I was surprised to see it has been so long since I mentioned underhyped books! It’s no secret, at least to anyone who’s read my posts before, that I have a tendency to actively avoid anything that is overhyped, although that does seem to be changing lately. I’ve definitely been picking up popular books more often, and even long before the hype dies down sometimes. This year specifically, I’ve been picking up quite a few books that have been talked about non-stop for quite a while! To be honest, I think the pandemic has played a bit of a role in that because I’ve been cut off from my access to the library, so instead, I’ve been buying more books and reading what I already have a home. Many of the books I’ve been buying are some of the most popular, which makes sense since these are easily accessible (and often more affordable, especially when there are sales). Several of the books that I’m personally most excited for but aren’t so well-known are upwards of $25 for the hardcover, which is very expensive! In contrast, just for the sake of comparison, many of the more hyped books cost anywhere from $15 – $20, so it’s quite a difference. Either way, I’ve read some amazing books in the past few years that definitely did not receive the hype they deserved!
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
All of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books are criminally underrated! For three years in a row, they have consistently been on my favourites of the year lists and I wish more people knew about her incredible writing. Her most recent book, Harley in the Sky, was an easy favourite last year and although it has over 4 stars on average on Goodreads, it has barely over 1000 ratings and only around 300 reviews. Those numbers actually make it by far the least well-known of her books so far, and it’s such a shame because they are all so strong. This book is about a teenage girl named Harley who dreams of become an aerialist in the circus, and after a fight with her parents, she ends up running away from the circus that they own to join a rival instead. As always, I was immediately drawn in by the writing and I loved Harley’s passion for what she was doing. I never really expected to enjoy a book that was literally about running away to join the circus, but this one worked so well. I also was very surprised to see that there was a mental health subplot involving Harley, which I thought was handled so well. I loved the focus on Harley’s relationships with her family and with her friends, as well as the very sweet romance. I completely devoured this book, and was shocked to realize most people had barely even heard of it!
2) Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
I enjoy historical fiction in general, but have rarely read something that was set so recently. This book is set in New York in 1989, at the height of the AIDS crisis. It focuses on three teenagers, two of whom are gay themselves, and the third is a girl who has an uncle who is gay and also HIV+. Reza is Iranian and gay, but is terrified because all he knows about being gay comes from the media’s portrayal of men dying of AIDS. Art is the school’s only openly gay student but struggles with his conservative parents, and rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through photos. It took me some time to really get into the story, but soon started to feel like the characters really leapt off the page. I really enjoyed the way the author handled the complex relationships between the three characters, although I did find Judy a little irritating at times, especially because she made some kind of strange and potentially problematic comments. On the other hand, I absolutely loved both Reza and Art, and the way both of them reflected such different perspectives. I thought the setting was particularly interesting because it was something that I knew very little about, aside from the movie/musical Rent. I did hear a bit of hype around this one for a while, but definitely not enough!
3) Slay by Brittney Morris
Of all the books on this list, this is the one that probably received the most hype and also has the most ratings and reviews overall, although still not very many. It currently has around 9600 ratings, and approaching 2500 Goodreads reviews, which is a decent amount but definitely not enough for a book of this quality. This was another book that was easily one of my favourites that I read last year, and I was surprised to see that the hype around it mostly seemed to have died out. This book is about a teenage girl named Kiera who is the creator of a massive multiplayer online game called SLAY specifically designed for Black gamers. When a teen is murdered over a conflict in the game, the news reaches the mainstream and SLAY is labelled as racist and exclusionary and is also targeted by online trolls threatening to sue Kiera for discrimination against white people. I loved the unique premise of this book, and especially loved how it tackled the concept of racism and safe spaces from an angle that I’ve never really seen before. I found the entire concept of SLAY very interesting and loved reading about Kiera’s process of creating the cards based on Black culture and developing attacks or defensive moves to fit them. I thought this book was very impactful and raised a number of very interesting and important ideas, and I hope more people will give it a chance.
4) The Silent House by Nell Pattison
This is the one and only thriller I have on this list, but it is also a book that completely flew under the radar. I’m not particularly surprised given how many thrillers come out each year, but this one was so good! In fact, it was a little strange for me to notice “USA Today bestseller” on the cover considering no one seems to have heard of this one. This book is about Paige Northwood, a sign language interpreter who is hired to interpret for a deaf family after their daughter is murdered in their home overnight. I loved the unique premise of the story and was actually surprised to realize that it was a concept for a thriller that hasn’t been done before, at least not as far as I know. I loved the exploration of Paige’s role as an interpreter and the explanations that were provided about how it works. I loved the representation of Deaf culture, and Paige’s commentary about some of the attitudes and stereotypes that often come up. I was immediately drawn in by the writing and loved the way the author kept suspicion on so many of the characters, which really kept me guessing. Although I did guess the murderer relatively early, I was still thoroughly invested in finding out how and why it happened. I was also happy to see that this book was the first in a series featuring Paige, and I’m looking forward to trying more. I can see where this one would not stand out compared to other more popular thrillers, but it’s definitely worth a read.
5) Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m surprised every time to realize how underrated it is! I think this book got overshadowed by On the Come Up since they both involve Black teens trying to break into the music industry, and came out within a couple of months of each other. This book is about a group of teenagers who decide to use the mixtapes of their recently murdered friend/brother, Steph, to get him a record deal and get his music out there, while trying to uncover the truth about what happened to him. I thought all three of the characters were very interesting and I really liked the dynamics between them. I was a little confused about what their end goal was since it was hard to see what the teens would do when they ran out of new material, but it didn’t take long to get invested in the story anyway. I also loved that it was set in the 90s, since the hip-hop references really made it all come to life. I loved the message that this book put forward about lives cut short and the loss of all that talent and potential. Like all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, this one tells a very compelling story with strong characters, and it’s a shame that so much of her writing flies under the radar.