I’m thinking about lesser-known books today because I just finished rereading a personal favorite from my teenage days: Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Have you heard of it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is no. This book was published fifteen years ago, and still has less than 20,000 reviews on Goodreads. And I don’t understand why. It’s rating is 4.15 currently, and I do understand that. No book is truly perfect, but this one’s pretty great. Instead of reviewing(/raving about) a book that basically no one has even heard of, I’m going to use Hawksong to talk about the merits of reading lesser-known books; and the sludge readers occasionally have to sort through to find the hidden gems in that category.
The thing is, you just can’t trust the hype. Haven’t you been burned before, picking up a book that everyone’s talking about only to find out it’s just not the book for you? Every reader has his or her own opinions and preferences, and for that reason, it’s best not to listen too closely to whether the masses love or hate certain books. If popular opinion were the best factor in finding books to love, we’d all just go to Goodreads and read only the highest rated books, regardless of things like genre and subject. But no one really does that, right? Sometimes other readers’ opinions are helpful in gauging whether we might like or dislike a certain book, but in the end we’re all marching to the beat of our own drum because we’re readers, not sheep following the herd. Which means sometimes you pick up a book that no one you know has ever read. And sometimes you find a true gem.
For me, Hawksong is one of those gems. It’s a fantasy story, a genre plenty of people reach for, but it does have it’s own quirks: it’s a fantasy story about shapeshifters; people who can transform into birds and snakes make up the main characters. The romance is obvious, partially due to the fact that it’s outlined on the book’s back cover, but it’s wonderful in its simplicity. The fight for peace is as uplifting and relevant as it is unrealistic in its abruptness, but a lack of realistic qualities matters little in fantasy novels. For me, the excellent world-building and the general kindness and acceptance practiced by the main characters is worth the short and otherworldliness of the plot. Guessing the identities of the assassins is a bonus side mystery. What’s not to love?
“The first of my kind was a human woman. Surely your kind comes from like roots. We have human minds and human bodies. If we can speak as humans do, and love as humans do, then what makes us so different?”
I don’t remember how I ended up picking up Hawksong in the first place. I know it was one of a limited number of books in my middle school’s tiny library, but why this one? I didn’t know anyone else who had read it, and as time has passed, that hasn’t really changed. I’ve pushed it on a couple of friends (and my mom), but I never see this book in bookstores and I never hear about anyone reading it. I’ve read it more times than any other book in existence. Because often the books that hit hardest, the books that surprise me most, the books that feel most tailored to me, aren’t the books that everyone else is reading. They’re the books that seem weird and unusual, that you pick up on a whim without ever having heard of and are totally surprised to fall completely in love with.
Sometimes the books no one is reading are overlooked for a reason– you encounter some bland (or even just downright bad) books while you’re looking for those hidden gems. But that’s no reason to quit trying.
I know I read things off the beaten path sometimes, and I know I get fewer likes and views and all those good things on my reviews of those lesser-known books, but that doesn’t make me like them (or want to talk about them) any less. Think about how small the world of books would be if everyone truly was reading the same things all the time, only the most popular choices. So many crazy great things wouldn’t even be published. We’d all be reading prize-winners and classics and steamy romances (because apparently tons of sex scenes equals a high Goodreads rating even if the book is trash), but that’s not the case in reality; the truth is, classics can be boring for readers who just want a quick escape, prize-winners have themes that don’t appeal to everyone, and some readers just can’t stand trashy writing even if the make-out scenes are good. So we pick up books that sound the most interesting to us, even if no one else seems to be reading them.
And that’s a good thing.
I feel that I can’t give Hawksong a fair rating anymore. It was a 5-star read back when I was twelve, and now when I reread it I’m probably blinded to its potential flaws by my familiarity with it, and the fact that every time I read it I remember what it’s like to fall in love with reading all over again. Which, in my mind, is still worth a high rating. But I’m not trying to sell you on Hawksong. I’m saying… keep picking up those lesser-known books that no one is talking about. Stay weird. Be you. Find your reading niche. And tell us about the unusual books you love, because how else are we going to hear about them?
What’s your favorite lesser-known book? I would love to hear some titles I’ve never come across before! (And I would especially love to hear that someone else has read Hawksong…)
The Literary Elephant