It’s not hard to come by book recommendations, but it’s hard to find recommenders who make a compelling case for just why you should take a leap of faith with a new book. As a result, we have decided to directly compare these newer or underrated gems to better-known works you’ve probably read, so that they may find the wider/louder audience they deserve. It’s never a bad idea to read what you know!
- Like this?: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green
Try this!: ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ by Ned Vizzini
Image courtesy of DaFont and Amazon
Like ‘TFIOS,’ ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ explores what it’s like to be a teenager grappling with illness and newfound romance amid a vibrant and affecting supporting cast. Thankfully, the ending of this book is not nearly as sad.
- Like this?: ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ by Jodi Picoult
Try this!: ‘The Dovekeepers’ by Alice Hoffman
Image courtesy of Jodi Picoult and Amazon
Picoult has established herself as one of the best contemporary writers of women’s voices. Hoffman does her one better by venturing far back into the ancient past to breathe life into a handful of Jewish women who find themselves at the crossroads of history when their people take up arms against their Roman overseers. These novels have more than “keeper” in common.
- Like this?: ’The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls
Try this!: ‘Priestdaddy’ by Patricia Lockwood
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Like Walls, Lockwood bears the blessings and curses of an unconventional upbringing, describing her eccentric parents—her father is a Roman Catholic priest who prefers boxer shorts to white collars—with a compelling mixture of love and shame.
- Like this?: ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut
Try this!: ‘Eddies in the Space-Time Continuum’ by J.M. Hushour
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While Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim finds himself unstuck in time, Hushour’s Eddie can’t escape time at all—or he can, but not in a way that is good for his mental health. Which future is the real one? Not even the continuum has the answers.
- Like this?: ‘As I Lay Dying’ by William Faulkner
Try this!: ‘Salvage the Bones’ by Jesmyn Ward
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‘As I Lay Dying’ tells the tale of a desperately poor southern family preparing for a funeral. ‘Salvage the Bones’ also documents the lives of a desperately poor southern clan preparing for another sort of funeral—Hurricane Katrina, which will bring an entire region and way of life to the verge of extinction. Like Faulkner, Ward is a southerner with a gothic sensibility. Unlike Faulkner, she is a young black women giving a voice to those not often found in our national discourse until recently.
- Like this?: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams
Try this!: ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff
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Though there are no intergalactic shenanigans to be found in Benioff’s novel, this account of brotherly camaraderie and whirlwind adventure amid unimaginable destruction and cosmically surreal cruelty has shades of Douglas’s masterwork. You’ll never look at eggs the same way again.
- Like this?: ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold
Try this!: ‘Everything I Never Told You’ by Celeste Ng
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In an average town in 1970’s America, a young girl goes missing and is later found dead. This is the bare-bones plot (heh) of both ‘The Lovely Bones’ and ‘Everything I Never Told You.’ But where Sebold lingers on slain teen Susie and her family’s struggle to find peace, Ng hones in on issues of race, alienation, and thwarted dreams that are entirely her own.
- Like this?: ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ by Junot Diaz
Try this!: ‘Skippy Dies’ by Paul Murray
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When a young life ends tragically, how can we come to terms with what happened and move on? Though Díaz and Murray use vastly different vernaculars and frames of reference to provide their own perceptions of a seemingly grim matter, they both provide a riveting and humorous take on the fraught and too-short lives of its title characters. Like Oscar, Skippy will stay in your head and your heart long after you put the book down.
- Like this?: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn
Try this!: ‘Tell No One’ by Harlan Coben
Image courtesy of Girl to Mom and Amazon
David Beck is living a contented life with a beautiful wife, Elizabeth—until Elizabeth is suddenly and cruelly taken from him. But is she really dead? ‘Gone Girl’ may be one of a kind, but Flynn definitely doesn’t have a monopoly on absent wives and twisted marriages.
- Like this?: ‘War Horse’ by Michael Morpurgo
Try this!: ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ by Garth Stein
Image courtesy of The Scholastic Teaching Store and Garth Stein
Yes, ‘War Horse’ is aimed at children while ‘Racing’ is geared towards adults. But if you like animal narrators and purging your tears, as ‘War Horse’ readers are wont to do, then you will probably get a thrill from this novel about one very wise dog. Nearing the end of his life, lab-terrier mix Enzo looks back on a happy existence with his owner Denny, a racecar driver confronted with one misfortune after another. He may only be a dog, but Enzo is determined to help his best friend. Can he do it?
- Like this?: ‘Between the World and Me’ by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Try this!: ‘The Fire Next Time’ by James Baldwin
Image courtesy of Penguin Random House and Mahogany Circle
Coates drew rave reviews for his painful and unyielding letter to his young son about the harsh realities of being a black man in the U.S. Baldwin—who Coates has cited as an influence—did something quite similar with ‘The Fire Next Time,’ structured in part as a blunt and sociologically-pointed missive to the nephew named for him. You will be spellbound and dismayed at just how little has changed from 1963 to 2015.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.