I haven’t written one of these lists in a while, but as they’re usually the posts on my blog that get more views, I thought I’d give a shout-out to some really underrated and underread books/stories/nonfiction that I either really like or think are worth your time.
Witness how little these recs have to do with each other!
The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
This is a story about Marisol, a lesbian from El Salvador who fled her country for her life with her sister Gabi, and is caught into a “program” where she has to bear a white American girl’s grief to guarantee her and her sister’s safety. In a time in which publishing keeps giving unimaginable amounts of money to white authors writing latinx immigrant stories while ignoring latinx authors’ books on the topic (especially if they’re writing a queer story with sci-fi elements like this one; this is F/F), The Grief Keeper is a book to keep in mind. It’s painful and yet it’s a hopeful story at heart, with commentary on so many topics. [Despite what publishing would have one think, a well-written “issue book” never only actually talks about one issue. They don’t exist in their own separate boxes.]
Twisted Romance, edited by Alex de Campi
This ends up on all my “favorite underrated books” lists because it is! And it’s Pride month, so there’s no best time to shout out one of the most queer anthologies I’ve ever read, and written in a very unusual format as well – short comics and short stories in prose.
Polyamory, multiple queer vampire stories, lesbians, kink, body positivity, discussions on consent, asexual characters, stories about princesses escaping abuse – there’s so much in here about “romance” as a topic, in very little space. And it’s fun!
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement, edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
The first nonfiction recommendation, a book I read back in March and mentioned on this blog only twice since – I don’t like talking about nonfiction. Let’s say, however, that this is a book about justice outside policing and how that may look like, which I think is an especially relevant topic now, but I’ve surprisingly seen this book talked about only outside book twitter circles (most of the nonfiction recs there seem to be books on antiracism or on the whys of police/prison abolition, which are also important).
Beyond Survival is a book about the how of justice outside of police and prisons: drawing on years of lived experiences of activists, it talks about what worked and what didn’t, and strategies employed. If you’re familiar with fiction anthologies, you’ll also know that they are usually a mixed bag, and I find that’s the same with nonfiction – there’ll probably be parts here that will be more or less useful to you, parts that will make you think “this sounds like a bad idea, actually”, and… it’s ok. I just think we should be thinking more about alternatives in general. [If you want to read a more in-depth review by someone who actually knows how to talk about nonfiction, unlike me, here.]
This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow
Back to lighter reads, but not any less great or necessary: This Is What It Feels Like is one of the most nuanced and multifaceted books about recovery I’ve ever read, which in my opinion should be on every list of great YA contemporaries about mental health. It talks about grief, addiction and low self-esteem; it’s a wonderful story about three friends reconnecting because of music, with also a very cute F/F romance. I read it in 2018, at 18, and it kind of changed the way I saw my own journey with mental illness and treatment.
Desdemona and the Deep by C.S.E. Cooney
Novellas aren’t usually hyped anyway, but Desdemona and the Deep got very little recognition even considering that. I don’t understand why, not when it’s a very queer, very weird gem, involving fae and goblins – and, more than anything, worker’s rights (yes, these three things have a lot to do with each other. You’ll see.) It’s also written in excessively purple prove and owns it. I love it so much.
I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom
Here again with nonfiction I read during my nonfiction time back in March. If you’ve ever been uneasy with how much of online activism/stuff-that-masquerades-as-activism is driven by righteous anger and desire to punish, this is the book for you. I really think anyone who has ever been in contact with the force that is book twitter could benefit from reading this. Righteous anger is addicting, and because of how social media is built, it does nothing but reward it. [That’s far from the only thing this book talks about – the way it talks about trauma specifically will also be relevant to anyone who has ever found themself in a placed steeped in fandom discourse.]
Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee
A short story by my favorite author, and also my favorite short story I’ve read so far this year. Initially written for the anthology Upgraded, it has been reprinted in Lightspeed Magazine, where it is free to read online. Short stories get very little attention outside of awards in general, and this is even more true for older short stories, so: I loved this queer outcast romance story set in a ever-shifting space city full of well-intentioned body horror so much. It’s… sweet? It will replace your body parts lovingly? It’s the best, strangely-written kind of weird, feat. artistic murder and enough worldbuilding for a novel.
Bury the Lede by Gaby Dunn & Claire Roe
This is a queer new adult graphic novel about a bisexual journalism intern trying to solve a mystery and survive her workplace at the same time. It’s messed up and full of queer women, which automatically makes it the best kind of graphic novel, and I don’t even like mysteries (I think this one is technically a noir?). It’s just… the depth of Not Okay this goes to. The sapphic tension. I love this so much and can’t believe how little I hear about it.
Temper by Nicky Drayden
Another commonly featured book in Acqua’s Best Underrated Reads, because it is and because I don’t understand why that is (ok, it’s weird. Really weird. But we like that sometimes, no?); also, I’ve seen several threads Black SFF book recs around in the last month, and when Nicky Drayden is on there, this book never is. [While The Prey of Gods and Escaping Exodus are, and both of them are also very weird and good reads, but I liked Temper so much more.] This is a story set in an AU sci-fantasy South Africa in which everyone is born with a twin, is assigned one out of three genders at birth, as well as marked with the deadly sins that will define them. As it turns out, stuff assigned at birth isn’t necessarily correct. It also has the most unstable magical school I’ve ever read in my life and that was a great time!
Salt Slow by Julia Armfield
I’ve never had this much fun with a short story collection, and there’s technically nothing funny about this book – it made me uneasy a lot of the time, actually. It’s just that I remember how much I loved trying to interpret these very weird stories about women, body horror, and metamorphosis. I definitely recommend this to fans of Wilder Girls and Her Body and Other Parties. It’s also very queer, and Stop your women’s ears with wax is one of my favorite short stories I’ve read this year – a sapphic, frenetic, vibrant rising tide of creepy. Don’t dismiss girl bands and their fan so easily, now!
Have you read or want to read any of these?