13 of the Best Books of 2015 You Might Have Missed

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Amanda Nelson

Staff Writer

Amanda Nelson is an Executive Director of Book Riot. She lives in Richmond, VA.

Our great big round-up of the Best Books of the Year is full of books we’ve been championing all year (so you’ve probably heard of them). Now, let’s talk about some excellent reads of 2015 that flew under the radar and didn’t get the attention or buzz we think they deserved:

act of godAct of God by Jill CimentThis was one of the first 2015 titles I read, and it’s stuck with me. Featuring an interleaving cast of characters faced with a slow-growing but catastrophic fungus outbreak in New York City, Ciment’s novel is both pretty odd and oddly moving. The characters are strikingly, sometimes appallingly human, and the threat is mysterious but heartbreaking. It’s a lot like Station Eleven in its sad, interlocking, apocalyptic strangeness. Or like FX’s The Strain if the characters were leagues more interesting, the action was mostly emotional, and the zombie vampires were mushrooms.  –Derek Attig




animalsAnimals by Emma Jane UnsworthI am a big believer of Europa Editions, the publisher that brings a significant amount of great recent literature to the often insular US publishing world. When I came across ANIMALS I assumed it was yet another surface coming of age tale of the privileged girl in the city. But instead I found a laugh-out-loud, darkly humored, and emotionally raw novel written with the control of a polished writer. There is more joy and self awareness in the story of Laura and Tyler’s friendship and bildungsroman than I have read in some time.  I plan on stalking the writing of Unsworth from now on. –Hannah Oliver Depp



The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe NettelThe Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel (Translated by JT Lichtenstein). Overlooked as many books about the interior lives of women tend to be, this is a brilliant and strange account of the childhood of a young woman in Mexico. She’s born with an eye deformity that her parents spend untold time and effort trying to correct, and as the years pass and her family falls apart, moves, encounters tragedy and is generally eclectic and dysfunctional, the narrator finds herself in art. Told as a monologue to a psychotherapist, this is a narrative of emotional trauma told in one of the sharpest and wittiest voices I’ve encountered. –Amanda Nelson



crooked heartCrooked Heart by Lissa EvansThe story of an orphaned boy sent to live with a foster family during WWII, Crooked Heart is a delightful, heartbreaking gem. Ten-year-old Noel was raised by his brilliant godmother, who treated him like an equal and gave him a better education than he could get in school. But when she can no longer care for him, Noel is placed in a home with Vera and her no-good son. Vera is a hard woman who has had a hard life, and feels like the world owes her. She has taken Noel in for the monthly stipend from the government and to use him to swindle people for cash. When Noel figures her tricks out, he insists she cut him in on the action, or he’ll rat her out. As they scam their way through town, they form a friendship that teaches Vera there is still kindness and decency to be found in the world. No other book this year gave my heart warm fuzzies as much as this one. Like Noel himself, it’s sweet, sad, and so, so loveable. –Liberty Hardy


dirty riverDirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I usually read non-fiction a couple chapters at a time between inhaling fiction. In this case I INHALED this book. Leah’s writing is poetic and impactful— it not only placed me beside her it crawled into me. Her journey from being a brown girl in the U.S. with a white mother, to seeking out POC, to finding her identity (in Canada after years of struggle) was heartbreaking AND beautiful, told in a voice that flowed beautifully from storytelling to a poetic narrative. It created a perfect balance for when she spoke of things like abuse, poverty, and racism. –Jamie Canaves


fifteen dogsFifteen Dogs by André Alexis. This book hasn’t gone completely unnoticed, it’s won some big literary prizes in Canada and it’s appearing on a few Best of 2015 lists, but it remains an under-the-radar pick that is worthy of major attention. When I talk about it with people (which I do often because I am crazy about it) I compare it to a book like Life of Pi, with a magical realism premise and a lot of big picture questions to tackle. If you’re an animal lover and you’ve ever wondered about what makes people different from your favorite pet, you’ll get sucked into this book about a group of dogs given human intelligence and consciousness. –Jessica Woodbury



