In September, we had the pleasure of reading Agatha of Little Neon Claire Luchette. Luchette’s novel follows Agatha, a sister in the Catholic church, as she settles into her new assignment at a halfway house called Little Neon. Agatha of Little Neon navigates the intersection of faith, identity, and morality in subtle ways that will have readers fascinated and compelled to reflect on their own day-to-day lives.
When thinking about which books to recommend for this list, I couldn’t quite pin down a topic to tie everything together. One of my favorite things about Agatha of Little Neon was the quiet melancholy that the story exuded, along with spots of genuine emotion, like joy or annoyance. For this list, I want to focus on the feeling of the story, not just story elements. With that, here are my recommendations for books that have the same vibes as Agatha of Little Neon.
Starting off with one of my go-to comfort reads: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. If you’ve been following along with these blogs, you know how important this graphic novel series is to me. Heartstopper follows shy teen Charlie as he navigates life as the only “out” gay student at his all-boys school. Charlie meets Nick, a popular rugby “lad”, and immediately falls for his soft smiles and kind heart. The problem is: Nick is straight… right? (Nick isn’t so sure, either.) For a genuine, heart-warming, and relatable coming-of age story that addresses harsher topics such as mental illness, parent separation, bullying, and sexual harassment from a teen perspective, check out Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. Heartstopper has recently been adapted for television, with Oseman as screenwriter and producer, and will be coming to Netflix in 2022.
Yolk by Mary H K Choi is a story of two estranged sisters, one struggling to get by and one living a rich life. When the latter sister is diagnosed with cancer, the pair finds themselves growing closer. While this story is darker than the subtle sadness of Agatha of Little Neon, it really digs deep into the roots of what it means to be human, to be vulnerable to the world. Choi’s ground-breaking novel isn’t all sad, though: as the sisters grapple with solutions to their situation, a comedy of errors ensues. If you enjoyed the deeper implications within Luchette’s novel, check out Yolk by Mary H K Choi.
The most recent of these teen titles is One of the Good Ones. I wanted to talk about it because it’s written by a pair of sisters, Maika and Maritza Moulite. Marketed as The Hate U Give meets Get Out, One of the Good Ones follows sisters Happi and Genny are left reeling in the aftermath of their sister’s brutal death at the hands of law enforcement. In their grief, they decide to get away from the chaos and media attention to mourn their sister in peace. But the further they get from that horrible day, the closer they get to a secret that no one saw coming. If you liked Agatha for its political critiques but wanted more of a fast-paced plot, One of the Good Ones is the book for you.
Another one of my staple authors when recommending books to people is Tahereh Mafi. If you follow our podcast, you’ll remember that I talked a bit about Mafi’s fictionalized autobiography, A Very Large Expanse of Sea. The story follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager attending high school in 2002, directly following the events of 9/11. Shirin struggles with maintaining her identity and heritage while her surroundings all but force her to leave important parts of herself behind. Shirin clings to the things she loves: her family, breakdancing (yes, you read that right), and Ocean, the school’s star athlete. When they go public with their relationship, everything goes sour, and Shirin is left treading water. If the religious and social aspects of Agatha were compelling to you, try a Tahereh Mafi book. I promise it won’t disappoint.
If you connected with the liminal spaces and feelings in Agatha of Little Neon, check out Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. The story follows a young Jamaican woman living in London and working for a newspaper, feeling alienated from both cultures and her white coworkers. She crumbles under pressure and starts making a string of bad decisions that force her to re-evaluate her life and where she stands.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is one of Courtney’s highly-recommended favorites. The story follows two estranged roommates, Lillian and Madison, when their paths cross again after years of separation. Madison desperately reaches out to Lillian, asking her to nanny for her step-children. The catch is: when the kids feel extreme emotion, they spontaneously combust into flames. Leaving her boring life behind, Lillian travels to befriend and care for the siblings, and realizes that she needs them as much - if not more - than they need her.
Skye Falling by award-winning author Mia McKenzie is more on the romantic side of literary fiction. Skye has come to terms with living alone when a teenager shows up on her doorstep claiming to be her biological daughter. Things get even messier when Skye discovers that her last failed attempt at flirting involved the girl’s aunt. Skye Falling is all about learning “how to have a meaningful relationship with another human being,” and about holding loved ones close.
Finally, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is another tale of sisters who went their separate ways, only to be pulled back together in a story that delves into the importance of generational heritage and the destructive nature of racial privilege. After escaping their small town at sixteen, the Vignes twins now live completely different lives: while one went back to the small town they left all those years ago, the other is living with a white husband and passing for white. When their daughters’ paths cross, everything changes, old habits die hard, and unfortunate truths come to light.
Thank you for visiting the Underbrush blog! I hope you enjoyed Agatha of Little Neon as much as we did and that you can find your next great read on this list. Stay tuned next month for some spooky tales similar to The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass. Happy reading!