was there when it happened, but even years later, can't quite explain what she experienced that day. "You ever get the feeling there are cracks in the world... my girlfriend fell into one somehow." Now, 4 years after the disappearance, Lee suddenly finds out that she may have been more accurate than she thought with that statement, when Mal suddenly re-appears out of thin air. Branching out into multiple POV's, storylines and even timelines, Tchaikovky weaves together a truly mind-boggling saga with stakes even larger than the earth itself. It's an edge-of-your-seat kind of ride, that also manages to get your brain working along the way. Highly recommend, especially if you've enjoyed Tchaikovsky's work in the past.
8. The Museum Of You - Carys Bray
1300 ratings on Goodreads
I believe this is the single novel on this list that I found through a member of the bookish community, as at least one person does spread their praise for it. That person was (as often when it comes to new favourites I found) the wonderful Jen Campbell. In this coming of age novel we follow Clover, a young girl with a fascination for museums and a deep desire to know her mother, who passed away when she was very young. Her father took his wife’s death hard, and has locked his grief away (literally) by keeping all his wife’s possessions in a dedicated room and sealing the door. Unable to talk to her dad about her mother, Clover takes to the locked room to find her own answers about her mom’s life. Piecing together the bits, Clover curates her own museum filled with mundane objects of a woman she wish she’d got to know. Yes, I'm probably biased again as someone who related to the deceased-mum part, but that doesn't take away from how wonderful this novel was executed and how accurately it portrayed the curiosity or even obsession with a person you'd wish you'd known in life.
7. Constellations - Sinead Gleeson
1250 ratings on Goodreads
The only non-fiction memoir on this list is unfortunately also one of the very few non-fiction books I've read this year. Nonetheless, it still bears the title of being the most memorable and unique one I've read. Constellations is a collection of essays in which Sinead Gleeson reflects on her life, covering a wide range of topics: art, illness, body, motherhood, ghosts, grief, and our very ways of seeing the world around us. What makes this such a special collection is the eloquence and poetic style with which she voices her thoughts. The coverblurb quotes her: "I have come to think of all the metal in my body as artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal. A map, a tracing of connections and a guide to looking at things from different angles." If you're a fan of Maggie O'Farrels I am, I am, I am or Maggie Nelsons Argonauts, I'd recommend you give this a try as well.
6. Like Water - Rebecca Podos
900 ratings on Goodreads
I've talked about Like Water quite a few times during this year now, (and spoiler alert: will do so in an upcoming list as well) so I will try to keep it brief. Like Water is my kind of contemporary: hard-hitting topics, a focus on family and/or coming of age, all against the highly atmospheric backdrop of (preferably) a small town... Add to that a beautifully executed storyline about a parent suffering from a degenerative and terminal illness, and the rippling effect of that on the family and you have a winner in my book. Oh, and had I mentioned there's a friends-to-lovers LGBTQ romance in here that I actually was rooting for!! If any of the above themes speak to you, or if you enjoy the same kind of contemporary, or even magical realism stories that I do, I highly recommend you pick this book up blind. For now I'm goint to stop at that, as I mentioned this book will make a re-appearance soon on a following list...
5. If These Wings Could Fly - Kyrie McCauley
750 ratings on Goodreads
Magical realism is a hard genre to sell to many readers, especially within the YA audience, so I'm not too surprised to see stunning works within it appear on these lists. Despite not finding a huge audience, the magical realism genre lends itself perfectly to explore hard-hitting topics that are otherwise very much underrepresented in (YA) fiction. So too does If These Wings Could Fly. In the small town of Auburn, Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of crows have infested and nestled themselves around the towns inhabitants. 18-year old Leighton isn't surprised by this odd phenomenon: she's seen far stranger and worse within the walls of her own house. While the townfolks are occupied with the strange black bird clouds that fill the sky, Leighton is just trying to keep her life together: preparing for college, taking care of her sister, and keep the balance in their fragile home that is at the mercy of her fathers rage-fuelled fits of agression. This is a truly heartfelt and gutpunching portrait of a family dealing with domestic abuse, through the eyes of a teenage girl. It's not an easy read, and although I'm not an easy book-crier I found myself quite emotional at times here. It may not be a huge "crowd-pleaser" due to its very hardhitting subjectmatter, but this is the kind of book that, if placed in the hands of the right reader, can make a difference to their lives by making them feel heard and understood. If only this book would receive more attention, so that that reader will know how to find it.
