Year In Review: Most Underrated Books of 2022
On this second day of Christmas my true love gave to me: 11 hidden gems, and a chance to shout them out. These ten novels are far too good to fly under the radar, yet they haven’t quite reached the audience they deserved. Rules for inclusion are simple: having less than 1000 ratings on Goodreads at the time of me writing this, and not being featured on another list (favourites, most surprising etc.) yet. Like in previous iterations, the books are organised based on target audience (adult, young adult, middle-grade respectively). You know the drill by now, so without further ado, let’s get into my most underrated books of 2022.
1. The First Binding by R.R. Virdi (1000 ratings)
Considering this was one of Tor’s biggest fantasy debuts of the year, I’m surprised how few people have actually read/rated this one. The First Binding is going to be a hit-or-miss read for many (more on that in my review), but people who love it will really love it. A legendary hero of sorts, recounts his life story by the fire of a crowded tavern, to the ears of an eager audience yearning to hear about his epic adventures. Parts of it may be true, parts of it embellished, exaggerated or downright fabricated by our vain protagonist with a flair for the dramatic. This story is clearly inspired by The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, so if you’re looking for something to tie you over until the eventual release of Doors of Stone (or doomsday, whichever comes first…); give this one a go. Rated it: 4/5 stars
2. The Perfect Golden Circle by Benjamin Myers (1000 ratings)
This is a quiet little book that I’m not surprised has been overlooked by many. This is a small-scope literary fiction novel about two damaged men, each battling demons of their own at the tail-end of the great depression of the 80’s in rural England. They find companionship, connection, hesitant friendship and escape over the secret- and unconventional art of crop-circle making. The set-up is strange, as are our two protagonists, but this is an endearing and heart wrenching story that creeps up on. As a portrayal of trauma, and healing through an unconventional artform and friendship, it’s brilliant and deserves a lot more love. Rated it: 4/5 stars
Readalikes: The Offening by the same author.
3. The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope (1000 ratings)
A woman able to communicate with spirits must assemble a ragtag crew to pull off a daring heist to save her community in this timely and dazzling historical fantasy that weaves together African American folk magic, history, and romance. I’ve talked about this book in many recommendation-lists for this fall, as well as in my review so I’m keeping it short here. It’s diverse historical fantasy with a fantastic cast of outcast characters pulling of a heist with ghostly help: what more do you need to know…? Rated it: 5/5 stars
4. The Ghost Woods by C.J. Cooke (800 ratings)
The Ghost Woods is the latest in C.J. Cooke’s “loose trilogy” of gothic horror surrounding themes of motherhood, the line between “the natural” and “the uncanny” and the subversion of some classic horror-tropes. I’ve loved The Nesting and The Lighthouse Witches, and The Ghost Woods was no different. This time, we follow casts of characters within two different timelines, both set at a remote gothic manor in the woods that serves as a safe haven for unwed women to give birth and potentially offer up their new-borns for adoption. Strange and unsettling happenings are present from the get-go, both in the lives of these women as within the walls of Lichen Hall. What unravels is a tight and multi-layered horror novel that only just missed the bar of making it into my top 10 of the year. Full review can be found here. Rated it: 5/5 stars
5. Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester (700 ratings)
If you’ve been here for any amount of time, you’ll probably know my continuous and personal hunt for great disability-fiction, especially targeted at children and teens. Well folks, this year we have another gem to add to that list. Breathe and Count Back From Ten is a contemporary YA-novel starring a Peruvian-American protagonist navigating her painful hip dysplasia, overprotective immigrant parents, and first love, all while chasing her dream of becoming a professional mermaid. I have a full review up here, but suffice to say that this hit all of my boxes. The representation is spot on and never feels like a “substitute” for great storytelling and character development. This book has it all. This quickly became part of my go-to-recommendation-list for anyone looking for positive disability- and chronic pain representation in YA fiction. Rated it: 4.5/5 stars
Readalikes: Like Water (not quite with the disability-rep, but it’s the closest I have)
6. From Dust a Flame by Rebecca Podos (500 ratings)
