1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
I read this over the summer and have probably recommended it to everybody I know at least three times since then. It is an amazingly written novel that explores traumatic childhood abuse but also the universal human capacity for kindness, forgiveness, and unconditional love. The four days in which I read this were probably the most I’ve ever cried — never have I so strongly wanted to give a fictional character a hug.
(Also recommended by Eileen Pierce and Lillian Dabney.)
2. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
Hands down my favorite book, Mystic River is written as a mystery but expressed as a Greek tragedy. You could be any one of the three main characters. And who would you turn out to be given the experiences that these “ordinary” people have lived? Are we born with characteristics that will turn us into bad people or will we choose something better? A fantastic story that is driven by the characters with an ending that will shock you. Not for the faint of heart…
3. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
This book forces you to rethink all the choices you’ve made — and will make — trying to navigate the waters of love in the internet age. It’s surprising how serious and thoughtful the writing can be, but Aziz’s voice still radiated throughout. I was actually laughing out loud throughout the whole thing and couldn’t put it down.
4. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I couldn’t stop talking about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s hard to describe without making it sound too odd, but basically this book is about a circus that is used as a sort of battleground for two magicians who are supposed to be competing against each other but end up falling in love. The writing is absolutely incredible; this book seriously feels like a work of art. Even if the premise sounds really odd, it’s worth reading because Morgenstern’s writing is just so gorgeous and amazing.
It’s like reading silk… Everything is so smoothly and beautifully intertwined. I can’t even begin to explain. Just go read it. Trust me.
The most romantic, magical, Romeo and Juliet-type book I’ve ever read. Currently rereading it for the 11th time!
5. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
In this beautiful graphic novel, Marjane Satrapi recounts her childhood and coming-of-age during the turbulent years of the Iranian Revolution and the following Iran–Iraq War, which ravaged her country. Struggling to find her place in a world that demanded women veil themselves and silence their opinions, Satrapi rebels, plunging into the hyperliberal drug-addled art world of late-20th-century Europe where she learns much about herself and what she really believes. Satrapi’s fantastic story and distinctive writing and illustration style just pulls you in and never lets go.
6. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
“Something is out there — something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from, but it’s left society in ruins. Now, Malorie and her family must make their escape, pursued by the deadly unknown.”
This is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever read. It sticks with you long after the book ends.
7. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
I read this during the three months when I was recovering from crippling shin splints and quickly losing motivation to return to running. Christopher McDougall goes in hunt of Mexico’s Tarahumara Indians — the world’s best long-distance runners — trying to find out how they can run for days at a time without rest or injury. It is such an inspiring and engaging read — well-written, with a perfect mix of history, science, captivating characters, and adventure. It kept my spirits up and I couldn’t put it down. Definitely inspired me to get past my injury and try again!
8. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
This is YA fantasy at its best — Celaena is a badass assassin who must take down 23 killers, thieves, and warriors to win her freedom. But as she learns more about the evils plaguing the kingdom, the stakes become ever higher. The entire book is bursting with epic fight scenes, romance, Fae, magic, and so many twists (and deaths) that I didn’t see coming.
It’s literally the first series I recommend to anyone. It’s amazing. It has everything your looking for in a series: steamy romance, action, adventure, kick-ass characters (both female and male), and comedy.
I recently did a reread and I am telling everyone who will listen (even if they really aren’t listening) what it’s about. The fourth book (of six!!) just came out and it is SO AMAZING, holy balls, I can’t. With each book the plot becomes more nuanced and intricate and Sarah Maas is the queen of foreshadowing and EVERYONE SHOULD READ THESE BOOKS.
(Also recommended by Meggie-Lou and Caroline Hinrichs.)
9. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Everyone on Earth should read this book, for real. Beyond talking about what it means to be a person of color in the U.S., for me its most valuable lesson is what it means to own your body (despite your color, gender, age) and what owning your body responsibly means. It just came out this summer and I’m planning on giving everyone I care about a copy for Christmas. Yes, it’s that good.
10. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
I can’t stop gushing about Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s an explosion of sibling love and jealousy, art and loss, and ghosts that lurk and refuse to go. The writing is to die for. It’s glorious. I wanted to eat this book.
Noah and Jude are twins, dissimilar but inseparable — he the outcast artist secretly in love with the boy next door, she the adventurer, eccentric and brave. Three years later, they barely speak to each other. Noah’s interested in popularity and sports while Jude is depressed and full of regret. This book gets more interesting the more you read, and I just couldn’t stop telling everyone about it — totally worth the read.
