Underrated Books From Different Genres Everyone Should Read

You won't find any overrated books on this list.
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Many book lists on the interweb suggest the same 100 books to read and it's usually a universal thing. However, I wanted to feature books that are under the radar and shine a light on these incredible stories and authors. All these books are diverse, with some translated works and fantasy. I hope you enjoy it.

Fantasy

Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas
Image Source: Goodreads

1. Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas

A trans boy determined to prove he’s a brujo to his Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas's paranormal YA debut.

Bestowed by the ancient goddess of death, Yadriel and the gifted members of his Latinx community can see spirits: women have the power to heal bodies and souls, while men can release lost spirits to the afterlife. But Yadriel, a trans boy, has never been able to perform the tasks of the brujas - because he is a brujo.

When his cousin suddenly dies, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free. 

However, the ghost he summons is not his cousin. It’s Julian Diaz, the resident bad boy of his high school, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death... (Goodreads).

What a fantastic, funny, and heart-warming book. I can be extremely picky with picking up YA fantasy books to read but this didn't disappoint. Learning about traditional Latino culture, building the characters to be likable and realistic, and the brujas world, was fascinating and kept me engaged as a reader.

Why You Should Read It: If you want YA fantasy that also dabbles in the Latinx spiritual world then this is the book for you. 

Literary Fiction

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi
Image Source: Goodreads

2. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover the lifeless body of her son wrapped in fabric on the welcome mat. The story of that child, Vivek Oji, is the story of two families from disparate cultures who came together in a time of upheaval, and of Vivek’s struggle to be true to a self whose spirit and longings defy conventional expectations... (Goodreads).

The Death of Vivek Oji is a heartbreaking tale of a young man longing to be a free spirit in a place that still holds on to conventional traditions. As a reader, you're prepared for the tragedy as the story opens up with the death of Vivek, but the journey to discover how he died and how it affected those close to him was sad. It made me question whether I also tend to stick to a conventional way of thinking without realizing it. And how detrimental that can be as a human.

Why You Should Read It: I believe everyone should read this book as it can relate to a lot of societal issues we all face. The author, Akwaeke Emezi, does an amazing job of creating a story that despite the subject matter, relates to all of us in some way. We all hide parts of ourselves that we feel won't be accepted, and by doing that push away those who we love the most.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Image Source: Goodreads

3. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle-class peers. After a messy breakup from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.

As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her (Goodreads).

Queenie was initially going to be a low-rated book. I couldn't connect with the character and felt the problems kept piling up with no end in sight. It wasn't until halfway through the book, that I started to truly understand the character more. It's not an easy book to read as the protagonist continuously finds herself in horrible situations that no person should be put in. However, the ending makes up for all the struggles.

Why You Should Read It: Despite the frustrations I had with the character, Queenie is a great book surrounding the discussion of mental health within immigrant families and the lack of awareness that occurs because of cultural ties. And how important it is to have a good support system to push you to seek professional help.

Classics

Villette by Charlotte Bronte
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4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

First published in 1853, Villette is Brontë's most accomplished and deeply felt work, eclipsing even Jane Eyre in critical acclaim. Her narrator, the autobiographical Lucy Snowe, flees England and a tragic past to become an instructor in a French boarding school in the town of Villette.

There she unexpectedly confronts her feelings of love and longing as she witnesses the fitful romance between Dr. John, a handsome young Englishman, and Ginerva Fanshawe, a beautiful coquette.

The first pain brings others, and with them comes the heartache Lucy has tried so long to escape. Yet despite adversity and disappointment, Lucy Snowe survives to recount the unstinting vision of a turbulent life's journey - a journey that is one of the most insightful fictional studies of a woman's consciousness in English literature (Goodreads).

My favorite Bronte sister does it again! Villette was wonderful, suspenseful, and at times frustrating to read. If you’re looking for a romantic book, stick with Jane Eyre. The theme of this novel is centered around gothic-mystery versus romance. It’s quite a long, slow read, but quickly starts to pick up in the 2nd part.

I love how Charlotte Bronte’s heroines have similarities to each other; strong, independent females who have a tragic backstory. I think that’s why I like her writing so much. You won’t find any damsel in distress heroines. This was an easy 5-star rating.

Why You Should Read It: If you are a fan of Charlotte Bronte & Jane Austen's style of writing, Villette is a fantastic novel to get sucked into. While longer than Jane Eyre and at times more tragic, it's a well-written story about surviving when everything seems set against you. This is one classic novel you shouldn't pass up.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
Image Source: Goodreads

5. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

At the dawn of the French Revolution, the men, women, and children of Paris have one hope to escape the guillotine: the masked and mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel. But who are this daring swordsman and quick-thinking master of disguise? London’s privileged, self-obsessed Sir Percy Blakeney.

When his estranged wife, Marguerite, falls prey to French envoy Chauvelin’s blackmail, she unwittingly exposes the Pimpernel and imperils the covert league he commands.

Set amid the Reign of Terror, Baroness Orczy’s thrilling romantic adventure of loyalty and revenge introduced a new brand of hero—a righteous champion with a secret identity—who would influence every masked vigilante to follow (Goodreads). 

