Three Underrated Novels You Should Read This Summer

By Shea Duncan                    

It’s almost the end of the semester, and that means two things: one, you’re about to have much more free time on your hands, and two, with this time, you will finally have the chance to read something you’re actually interested in, rather than some work by Shakespeare or Kierkegaard that your professor is requiring for credit. 

So, if you’re like me, you head to Barnes & Nobles, ready to obtain some paperbacks that you can bring to the beach with you on that first glorious day of summer. But as you walk in and the blast of coffee-scented air mixed with the new-book smell washes over you, you pause in your tracks as you realize something disturbing- you don’t know where to go next.

The “New Here” section is entirely composed of political biographies, you’ve already read all the popular novels that are soon to be movies, and none of your friends have had any time to read anything other than Shakespeare or Kierkegaard either, so they haven’t suggested anything on Facebook or Goodreads lately. You don’t have that much time to browse (after all, the code of ethics paper is due tomorrow and you haven’t even selected a profession.) There are over 1,000 books in the building with you, just waiting to be devoured. You are practically drooling over the idea of soon having your toes in the hot sand, a lemonade in your hand, and a good book on your lap. You are fascinated by the possibilities but paralyzed by the sheer amount of choices available. 

What are you supposed to do?!

Well, you’re one step closer to that perfect beach day because you’re reading this article. Unbeknownst to you, I have already solved your dilemma. I knew exactly what you’re looking for before you did- something different. You don’t want what everybody else at the beach is reading. Your book, like your bathing suit, should be unique and yet enticing. Below I have taken the liberty of suggesting four of the best lesser-known novels I have ever come across. You may have heard of them, but you probably haven’t read them yet.
So pick one. Or two. Or even all three. Drive to your favorite sandy spot. Set up that umbrella, breathe deeply, and inhale the smell of sunscreen, summer, and pages undiscovered.

Jodi Picoult’s Handle With Care

You’ve heard of the highly acclaimed novel My Sister’s Keeper by the same author (also turned into a movie), but this obscure work is, in my opinion, slightly better. The characters are just more developed enough to make a difference, there are more of them for you to fall in love and cry with, and the subplots, like the main story, are the most heart-wrenchingly poignant that Picoult has crafted.

Handle With Care is the story of Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe, who, after years of struggling to conceive, finally get pregnant with a baby girl, only to discover that she has brittle bone disease and will never have a normal life. For years, they deal with the realities of her condition and the stress it puts on them as a family, both emotionally and financially. Sean is a police officer who does not make enough to give their special-needs daughter, Willow, everything that she should have. Charlotte quit her job and calling as a baker to take care of her. Amelia, their teenage daughter, feels less important than Willow and is conflicted with the shame of feeling that way. Then, one suggestion from a lawyer changes everything; the O’Keefe’s are given a chance to give Willow an increased quality of life. But this is a catch-22; it will come at the expense of friendship, truth, and family as they know it. Is risking the deepest bonds- those between a mother and child, those between best friends, and those between mother and daughter- worth the chance of a better life? Or will the family, like Willow’s bones, break apart?

Every character must face tough questions about life and about themselves throughout the story, and Picoult will subtly pose questions that you will also have to answer: about morality, relationships, and perhaps most importantly, about what constitutes a valuable life.  It is among the few novels written in second person, so you, the reader, feel as if you are uniquely part of the story, and each character gives you a look into their heart and mind. This book is, by her own admission, the most tragic one she has written, so be warned before you read- bring tissues in your beach bag.

Dave Eggers’s The Circle

Remember reading 1984 in high school? (Let me jog your memory- “Big Brother is watching you”? Ring a bell?) Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn’t, maybe you’re one of those people that didn’t pay much attention to it- but you’ll pay attention to this one. The Circle is its modern, shockingly relevant equivalent. Though it is a dystopian novel (think, Hunger Games, the Giver, or for those of us that actually paid attention in high school, Brave New World or Farenheight 451), reading it sounds eerily similar to how our society is becoming. The novel follows the journey of Mae Holland, a recent graduate eager to start her career with her best friend Annie at the world’s most significant company (think, Google or Apple-but even bigger).  Behind all the latest technological innovations, they have integrated all of the world’s social media into one identity, and everyone must participate. All the time. Privacy is slowly being eradicated with the invention of SeeChange cameras and “transparency” (the practice of personal live streaming all day). Initially, this unnerves Mae, along with her ex-boyfriend Mercer and her parents, but as she rises further and further up in the company’s ranks, she gradually loses her sense of self and ignores their concerns. However, a mysterious relationship with an individual known only as Kalden begins, and soon she is forced to decide whether holding on to the last strains of privacy is worth giving up her powerful position.

It’s a page turner, fast-paced, engaging, as the author drives towards the revealing of Kalden’s true identity and Mae’s descent into the corporate chasm, and is also extremely chilling, as much of the problems seen in Eggers society are becoming more and more evident in our own. If changes are not made, our world could look identical to the one Mae Holland inhabits, and this itself makes the book worth the read.

Stephanie Meyer’s The Host

Now, don’t flip the page just yet, I know what half of you are thinking- “Ew Twilight. I’ll pass”. While we can sit here and argue for days about the merits or lack thereof of the infamous series, this is an editorial, so I’m going to tell it to you how I see it; they weren’t completely awful,  I actually enjoyed them (to an extent), but they were obviously juvenile, and much too mushy gushy for my personal taste. So when I saw this one in the bookstore, I would never have picked it up if not for the mesmerizing cover (a close-up of a face with silver eyes on a black background).

But guys- this is not Twilight! This is good stuff! I was just as surprised as anyone else, but this book actually made my top ten list of the best books ever, and the criteria to be on that list is highly prestigious. The Host takes place in a future where an alien race has all but invaded Earth, but not in the green man sense. These aliens are “souls”- and they invade successfully by actually taking control of individual people (hence, the title). Wanderer, a soul new to the planet, is placed in the body of Melanie, one of the last rebel humans. Yet Melanie refuses to give over complete control, and her love for her younger brother Jaime and romantic interest, Jared, drives Wanderer to risk everything the souls have worked for to find them. Filled with adventure, romance, and action, Wanderer and Melanie’s journey defines what truly makes humanity special.

The characters are wonderfully and deeply developed, and the plot keeps rolling without being too quick. It is a thick book, but that means it lasts longer, and trust me- this is one you won’t want to end. (I’m still waiting on a sequel, myself.) And P.S.- the movie is not as good. 

MaxVariety Staff

MaxVariety's Staff is comrpsied of college journalists who, despite being like minded, cover a wide array of topics.

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