This novel made me laugh and cry. It’s extremely creative, humorous, thought-provoking, and has an LGBT+ plot. In short, it’s a small miracle. Read it now!!!
—Veronika Z., Austria
11. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
I have raved about this book to anyone who would listen. It’s a new take on the zombie genre, but definitely one of those books you’re best off going into knowing as little as possible — just to really enjoy all that enfolds. It’s unusual, well-written, horrifying, and fascinating all at once.
This was one book I could not put down, and when I finished it, I was in awe.
—Taylor Lea Pratt
12. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
In many ways, The Go-Between is similar to Atonement. A young schoolboy is enlisted as the unwitting messenger in an illicit love affair that unleashes aftershocks that will be felt for years. Throughout, there’s this gnawing, pensive feeling of tragedy that you don’t fully understand until the moment when you just can’t look away. I may have been too young when I read this at 19, but it’s stuck with me ever since.
This is a perfect read for anyone who has struggled to make sense of the past, or ever felt at all out of place in time. Oh, and if you want a good adaptation, nothing beats Alan Bates’s raw sex appeal as Ted.
13. The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips
This is a debut novel that delivered. In this story set in Georgia in the late fifties, you can expect the elements of that time in history — racism, lynchings, fighting for equality — but all that’s happening in the background. It’s really the story of Rozelle Quinn, narrated by her seventh and darkest child, Tangy Mae Quinn, who’s in the midst of her coming-of-age. I didn’t just read this book — I lived it and I LOVED IT! The plot was well-crafted and the themes were all relatable despite the extreme dysfunction. There is deep love and bitter hate existing in the same space.
14. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
“No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal, but The Reestablishment has plans for her. They’re going to use her as a weapon.”
Not only does this book have an intriguing premise, but Mafi’s writing is just incredible. Her turns of phrase left me reeling — I found myself rereading sentences just to experience them again. Anytime someone asks me for a book recommendation, I always start with this series because everyone should experience Mafi’s writing as it dances along the border between prose and poetry. I have reread the series multiple times, as has my sister, and we always text each other lines when we delve back into the story, which always makes me come back to read it again.
15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
The one book that l just couldn’t stop talking about, that made my toes curl with anticipation while l was still midway through it, has to be Wuthering Heights. In my opinion, this is the greatest piece of classical literature ever written. It has all the necessary emotions — love, hatred, fury, death, sorrow, remorse — and a twisted plot with a devastatingly dark and broken antihero, all of which makes for an absolutely brilliant and intriguing read.
16. Unwind by Neal Shusterman
“In America after the Second Civil War, the Pro-Choice and Pro-Life armies came to an agreement: The Bill of Life states that human life may not be touched from the moment of conception until a child reaches the age of thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, a parent may choose to retroactively get rid of a child through a process called ‘unwinding.’”
Yes, the moral themes sound a little heavy-handed, but don’t be fooled — this series sucks you in, grabs you, and doesn’t let go. It left my heart thumping and desperate to discuss with friends.
(Also recommended by Annette Niño.)
17. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Sea of Poppies kicks off Amitav Ghosh’s masterful Ibis trilogy with a splash. The Ibis, an Indian slaving ship, has set sail from the Americas amidst great political tumult and war. The resulting tale is populated with so many vibrant, swashbuckling characters and unbelievable sights and scenes — I felt like I was physically aboard the Ibis, along for the ride with her batshit-crazy crew. Even more impressive than his command of an intense, topsy-turvy plot is Ghosh’s magical mastery of language; the Ibis trilogy is not just an adventure, it’s a work of art.
(Also recommended by Ruqayya.)
18. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
I actually bought this book while traveling to Southeast Asia last summer, and went to the killing fields as part of a tour to learn a little bit more about what had happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge takeover. Against this backdrop, Ung’s story of her family’s trauma is so, so important. I cried, I smiled, and I related to this young girl who was so close to her family. This is a harrowing tale of bravery, and every minute worth the read.
I believe Angelina Jolie Pitt is also to produce a movie about the book — so, definitely one I suggest reading.
19. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The book I can’t stop talking about is The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the first in a series titled The Raven Cycle, and it’s about a lot of things: searching for lost kings, Ley lines, death, friendship, true love. The prose is delightful, and the story is intriguing from the start. All the themes, the characters, and the story make me rant about it to friends nearly daily in the hopes that they read it.