Building off Rebecca Podos (author of Like Water), we have her latest release, as well as her debut into full-on fantasy. From Dust a Flame is a Jewish-inspired contemporary-fantasy with themes of family, self-discovery and retracing your (cultural and familial) roots at its core. It follows 17-year old Hannah and her adoptive brother Gabe encountering the effects of an age-old family-curse that impossibly mutates Hannah’s body overnight. Their search for answers leads Gabe and Hannah down the path of her Jewish ancestry, along myths, legends and the tragic history that their family has carried for generations Again: we have fantastic diverse representation, and a great story, all told in Podos’ striking prose. My full review can be found here. Rated it: 4.5/5 stars
7. The Undead Truth of Us by Britney S. Lewis (400 ratings)
The Undead Truth of Us is a zombie-story like you’ve never read before, veering away from the spooky, and straight into the tragic. In this YA-contemporary magical realism we follow 16-year old Zharie, who’s become convinced that her mother turned into a zombie, right before her sudden and unexpected death. Now, her world is turned upside down; not only is she forced to reckon with a world without her mother in it, but also a world in which she sees zombies at every street-corner. Don’t go into this novel expecting a World-War Z-type monster-narrative. Instead, this is a brilliant depiction of teenage grief with zombies as a metaphorical manifestation of her experiences. Lyrical, heart-wrenching and magical, this book is perfect for fans of Emily X.R. Pan or even Anna-Marie McLemore. Rated it: 4/5 stars Readalikes: The Astonishing Color of After.
8. Ode to a Nobody by Caroline Brooks DuBois (50 ratings)
I understand that novels in verse have quite a niche target audience, and middle-grade novels in verse even more so. Yet it still feels like an injustice to have a book this good to be read by so few people. This is the coming of age story of a young girl finding confidence and her voice through poetry, in the wake of a devastating tornado that uprooted her house and town. Full review can be found here. Rated it: 4.5/5 stars Readlikes: The Hate U Give, The Poet X
9. Healer of the Water Monster by Bryan Young (800 ratings)
Credits to Bowties&Books for introducing me to this hidden gem in one of her videos, or else I’d have never heard of this book. Healer of the Water Monster is middle-grade magical realism with a strong root in native American mythology. It follows the story of a young boy’s attempt to save the titular Water Monster, a Holy Being that protects the rivers of his Navajo homeland, and his struggling uncle in the process. This is the definition of a perfect middle-grade to me; it was timely, emotionally impactful and a lot of fun, all whilst tackling some heavier topics including addiction, depression, environmental pollution and indigenous injustice. Bryan Young has a voice that deserves to be heard and enjoyed by more people. Rated it: 5/5 stars
Readalikes: A Snake Falls to Earth.
10. Children of the Quicksand by Efua Traoré (400 ratings)
Similarly to the previous one, I have another impactful middle-grade with strong cultural/mythology themes. This time rooted in Nigerian mythology. In this we follow city girl Simi who’s send to stay with her Grandmother in a remote village in her native Nigeria. Between adjusting to life without wi-fi, her quirky but traditional grandma, and the strange tight lipped attitude towards her family history, Simi has enough to worry about. Yet this is only the beginning of her adventures, that as her exploration of the surrounding quicksand-lands take a turn for the magical. A wonderful tale of family, diversity, (multi)cultural interests and uncovering your roots.
Rated it: 4/5 stars
11. Yonder by Ali Standish (300 ratings)
Last but not least, we have a veteran author on this list; Ali Standish continues to publish incredible hard hitting middle-grade books of top-tier quality, and they continue to fly under the radar. As long as that’s the case, I will continue to champion her works here, as she truly is the middle-grade author I wish had been around when I was a kid.
Yonder is her first historical middle-grade novel, centering the friendship between two boys against the backdrop of a 1940’s Appalachian small town. Danny has idolized his older best friend Jack as a hero for years now. When Jack goes missing, Danny is determined to find him no matter the cost. What follows is an emotional journey of (self)discovery, friendship, challenging prejudice, owning up to your mistakes, and being the hero of your own story; in big ways or small.
My full review can be found here.
Rated it: 5/5 stars
Read-alikes: Standish’s backlist.
I truly hope to have given you some inspiration for some underrated gems with this list. Please let me know if you pick up any of these books, as I'd love to hear your thoughts. I will be back tomorrow, covering my most disappointing reads of 2022. Until then, enjoy your holidays (if you celebrate them) and happy reading.