STARRED REVIEW
April 2022

Under-the-radar books that deserve all the love

Feature by
We love it when a great book or hardworking author cultivates a huge following, but we also love cheering for an underdog. Here are five books that we believe are deserving of the fireworks and fanfare typically reserved for the biggest blockbusters.
STARRED REVIEW
April 2022

Under-the-radar books that deserve all the love

Feature by
We love it when a great book or hardworking author cultivates a huge following, but we also love cheering for an underdog. Here are five books that we believe are deserving of the fireworks and fanfare typically reserved for the biggest blockbusters.
April 2022

Under-the-radar books that deserve all the love

Feature by
We love it when a great book or hardworking author cultivates a huge following, but we also love cheering for an underdog. Here are five books that we believe are deserving of the fireworks and fanfare typically reserved for the biggest blockbusters.
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The Tenth Muse

I am ready for Catherine Chung to become a household name, and I know that day is coming. Both of Chung’s novels, Forgotten Country (2012) and The Tenth Muse (2019), tell stories of female mathematicians questioning family roles and chasing down secrets. I fell especially hard for her second novel, not just because Chung is a strong storyteller (and indeed she is) but because of her narrative’s clean, chronological structure, which embodies the precision and beauty of math itself. Over the course of the novel, protagonist Katherine reflects on her childhood as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and a white American veteran of World War II. She reckons with her place in a male-dominated field, hedges her dreams against her relationship with an charismatic older professor, attempts to solve the famed Riemann hypothesis, meets real-life scientists and mathematicians and, in the search for her family’s true history, follows the clues in an equation-filled diary. It’s quite a journey, and Chung unfurls these questions and mysteries with all the formal elegance and unequivocal truth of a perfectly balanced equation.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

The Promise Girls

One of Marie Bostwick’s novels had been on my TBR list for so long that I’d forgotten when or how it had gotten there when I finally started reading it sometime in mid-2021. By chapter five, I had downloaded the rest of Bostwick’s novels, and a new fan was born. Although I’ve loved them all, my favorite is The Promise Girls. The three Promise sisters were groomed to be artistic prodigies by their overbearing mother, Minerva. During a live televised performance, pianist sister Joanie intentionally blundered her signature piece, and Minerva slapped the girl. In the subsequent uproar, child protective services split up the family, and each sister closeted her creative pursuits and difficult childhood without much reflection. Decades later, sister Meg’s journey back from a near-fatal car crash leads all three Promise sisters to reexamine their conclusions about their upbringing and artistic abilities. Bostwick creates worlds where we can trust that, with the support of loved ones and a healthy dose of creativity, good people will prevail. Her stories have been a wonderful refuge to me during this long and arduous pandemic, and I know that many readers would find similar comfort in them.

—Sharon, Controller

Elsewhere

Gabrielle Zevin is best known for her 2015 bestseller, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but her literary talents didn’t start there. In Zevin’s 2005 speculative novel, Elsewhere, 15-year-old Liz has been killed in a hit-and-run accident, and she wakes up on a cruise ship called the S.S. Nile that’s bound for the afterlife. When the ship arrives in Elsewhere, a place uncannily similar to Earth, Liz learns that she will age backward until infancy. Then she’ll be released into a river and sent back to Earth, where she will begin a new life. Utterly distraught, Liz spends most of her time at the Observation Decks, where one “eternim” buys her five minutes of Earth-viewing time. On the brighter side, she’s taken in by her grandmother Betty, now 34, who died before Liz was born and currently works as a seamstress in Elsewhere. As Liz comes to grips with living her new life in reverse, Zevin executes a premise that’s unique and fully realized. You won’t be able to keep Elsewhere to yourself.

—Katherine, Subscriptions

Light From Other Stars

I’m someone who loves to look up at the night sky, so Erika Swyler’s second novel, Light From Other Stars, stole my heart. It’s beautifully written, easy to get lost in and powerfully heartfelt. With a light-handed approach, Swyler skillfully toes the line between factual science and science fiction to tell the story of Nedda Papas, jumping between her childhood in 1980s Easter, Florida, and her adventures aboard the spaceship Chawla decades later. Nedda’s childhood scenes introduce her father, Theo Papas, a former NASA scientist who’s reeling from the death of his infant son. When Theo creates an experiment that alters the life of everyone in Easter, Nedda and her mother form an unlikely alliance, and Nedda’s recollections of these earlier events help her solve a dire problem aboard the Chawla. Throughout this tale of time and loss, Swyler explores how people (and our perceptions of them) change, how relationships evolve, what happens to us when we die and just how far we’ll go to hold on to the ones we love. 

—Meagan, Brand & Production Designer

We Sang You Home

When I worked in an independent bookstore, a trend I noticed and loved was baby showers to which guests were encouraged to bring a book as a gift for the impending arrival. It’s never too early to start building a home library and sharing books with children! Board books are especially perfect for placing in the hands of the newest readers, because the thick cardboard pages are much harder to tear and can hold up to many readings (or nibblings). I loved sending folks out the door with Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett’s We Sang You Home, a spare, poetic meditation whose first-person plural narration encompasses many kinds of families and could be read by any caregiver, not just a birthing parent. I’ve read this book countless times and still choke up at author Van Camp’s beautiful benediction: “Thank you for joining us / Thank you for choosing us / Thank you for becoming / the best of all of us.” What an extraordinary way to welcome a tiny new person to the world.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

We Sang You Home
By Julie Flett, Richard Van Camp
Orca

ISBN 9781459811782

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Get the Books

The Tenth Muse

The Tenth Muse

By Catherine Chung
Ecco
ISBN 9780062574060
The Promise Girls

The Promise Girls

By Marie Bostwick
Kensington
ISBN 9781496709219
Elsewhere

Elsewhere

By Gabrielle Zevin
Square Fish
ISBN 9780312367466
Light From Other Stars

Light From Other Stars

By Erika Swyler
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635575095
We Sang You Home

We Sang You Home

By Julie Flett & Richard Van Camp
Orca
ISBN 9781459811782

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