8 Under-the-Radar Reads That Deserve All the Love

June 16 2021
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We all have that friend who is very particular about what they read. You know the one. That person in your life who won’t pick up a book unless it’s been endorsed by A-list authors. The one who can’t make a purchase until the final Pulitzer ballot has been counted. The one who refuses to acknowledge any work that isn’t on “the list.”

We get it. There are a lot of books. Like A LOT. No, seriously, like Library-of-Congress-162-million-book-catalog a lot. So it’s totally understandable to look to others when seeking out the next novel you’ll be dedicating your precious hours toward. But what’s lost in the pursuit of the “certified-fresh” books are all the books that have flown quietly under that radar, that deserve their time in the spotlight. To honor those hidden gems and help them get into the hands of those who will truly appreciate them, we’ve put together the ultimate list of diamonds in the rough.

Walking on Trampolines
by Frances Whiting

Frances Whiting’s coming-of-age novel WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES is the perfect example of a book you’ll be glad you dedicated your time to. Centered on two young girls, Annabelle Andrews and Tallulah “Lulu” de Longland, this effervescent story follows them on an intimate journey of friendship that spans from the day Lulu meets Annabelle in class all the way to adulthood. Along the way, and as the title suggests, the girls experience the immense joys that come with youth and the rebounding effects of a ruptured friendship. We witness the emotional baggage and heartache that Lulu carries well into adulthood and the hard choice she must make as she hits a crossroads. Reading about such complex, lived-in characters, you won’t be able to stop yourself from handing out WALKING ON TRAMPOLINES recommendations after you turn the last page.

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Walking on Trampolines
Frances Whiting

Praised as “a tender exploration of friendship, families, and first love” (Liane Moriarty, New York Times bestselling author of The Husband’s Secret), this coming-of-age novel from bestselling author Frances Whiting is equal parts heartwarming, accessible, and thought provoking.

“Tallulah de Longland,” she said slowly, letting all the Ls in my name loll about lazily in her mouth before passing judgment. “That,” she announced, “is a serious glamorgeous name.”

From the day Annabelle Andrews sashays into her classroom, Tallulah ‘Lulu’ de Longland is bewitched: by Annabelle, by her family, and by their sprawling, crumbling house tumbling down to the river.

Their unlikely friendship intensifies through a secret language where they share confidences about their unusual mothers, first loves, and growing up in the small coastal town of Juniper Bay. But the euphoria of youth rarely lasts, and the implosion that destroys their friendship leaves lasting scars and a legacy of self-doubt that haunts Lulu into adulthood.

Years later, Lulu is presented with a choice: remain the perpetual good girl who misses out, or finally step out from the shadows and do something extraordinary. And possibly unforgivable…

It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.

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The Sisters of Alameda Street
by Lorena Hughes

THE SISTERS OF ALAMEDA STREET is the story of Malena Sevilla’s quest to find her mother in the 1960s. It’s only after her father’s suicide that Malena learns that her mom, who she thought was dead, is very much alive. She discovers this in a mysterious letter signed only “A,” describing her mom’s presence in a small town near the Andes Mountains. When Malena ultimately arrives at the origin of the letter, Alameda Street, she meets four unique sisters who all have one thing in common: each of their names begins with “A.” It is then up to Malena to uncover the identity of the letter’s author, which she does by lying about who she is. A fun family saga perfect for any lover of historical fiction, THE SISTERS OF ALAMEDA STREET is a warm, humorous read.

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The Sisters of Alameda Street
Lorena Hughes

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Flesh and Bone and Water
by Luiza Sauma

Luiza Sauma’s debut novel, FLESH AND BONE AND WATER, spans the geographies of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River, and London, following André Cabral, a Brazilian teenager from a wealthy privileged family. When André loses his mother, he flees to the Amazon jungle to escape the grief only to soon find himself back in Rio isolated from his working father and intimately growing up alongside the family maid’s daughter, Luana. Years later, André, now himself a surgeon like his father, receives a letter from Luana, prying open pain and memories long repressed. Daring, dramatic, and lyrically written, Sauma's vivid depictions of breathtaking landscapes and visceral human emotions make this debut a rare beauty.

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Flesh and Bone and Water
Luiza Sauma

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
by Matthew Dicks

Author Matthew Dicks delicately uses the frame of an imaginary character to tackle topics of autism and abduction in his heartwarming novel MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND. Budo, an “aging” imaginary friend, sees himself as a protector to his imaginer, Max, a kind eight-year-old boy who is diagnosed as on the autism spectrum. While Budo can successfully guide Max through challenging situations like awkward school encounters and standing up to a bully, he’s not prepared when Max’s new teacher, Mrs. Patterson, takes it upon herself to “save” Max. When Max is abruptly abducted by Mrs. Patterson, Budo is left to track him down using only a network of other imaginary friends and the children they’re tied to. This tender novel is charming while also touching on serious emotional issues.

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Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Matthew Dicks

Budo is five years old and the imaginary friend of Max. Max is eight years old and on the autism spectrum—it’s Budo’s job to protect Max from the dangerous world he inhabits every day. But can Budo protect Max and also sustain his own existence when Max goes missing? A poignant book about friendship that should be top on the list of anyone who loved the movie "Inside Out."

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This Is Home
by Lisa Duffy

When hunting for a hidden gem, you don’t need to look much further than Paradise, Boston, the setting of Lisa Duffy’s THIS IS HOME. It’s there we meet Quinn Ellis, a woman struggling to get by as her PTSD-suffering husband, John, goes missing. When John's former platoon leader Bent offers her a job as a nanny and a room to stay in, Quinn jumps at the chance to find some solid footing. What she hasn’t considered are the other people who live in the building—including Brent’s daughter, Libby. Libby is put off by this stranger at first, but the most unlikely of friendships form as the two use each other as a welcome antidote to their recent loneliness. Told from both characters’ points of view, THIS IS HOME defines the meaning of family and home, helping us all find a sense of belonging.

