The Best Books You've Probably Never Heard Of
Sure, everyone’s read Harry Potter and Gone Girl (as they should), but what about the other dog-eared gems you love? The books you’ve urge your friends to read, even though they swear they’ve never heard of them? Those books deserve the spotlight, too—so here, EW staffers recommend the best-kept secrets of their bookshelves.
The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
When I tell people they need to read a novel narrated by a sweet, plucky African elephant named Mud, they pretty much look at me like I’m mad. I’m not kidding, though. It’s one of those books that I’ve never been able to get out of my head. I won’t lie: It’s not always an easy read. First the elephants struggle to live through a drought; then ivory poachers start to pick them off. But you will finish it feeling like you’ve been living on the veldt with a herd of elephants. If that’s not a literary accomplishment, I don’t know what is. — Tina Jordan
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are gets all the attention, but the late writer had a lesser known—and slightly controversial—book that stuck with me more: In the Night Kitchen follows a boy named Mickey who drifts off into another realm where dancing bakers are concocting some cake for the morning. He gets stuck in the batter; he builds an airplane out of dough; he goes swimming in a jug of milk. It’s weird and surreal and fantastical and includes the line, “We bake cake and nothing’s the matter!” which is probably the most inspiring statement in American literature. And, okay, yeah, Mickey sheds his clothes—that’s the controversial part—which is a little unnecessary, but, whatever! Let Mickey dress how he wants in the night kitchen! (Bonus: The book was adapted into a delightfully wacky short film featuring sing-songy narration and a jazzy score.) — Ariana Bacle
Diane Duane's Young Wizards series
Long before J.K. Rowling rescued Harry Potter from his cupboard under the stairs, Diane Duane was writing about Nita and Kit, a couple of kid wizards who join the forces of good in their fight against the Lone Power, an entity hellbent on speeding up entropy in the universe. Over the course of 11 books and three decades (the first novel was released in 1983, and the most recent just last year), Kit, Nita, and her little sister Dairine have used Duane’s special brand of science-tinged magic in their tangles with a dragon, Martians, whale wizards, mythological figures, mercenary aliens, and even the Powers that created the universe… all while dealing with the very real hazards of growing up, like grieving a death or falling in love. — Noelene Clark
Inside the Walls of Troy by Clemence McLaren
Split into two parts, this book tells the story of the Trojan War from the perspectives of Helen and Cassandra. I was obsessed with Greek mythology growing up, but reading this in 7th grade was honestly the first time when I felt like I got to hear the story (and view history) explicitly through a female perspective, and it made me so excited. Cassandra especially is such an incredible character, and it was fascinating to be able to see Helen as something other than the “most beautiful woman in the world.” — Maureen Lenker
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
I first read this book when I was 15, lying by a pool in the 100-degree heat (and then again, like, every three months for the rest of my life, forever). I barely even noticed the heat, I was so engrossed in the love story between Tatiana, a 17-year-old girl in Leningrad, and Alexander, a strapping American trapped in a Russian soldier’s identity in a state policed by communism and on the brink of German siege.
Luckily, there are two sequels to this book (and a couple of prequels) and each book is a million pages long, so I had plenty of material to imagine as a HBO series. I think at the time of my first reading, I thought it was more CW (WB?) worthy, but there’s a heck of a lot of violence and sex in there and the story ultimately spans three continents, so I imagine the budget is more in the cable heavyweight’s wheelhouse these days.
It’s a suspenseful story full of love, passion, loss and suffering. sure, but it also taught me a lot about Russia during the Second World War, touching on areas high school never seemed to cover. Seriously, ask me anything about the Blockade, the Gulag, or the NKVD.
Spasibo for the memories and the education, TBH. — Ruth Kinane
My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
This is a book that successfully transmits what it truly feels like to be ‘other’—in this case, that sense of otherness can stem from being female, Asian, not knowing how to properly cook, or just generally misunderstood. Ozeki’s commentary on cultural misunderstandings is equal parts haunting and utterly hilarious. This was a laugh-cry book through and through. — Dan Heching
Straight Man by Richard Russo
One of my very, very, very favorite books is Straight Man by Richard Russo. Hell, I named a dog after a character in the book. I don’t know why no one had optioned it (or if someone did and languished) because it would adapt really well, very much in the same vein as Wonder Boys. — Sara Vilkomerson
Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss
All of my childhood diaries were attempts at recreating the strange, whimsical doodles and observations in Amelia’s Notebook. First published by American Girl Magazine (AKA the Bible of ’90s tweens everywhere), the book followed a girl named Amelia who deals with class bullies and other drama by drawing cartoons and venting in her journal. The book and its sequels are a brilliant tool for kids like Amelia who are figuring out the world around them—and they’re just plain fun, too. — Isabella Biedenharn
The List of Seven by Mark Frost
The List of Seven by Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost is a great occult-themed mystery set in 1884 London, with all colors of DNA threads back to classics in the genre. Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, creator of Dracula, are characters in the book, with cameos by Queen Victoria and an infant Adolf Hitler. It’s a whip-smart, quick, fun read—but lesser known because, despite interest from directors such as Guillermo del Toro, Frost has never sold the movie rights. — Joe McGovern
Too Soon to Say Good-Bye by Deborah Kent
I bought Too Soon to Say Good-Bye at a school Scholastic book fair. The YA read is about a 13-year-old girl named Jill who gets leukemia. Although it contributed to my hypochondria (to this day I’m convinced that a bruise means something darker like Jill’s did), it also helped me understand cancer, death, and life at a young age. It was a bit sappy—the cover line is “Will Jill ever be well again?” after all—but it’s a great teen tearjerker that could have been The Fault in Our Stars before The Fault in Our Stars. — Dalene Rovenstine