After reading The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, I spent a good while trying to convince all of my friends to read it (they haven’t yet). There’s so much going on, from psychics to Welsh kings, ghosts to car races, Ravens named Chainsaw to Coca-Cola shirts. Because there’s just so much happening, you really have to discuss the book with anybody who will listen (even if they don’t understand and just nod their head dismissively). And because the story has so many jokes and quirks, you share those too. Remember when Blue pretended Gansey didn’t wear boat shoes because it made her think of him as a better person? I was laughing so hard!
20. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
“Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? A brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.”
I loved so many quotes from this book! —”What’s vodka?” says a young Tooly. “It’s like water, but with consequences.” There are also so many delightfully eccentric characters — I just wanted to be their friend, if only so that I could sit there all day and listen to them argue. 🙂
—Michelle Brunet Chapa
21. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Giovanni’s Room is so beautiful and poignant; it touched so many chords. It made me feel something that I do not have the word to describe. And it taught me that though attraction and sexual orientation may be fluid in nature, the true feeling of love — no matter how fleeting or fraught — is always real. I begged all my friends to read this book.
22. The Art of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
This book completely changed my life. I’ve always wanted to be more organized, but had never found a technique that worked. Marie Kondo’s simple philosophy is so perfect, straightforward, and easy to read — I couldn’t put this book down. I learned that you can live happily with just a third of your belongings, and you’ll be so much better for it.
—Helen Nunes Breyer
23. Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Forbidden is the one book I just cannot stop talking about. It centers on a forbidden love shared between siblings, with enough dramatic and tragic turns to totally alter the reader’s perspective on the world. The ending is explosive, and Forbiddenremains my absolute favorite book to date.
24. Death With Interruptions by José Saramago
One day, Death decides to stop doing her job, which unleashes some serious and surprising consequences upon the rest of the world. This book is so mind-blowing that I keep telling my friends to read it. Saramago has such a unique way of applying his impossible vision to actual real-world social problems — this is a very powerful read.
25. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street is an incredibly moving novel, beautifully crafted to convey important messages from the point of view of a Hispanic teenage girl growing up in Chicago. I’ve never felt so moved by a piece of literature. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and rejoice — truly a must-read.
26. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
I highly recommend The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. It is a thriller fictional story about a kidnapping told from the perspectives of people closest to the investigation — including the kidnapper. The surprise twist ending left me speechless and made me want to discuss what happened and how I didn’t see it coming at all. Kubica creates a captivating atmosphere that really keeps you guessing until the end.
(Also recommended by Megan H.)
27. Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius
Ghost Boy is a true account of Martin Pistorius’s life: the good, the bad, and the downright ugly parts of being trapped inside his own body. This book made me angry, disappointed, happy, and sad, all within a few pages at a time. Maybe it’s because of the profession I’m in, but this book made me weep. It made me so damn thankful that Martin found his voice and displayed it in such an achingly raw, true, hopeful, and eye-opening manner.
—Ericka N. Freeborn
28. 1984 by George Orwell
My son and I are reading this together, and I’ve really come to care so much for the two main characters. I’m almost afraid to find out their fates, but am determined not to cheat with Google! 🙂 Amazing book.
I couldn’t stop talking about 1984. It’s all about a man living in a dystopian society who begins to realize how messed up the world is. I absolutely loved the dark, eerily realistic world that Orwell creates. And me and my friends couldn’t stop imagining what it would be like to live there, or how we would run our own Orwellian government!
29. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
Following her failed suicide attempt, Veronika is admitted into the most prestigious mental hospital in Slovenia. Perhaps because it’s based on events in Coelho’s own life, the characters, plot twists, and messages really spring from the page in a powerful way. I couldn’t put the book down!
30. Defending Jacob by William Landay
I tell everyone about Defending Jacob by William Landay. It’s about a district attorney whose son is accused of murder and it keeps you guessing the entire time! I had to reread the ending twice — the twist at the end will blow your mind.
31. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marr
“In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives.”
I adored this book. The writing is exquisite. The story fills you with love for the different characters and is also heartbreakingly sad. It made me weep on a plane! I’ve already highly recommended it to a few book lovers I know.
32. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee is dead, leaving her parents to reckon with the collective weight of her — and their — shattered dreams. This book broke me in a real and powerful way. Ng just speaks so truthfully to the secrets, love, longing, and lies built into the fabric of every family. Everything I Never Told You is both heartbreaking and beautiful, and sets the bar way high for debut writers and new literary fiction today.
33. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
“Fangirl takes place during Cather Avery’s first year of college, learning who she is when stripped down to just Cath — not the twins Cath & Wren and not Magicath, her fan fiction pen name. Now, is she ready to start writing her own story?”