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This Is Home
Lisa Duffy

From the author of book club favorite The Salt House comes a deeply affecting novel about a teenage girl finding her voice and the military wife who moves in downstairs, united in their search for the true meaning of home.

Sixteen-year-old Libby Winters lives in Paradise, a seaside town north of Boston that rarely lives up to its name. After the death of her mother, she lives with her father, Bent, in the middle apartment of their triple decker home—Bent’s two sisters, Lucy and Desiree, live on the top floor. A former soldier turned policeman, Bent often works nights, leaving Libby under her aunts’ care. Shuffling back and forth between apartments—and the wildly different natures of her family—has Libby wishing for nothing more than a home of her very own.

Quinn Ellis is at a crossroads. When her husband John, who has served two tours in Iraq, goes missing back at home, suffering from PTSD he refuses to address, Quinn finds herself living in the first-floor apartment of the Winters house. Bent had served as her husband’s former platoon leader, a man John refers to as his brother, and despite Bent’s efforts to make her feel welcome, Quinn has yet to unpack a single box.

For Libby, the new tenant downstairs is an unwelcome guest, another body filling up her already crowded house. But soon enough, an unlikely friendship begins to blossom, when Libby and Quinn stretch and redefine their definition of family and home.

With gorgeous prose and a cast of characters that feel wholly real and lovably flawed, This Is Home is a nuanced and moving novel of finding where we belong.

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Shell
by Kristina Olsson

No list is complete without a luscious historical fiction novel. Enter SHELL by Kristina Olsson. Set in 1960s Australia, we meet Pearl Keogh, a female journalist willing to put her job on the line in opposition to the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. No stranger to death herself, Pearl lost her mother at a young age and, unable to handle the responsibility of caring for her two young brothers when her father couldn’t, joined the convent. Years later, riddled with guilt, Pearl tries to track down her brothers in fear that they’ll be drafted in the war. On this mission she meets Axel Lindquist, a Swedish glassmaker commissioned to work on the Sydney Opera House. Axel is similarly burdened with guilt after his father’s suicide and finds Pearl a loving counterpart. Smart and nuanced, SHELL is one book you won’t want to miss.

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Shell
Kristina Olsson

In this “luminous” (The New York Times) historical novel—perfect for fans of All the Light We Cannot See and The Flamethrowers—a Swedish glassmaker and a fiercely independent Australian journalist are thrown together amidst the turmoil of the 1960s and the dawning of a new modern era.

1965: As the United States becomes further embroiled in the Vietnam War, the ripple effects are far-reaching—even to the other side of the world. In Australia, a national military draft has been announced and Pearl Keogh, an ambitious newspaper reporter, has put her job in jeopardy to become involved in the anti-war movement. Desperate to locate her two runaway brothers before they’re called to serve, Pearl is also hiding a secret shame—the guilt she feels for not doing more for her younger siblings after their mother’s untimely death.

Newly arrived from Sweden, Axel Lindquist is set to work as a sculptor on the besieged Sydney Opera House. After a childhood in Europe, where the shadow of WWII loomed large, he seeks to reinvent himself in this foreign landscape, and finds artistic inspiration—and salvation—in the monument to modernity that is being constructed on Sydney’s Harbor. But as the nation hurtles towards yet another war, Jørn Utzon, the Opera House’s controversial architect, is nowhere to be found—and Axel fears that the past he has tried to outrun may be catching up with him.

As the seas of change swirl around them, Pearl and Axel’s lives orbit each other and collide in this sweeping novel “that brings the cultural upheaval of 1960s Australia vividly to life, and readers who appreciate leisurely paced, thoughtful literary fiction will savor each word of this emotional story of two people—and a country—reckoning with their past and future” (Booklist).

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This Burns My Heart
by Samuel Park

We again find ourselves in the 1960s in Samuel Park’s THIS BURNS MY HEART, but this time it’s postwar Korea as readers meet Soo-Ja Choi. Daughter to a wealthy factory owner, Soo-Ja is set to marry a man her father insists is her future, despite her strong desire to study for the foreign service. Just when she settles into the idea of marrying, she receives a proposal from a young, outgoing medical student. When tradition triumphs and she goes through with her arranged marriage, Soo-Ja sadly finds the only purpose she has is creating a better life for her only daughter. Through it all, she longs for the man who proposed to her years ago and holds out hope that they may, again, find one another. Emotional and empowering, THIS BURNS MY HEART is under the radar, but probably not for long.

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This Burns My Heart
Samuel Park

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The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter
by Kia Corthron

Playwright Kia Corthron’s debut novel, THE CASTLE CROSS THE MAGNET CARTER, follows two pairs of brothers: Randall and B.J., two white rural Alabamians, and Eliot and Dwight, two Black brothers from Maryland. Over the course of the novel, we follow each individual brother as they live drastically different lives with drastically different outcomes. Following them from youth to adulthood, the latter half of the novel finds the four men embroiled in the early civil rights movement. With her theater-trained ear for dialogue and rich character development, Corthron poetically depicts the unique lives that unfold for each man during the second half of the twenty-first century. THE CASTLE CROSS THE MAGNET CARTER is a hidden wonder to behold.

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The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter
Kia Corthron

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MENTIONED IN:

8 Under-the-Radar Reads That Deserve All the Love

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Photo credit: iStock / Avosb

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