4. We Speak in Storms - Natalie Lund
460 ratings on Goodreads
Following If These Wings Could Fly is another YA magical realism novel, again set in a small town, this time in Illinois. Instead of crows, this town is plagued by tornado's and ghosts. I'm still working on a review for this book, so for now I'll just quote you the synopsis to give you a better idea, but safe to say: I really enjoyed this book, its haunting atmosphere and its characters.
It's been more than 50 years since a tornado tore through a drive-in movie theater in tiny Mercer, Illinois, leaving dozens of teens -- a whole generation of Mercerites -- dead in its wake. So when another tornado touches down in the exact same spot on the anniversary of this small-town tragedy, the town is shaken. For Brenna Ortiz, Joshua Calloway, and Callie Keller, the apprehension is more than just a feeling. Though they seem to share nothing more than a struggle to belong, the teens' paths continue to intersect, bringing them together when they least expect it, and perhaps, when they need it most. Both the living and the dead have secrets and unresolved problems, but they may be able to find peace and move forward--if only they work together.
3. The Language of Ghosts - Heather Fawcett
175 ratings on Goodreads
The only reason this book came to my attention was that Goodreads recommended it randomly to me, as I had read the author previous YA-fantasy novel before. I'm happy it appeared to me that way, or else I'd have been completely oblivious of its existence. Fawcett's marketing team really dropped the ball on this one, as I think there's a huge potential audience who'd love this book. A heartwarming tale about sibling bonds in which a trio of royal children are forced into exile on their enchanted, moving island. While the youngest girl, Mite, keeps busy snatching cakes meant for their guard-sea monster, the older brother Julian is developing some dark magical powers that might provide a problem if let loose. Meanwhile middle-sister Noa is doing anything she can to prevent this from happening, whilst also keeping together their family. If you, or your child enjoyed Kelly Barnhills The Girl Who Drank the Moon or Michelle Harrisons A Pinch of Magic, The Language of Ghosts is one to add to your readinglist.
2. How to Disappear Completely - Ali Standish
170 ratings on Goodreads
Coincidently, this author made the number 2 spot on last years list as well, but apparently not nearly enough people have gotten the memo of how amazing her work is, as to pick up her newest middle-grade novel upon release. 12-year old Emma feels like the color has been drained from her world, and not just as a figure of speech. She discovers her first white spot at the funeral of her grandmother, who was also her best friend. As more and more spots appear and she is diagnosed with vitiligo - a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color-, her magical adventures with gran are replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.
But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is Emma’s own story going to be, now that everything is so different?
I want How to Disappear Completely to get more attention, for more than one reason. Not just is it a heartfelt and wonderful story for readers of all ages, it also covers important representation for a health condition that many people arround the world suffer from, and are being shamed over. This book addresses all of that masterfully, and I can only hope it will make its way to more children who will be able to identify with Emma.
1. Last Memoria - Rachel Emma Shaw
140 ratings on Goodreads
My nr. 1 most underrated read of 2020 goes to an indie author (as it should), and this year it's a phenomenal one. I was approached by the author early in 2020 about reviewing her new novel, and accepted, not knowing too much other than the premise intrigued me. I was completely blown away by what I got, and even after a full year, Last Memoria is still one of the most memorable books I've read.
We follow Sarilla a young woman, cursed with the magical ability to steal memories by touching others, making her what’s known as a “Memoria”. Her journey is a mostly character focussed one, but also introduces us to a beautifully crafted world, and the ways it's shaped by powers like Sarilla's. For more of my thoughts, please see my review, and while you're at it: click add to TBR. Trust me; it's worth it!
That concludes the first of my Yearly Wrap-Up lists. Check back in tomorrow for my next topic: my most surprising reads of 2020.