This book is like no other romance story — and so funny, too! One of my favorite lines: “You’re helpless. It’s like watching a kitten with its head trapped in a Kleenex box.” 🙂 Fangirl is a must for every fanfiction lover!”
(Also recommended by Julia G. and Suzanne O.)
34. Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver
Set in contemporary Arizona, Animal Dreams is the novel I’ve bought for the people I love and the one I recommend to anyone who’ll listen. With its diverse characters and locations, the story sparkles as themes of love, loss, and finding one’s place in the world are seamlessly woven in with Kingsolver’s trademark ecologist’s appreciation of the planet. Featuring two of the best mismatched lovers and one of the most charismatic male characters I’ve ever met in literature, this novel has so much heart and soul. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re in for a treat.
35. Easy by Tammara Webber
Four years into her relationship with Kennedy (which started junior year of high school), Jacqueline realizes she’s built her life around this guy: She followed him to the same school, has the same friends, and even let him nickname her Jackie (mostly because he thinks he’s the next JFK). When a boy named Lucas saves her life one night at a Halloween party, she starts to question everything she’s known — with numerous heart-wrenching consequences. This book is just amazing, and the sequel is as well. I couldn’t put it down and have gone back to read excerpts of it many times. I highly, highly recommend it!
36. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
This book is an absolute gem among mystery novels. Its twist ending is one of the best in this genre and will make you go screaming from the roof of your house about how you could miss it. I read it a few years ago and still recommend it to everyone who shows even a passing interest in books.
37. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I know I may not be the first to say this, but honestly, The Secret History has EVERYTHING: awesome plot, amazing lifelike characters, bits that scare the hell out of you, some dashes of humor — and it’s just so darn addictive! To date, I have recommended this book to over 50 people and only one person has not liked it (I can’t accept this, I’m sure the person did not give it a chance). Anyway, The Secret History is a MUST-READ.
—Robert Pisani, Malta
(Also recommended by Kira M.)
38. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This one has been on my book club’s radar for months and we finally got around to reading it in August — but now I’m not sure any other book will ever come close to measuring up! Verghese’s tale of two orphaned brothers bound together by medicine, miracles, and fate is too expansive and complex for me to possibly explain here. In addition to the globe-trotting plot — from India to Ethiopia to New York and beyond — the novel touches on so many deep themes that you really just have to read it with someone so you can discuss every new development. Seriously, grab a friend and bring them along for the ride.
39. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
In my opinion, this novel perfectly captures what the life of the girlfriend and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald would have been like. Stunning descriptions of parties, a new life in NYC for a Southern girl, and the tumultuous relationship of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I read this book in a total of probably 12 hours and couldn’t put it down! It’s heartbreaking and beautiful and full of love and betrayal, and you should all just go read this book right now and thank me later!
40. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane, only to discover something is terribly wrong: Their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Then, a closet appears, and then a hallway. Then: murder, chaos, and a story-within a story that turns the whole world upside down.
Figuring out how to read it is half the fun and, even then, there are so many different ways it can be read. It’s just so good!!
41. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is one of those books that I can’t stop recommending and talking to my friends and family about. After an incessant flu virus wipes out most of civilization, the characters of the book have to figure out how to survive and what that survival is worth. It’s beautifully complex and impressively written; even though it spans decades, it never feels confusing. And really, does anyone know how they would react and what they would do to live gorgeously in the wake of a tragedy?
I couldn’t stop talking about Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. It tells the story of a very near future in which most of the world’s population has been wiped out by a massive pandemic, and deals with the lives of people affected by the disaster before and after it takes place. It may sound cliché, but it’s a beautiful, scarily realistic read that will leave you incapable of talking — or thinking — of anything else for days.
42. Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique
“In the early 1900s, the Virgin Islands are transferred from Danish to American rule, and an important ship sinks into the Caribbean Sea. Orphaned by the shipwreck are two sisters and their half brother, now faced with an uncertain identity and future. Each of them is unusually beautiful, and each is in possession of a particular magic that will either sink or save them.”
Oof, Land of Love and Drowning made my soul sing! A perfect winter read — tropical, enchanting, and an altogether otherworldly escape. If you’re on my Christmas list, you’re getting this book.
43. Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
This was the year of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels for me. From her gorgeous writing, to the vivid settings, to the completely absorbing characters, this series is close to perfect. Set over the span of over 50 years in Naples, the novels chart the turbulent times and equally turbulent friendship of Elena and Lila. I’ve been trying to push these books on everyone, just so we can talk about them! I still can’t believe I have heard the last of Elena and Lila, two characters I can’t imagine I will ever forget.