The Scarlet Pimpernel has long been a family favorite. It’s something my dad and I always talk about and enjoy rewatching together. And it happens to be one of his favorite books he read from high school, so I excitedly grabbed the book up to see if it lived up to its potential, and oh boy did it ever!

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a fantastic, funny, romantic, and suspenseful book. The book will constantly have you on your toes hoping these characters will have victory in the end. The characters are all so charming and witty, the descriptions of everything from the characters' emotions to the exquisite gowns are well done. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

Why You Should Read It: I find this novel - and series - doesn't get the fanfare that a lot of other adventure-based classic books receive. The series is quite fun and fast to read through & you won't be bored with the adventure of Blakeney and his crew.

Cultural

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Image Source: Goodreads

6. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life.

In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction ― many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual ― and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less... (Goodreads).

Seriously the most hilarious book I've read this year! Completely unexpected especially because of how the book dealt with society's expectations of single women, identity, and being different. I will be checking out any other books that Sayaka Murata writes.

Why You Should Read It: Reading Japanese novels can be either really interesting or too quirky and deep to quite grasp everything on the first read, but not Convenience Store Woman. Despite its lighthearted pokes at societal expectations on older women, the book hits many deep subject matters that don't just speak to issues in Japan but across the world.

Human Acts by Han Kang
Image Source: Goodreads

7. Human Acts by Han Kang

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho's best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho's own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice (Goodreads).

When reflecting on this novel by Han Kang, I couldn't help but remember my initial reaction after completion. I was completely numb and felt incredibly mournful as if I had lived through this tragedy. Even though it's a fictional retelling of the 1980 Gwangju Uprising seen from the victim's own lenses, it still felt real to me. 

Why You Should Read It: I have to be honest, this book will not be for everyone. It's quite a hard book to not only digest to read through because of how depressing it is, but I couldn't leave it off this list. It's a story that everyone needs to research after reading this book because the real-life events are even more tragic than the book. 

Nonfiction

Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Image Source: Goodreads

8. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time (Goodreads).

I wasn't expecting to feel empowered after reading this memoir and I can't stop thinking about it. Chanel Miller recounts the horrible events leading up to and after her assault by Brock Turner. It can be uncomfortable in parts but the author takes you on the journey with her. Incredibly brave woman and I'm so glad I picked it up.

Why You Should Read It: Men and women should pick up this memoir immediately. Going through such a horrible experience would've made anyone not want to keep fighting but Chanel Miller never did. Her strength in the face of this tragedy led her to impact victims of abuse to have the same courage to fight their abusers and get justice.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Haff
Image Source: Goodreads

9. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Haff

This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that will grab your heart and not let go (Goodreads).

Absolutely loved this short read. I wasn't expecting the warm fuzzies after reading the correspondence between the author and this random bookstore but I certainly did. Who knew that writing letters to a perfect stranger would produce a loving relationship that lasts over 20 years.

Why You Should Read It: It's a charming book that will bring a sense of nostalgia to all book lovers. Though short, the book showcases how something as little as sending letters to a used bookstore can be impactful. And create a unique friendship that goes beyond books.

Historical Fiction

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Image Source: Goodreads

10. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.

One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization.

The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation (Goodreads).

This was one of the first books by an African author I read this year and I was awed by her writing style. To create a novel that spans generations and keeps the reader engaged with the story is an incredible feat. I challenged myself to read more books by non-Westerners, it opens your mind to new cultures, languages, and stories never taught in school. Highly recommend everyone read this book and more from Yaa Gyasi.

Why You Should Read It: A multi-generational novel spanning decades, Homegoing is a vast novel that captures how the split of a family, one enslaved the other freed, can impact an entire generation after. I don't see this book talked about as much from the book community but a definite must-read. It will inspire you to research the slave trade history, particularly the African countries that weren't forced to give up their people to the slave trade.

Translated Works

Lie With Me by Phillipe Besson
Image Source: Goodreads

11. Lie With Me by Phillipe Besson

The award-winning, bestselling French novel by Philippe Besson about an affair between two teenage boys in 1984 France, translated with subtle beauty and haunting lyricism by the iconic and internationally acclaimed actress/writer Molly Ringwald.

Just outside a hotel in Bordeaux, Philippe chances upon a young man who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a gorgeous boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Without ever acknowledging they know each other in the halls, they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.

Dazzlingly rendered in English by Ringwald in her first-ever translation, Besson’s powerfully moving coming-of-age story captures the eroticism and tenderness of first love—and the heartbreaking passage of time (Goodreads).

At the beginning of the year, I committed to reading books from various perspectives, gender, and ethnics groups that I hadn't before. Particularly reading more books from LGBTQ+ authors and protagonists and this book came highly recommended. If you like this book you will also love Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, who has become one of my favorite authors of all time. 

Why You Should Read It: This is a beautiful but soul-crushing book to read. As I mentioned before, it's along the same lines as Giovanni's Room and On Earth, We're Briefly Gorgeous. Regardless of ones' sexual preference, this book captures the beginnings of first love quite well and how the pressures of society can affect people who aren't ready to face it head-on.


It was hard to cut down which books should be featured as there were even more lesser-known options from my stack. But these books all impacted me in different ways throughout the first half of the year and I hope you will take the chance to read them.

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