#AMonthofFaves 2022: Underrated Books

December 8, 2022

I am going to use the same metric I used for this Top Ten Books with Fewer Than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads post some years ago for today’s topic.

Book #1 – What the Body Already Knows by K.E. Ogden

# of ratings: 0

First of all, this book isn’t even on Goodreads, which is a shame. Not only that, but it only has six reviews on Amazon. I will admit that I’m part of the problem because, ahem, I haven’t reviewed it on Amazon yet either.

My review:

what the body already knows

Since I haven’t reviewed it on Amazon yet, I’ll just review it here. I read this while I was standing in line to see Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, which means it was a very short read that I wish had been longer. The language is beautiful, and the imagery is vivid. Ogden is my colleague, and I cannot stress how impressed I was once I read this. I know my colleagues are talented but KNOWING they’re talented is something different entirely. This is a poetry collection about grief, but it is not maudlin. It is just…really freaking good.

Book #2 – be/trouble by bridgette bianca

# of reviews: 27

My review:

be/troublebe/trouble by Bridgette Bianca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’ve never heard bridgette bianca perform her poetry, I highly recommend that you head to her website and check out some of her videos. She is phenomenal, and I was immediately obsessed the first time I saw her at a reading.

So, anyway, I read this book and loved it. I assigned it to my students, and they loved it. Their final projects based on the poems were phenomenal. One student even said it made her want to talk about her culture more because these poems are blackity black black, and that inspired my students to write about their own cultures. So! You may want to read it, too, is all I’m saying.

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Book #3 – Courageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative Life by Sara Zarr

# of reviews: 47

My review:

Courageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative LifeCourageous Creativity: Advice and Encouragement for the Creative Life by Sara Zarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent collection of tools (not rules!) written in an accessible way for not only young people (though it’s clearly aimed at them) but creative people of all ages. Zarr addresses many of the challenges people may face getting started and then finishing a creative project and offers suggestions for getting unstuck. One of my favorite things about this book is that Zarr acknowledges at every turn that not every person is middle class nor has a room of their own to work in. She suggests walking in your neighborhood–if it’s safe to do so. She gives suggestions for how to create a work space–even if you share a room with siblings or other family members. She also includes many free resources that kids or other people with limited incomes can use.

I also deeply appreciate that Zarr approaches resistance through a compassionate lens by offering both empathy and personal anecdotes for how she herself overcomes it. I highly recommend this for any creative, but especially those starting out or who engage in a lot of negative self talk.

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Book #4 – The Best of Archie Americana Vol. 3: Bronze Age by Archie Superstars

# of reviews: 48

My review:

The Best of Archie Americana Vol. 3: Bronze AgeThe Best of Archie Americana Vol. 3: Bronze Age by Archie Superstars
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my biggest regrets during the beginning of the pandemic and safer at home was that I had gotten rid of my Archie comics. They were, for me, the ultimate comfort read. Recently, I’ve been thinking of rebuilding my collection, so I got this book from the library to see if it was a genuine and worthy desire or just something bent of nostalgia.

This collection definitely reminded me of everything I love about Archie comics, but it also made me remember why I no longer wanted to hold on to them. I was happy while I was reading but felt no sense of urgency when I was not. I think if I want to revisit them in the future, I will check out one of these volumes from the library again.

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Book #5 – The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo

# of reviews: 289

My review:

The Cassandra Curse (Muse Squad, #1)The Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is practically perfect, and I am super bummed to see that it’s only the first of two books. This should be a whole series, nine books minimum (one for each of the muses [obvs]). Sigh.

My only complaint about this book (besides the whole duology thing) is that it follows the trend of the best friend dropping out of the picture once Callie learns about her powers. I can kind of understand why that’s the choice made–and it does play into the climax/resolution of the book–but if we’ve learned anything from Clueless, it’s that adding a third to your group doesn’t diminish the tight bond of the already established BFFs.

There is also a slight pacing issue, but honestly I didn’t even really notice until I had finished the book., and I don’t care (!!!) because Acevedo gets so many other things right.

I love the focus on family, friendship, and mythology. I love, love, LOVE that it’s about the muses and not just because the songs from Hercules kept running through my head. Love the diversity, love the body positivity (Callie is chubby and everyone–except the mean girl–is literally like WHO CARES?), love the glimpses of London, love the message about being cared for (“you are loved, and if you’re loved, you’ll be okay”). Love, love, love, love, love.

4.5 stars, rounding up

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Book #6 – Aftermath by Emily Barth Isler

# of reviews: 337

My review:

AftermathAftermath by Emily Barth Isler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am very glad that this book exists, and I am very sad that it has to.