first bad manThe First Bad Man by Miranda JulyI wasn’t a big fan of Miranda July’s short stories, but her novel The First Bad Man was one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in this reading year. It’s about a lonely middle-aged woman whose world is turned upside down when she agrees to take in a twenty one year old woman named Clee for a while. But it’s more about what it feels like to be surprised by sequences like “I strolled through the parking lot and into the elevator, pressing 12 with a casual, fun-loving finger. A finger that was up for anything.” If those two sentences didn’t make you smile don’t read this book. –Josh Hanagarne



honor girlHonor Girl by Maggie Thrash. A memoir that recalls a teenager’s time at a Southern summer camp. Sounds idyllic, right? A little less so for Maggie, though she’s been going to Camp Bellflower for most of her life. Bellflower is a family tradition, and Maggie is happy enough continuing that tradition, until unexpected feelings for a camp counselor, Erin, leave her, and the camp, reeling. A coming-of-age, working-through-questions-of-sexual identity book. Did I mention it’s a graphic novel? Great, moving work. –Michelle Anne Schingler.



negrolandNegroland by Margo JeffersonNegroland was among the most original and affecting books I read this year.  The memoir label, the author’s restraint and the book’s release in the shadow of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me conspired to keep the quietly devastating book’s profile low. Poised and calculating, this is no put-your-business-in-the-streets confessional. Rather, Jefferson uses her personal lens (not her person) to illuminate an oft-overlooked segment of black society, those “sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Her almost clinical parsing of race and class leads to compelling questions, “How many kinds of deprivation are there? What is the compass of privilege? What has made and maimed me?” Read it and rethink “black America.” –Maya Smart


rainRain: A Cultural and Natural History by Cynthia Barnett. This is a charming, fascinating microhistory that tells the story of rain. Humans have long sought to understand and control rain – from worshipping weather gods and dancing to bring on rain, to trying to use science to predict the weather, to trying to prevent or cause rain with explosives. Barnett does a great job of incorporating science and history into this book. I read it on a couple of grey, rainy days and it was perfect. –Valerie Michael




serpentineSerpentine by Cindy PonSerpentine is the story of Skybright and Zhen Ni, a maid and her mistress, best friends pretty much since birth, and how one visit from a seer sets off a series of events that may drive them apart forever. While Zhen Ni is struggling with her first period (and later, her first love), Skybright has a secret that is far more difficult to explain: Skybright has the ability to turn into a large snake, raising questions of her humanity and parentage. The novel has everything from ladies who love ladies (in all capacities) and monks who fight demons, all set in Pon’s fantastic Kingdom of Xia. Serpentine is a thoughtful look at the ideas of femininity, heroism, and monstrosity. A must-read. –Yash Kesanakurthy


Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-GarciaSignal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-GarciaSignal to Noise is an indie book by a debut novelist, so it was bound to be missed by many, but that would be a mistake to anyone who passed this book by. If you like the music references in High Fidelity, this book is for you. If you like the unlikeable characters in The Magicians, this is for you. If you like reading stories about teenagers who feel like real teenagers, this is for you. If you want a book that will have you feeling feels, this book is for you! Set in Mexico City in 1988, the novel follows 15-year-old Meche who is extremely unpopular, and her two equally unpopular friends Sebastian and Daniela. One day, Meche realizes that she is able to cast spells with the aid of music and vinyl records, which can change the lives of her and her friends. Flash forward to 2009, Meche is returning to Mexico City after her father passes away and is forced to confront her past, which includes her broken friendships with Sebastian and Daniela after a falling out that happens in 1989. This story will probably remind a bit of your friendships in high school and the conflicts that seemed so big at the time, but you now realize were so minute. You’ll turn each page not only wanting to know what happened to these friends, but hoping that they’ll end up making it work. –Rincey Abraham


unrequitedUnrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession by Lisa A PhillipsThis book came to me at just the right time, at the height of a completely impossible romantic obsession of my own. It made me feel less crazy, less alone, and in fact positively balanced compared to some of the women in this book, who went to extraordinary lengths to attract or keep a man. It’s written with empathy, though, and never mocks women with romantic obsession. It’s the kind of non-fiction I enjoy, and may write some day: a blend of memoir and psychological exploration and (recent) social history. I’ve never come across any non-fiction on this topic before – and if I felt so glad to find it, I’d bet thousands of others would. –Claire Handscombe