The narrator is an outsider, new to town, but who also carries her own grief. In that way, the book is an excellent look at grief and trauma and how it affects different people in different ways. It is also an excellent look at COLLECTIVE grief and trauma and how that can also affect different groups of people in different ways (i.e., Lucy and her family; the students in her class; the town as a whole). You can also add to that the different ways PTSD shows up.

Also, I deeply appreciate that the aftermath encompasses the children as well as the shooter’s family.

I wish a copy of this book could be sent to every member of Congress/governor/person who opposes gun safety laws and they were forced to read it. Maybe then, they would care.

I also feel it’s important to add that I knew the first review I read on this site about this book would question how appropriate it is for young readers because it deals with heavy topics so let me just say that everything in this book is children’s lived reality. It doesn’t matter whether or not we THINK the topics are “appropriate”; what matters is that a book like this, written at their level, gives them an opportunity to process the world they live in. “I don’t know if I want children reading a book about a school shooting” is not it since mass shootings happen at schools almost every day in this country. “I don’t want children living in a world where they have to worry about getting shot at school” is. Kids are sad sometimes, kids deal with hard things sometimes, and kids deserve books that honor both of those things.

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Book #7 – A Song Called Home by Sara Zarr

# of reviews: 376

My review:

A Song Called HomeA Song Called Home by Sara Zarr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Quiet and melancholy, sad and hopeful — Sara Zarr for middle grade basically does all the things Sara Zarr for YA does for the younger set. The characters and setting and the emotional arcs are visceral and real. I think Zarr perfectly captures the conundrum of being eleven and living with alcoholism: adults and older siblings not behaving the way they SHOULD and the way you want and being completely stuck because you don’t even have the freedom to go to the mall with your friends on your own, especially once your mom moves you out of the city and into the suburbs.

A super engaging read.

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Book #8 – The ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez, illustrated by Lauren Semmer

# of reviews: 680

My review:

The ABCs of Black HistoryThe ABCs of Black History by Rio Cortez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is stellar. Not only does it introduce important names, dates, and concepts in the text, but the illustrations are chock-full of important names, dates, and concepts. For example, on the pages devoted to W (for writers, wisdom, words, and worlds), the bookshelf has the names of writers on the spines–and not just children’s book writers. There’s also the backmatter where the terms and figures listed with each respective letter are talked about in more detail, which makes this not just an ABC book but also an excellent reference book for children, caregivers, and educators. It can be used as a springboard for further research and discussion. This is a must for any bookshelf.

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Book #9 – High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris

# of reviews: 931

My review:

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to AmericaHigh on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As this is a history book, I think it’s important to point out that I found the writing in this very accessible. I liked the through line of history by food as it made me think of things I hadn’t considered and, of course, I learned things I didn’t know. The beginning was the hardest part of the book to get through because it includes (necessary) details about the Middle Passage and then slavery. Once those parts were over, the reading got easier, though this was never a book that I would just pick up to read for fun/leisure. Since this was a book club pick, I read about ten minutes per day throughout the course of the month, which was the right amount of time to spend with the book, I think.

My feelings on the information in the book can pretty much be summed up by something Harris quotes her mother saying in one of the opening chapters: “What artistry. What beauty they created for people who thought we were nothing but goods, not even human beings!”

Things I learned that I didn’t know before:
– Hunger strikes were common on slave ships
– Feeding time was also the most common time for revolts to happen
– Catering as a profession was invented by a Black man (no surprise, really, but I still didn’t know it)
– Robert Roberts wrote one of the first books by an African American to be issued by a commercial press
– The cook on cattle drives also often acted as doctor and dentist
– The first woman to have a cooking show was a Black woman named Lena Richard
– Chicago was founded by a Black man (I definitely should have known this already)

Also let’s not forget that Black people aren’t magic because we want to be but because we’ve had to be. To whit:

Thomas Ruffin, a former North Carolina slave who was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration, remembered “We used to dig up dirt in the smokehouse and boil it dry and sift it to get the salt to season our food with. We used to go out and get old bones that had been throwed away and crack them open and get the marrow and use them to season the greens with.”

Honestly, the whole book was just a reminder that the only thing we know for sure that white people of that time invented was chattel slavery and race.

This was an interesting way to learn history, and I would recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in food, culinary history, or Black history (aka American history).

I did find that there was a shift in the writing style near the end that didn’t sit well with me, which is why I’m giving it 4.5 stars, rounding down.

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a month of faves 2020

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