There are some books that complete take over your thoughts* and demand to be read as fast as possible. Here are eight such books.
*I appreciate that most books, in one way or another take over your mind, but I’m talking about how some can totally invade your thoughts and your perspective of the universe for at least as long as you are reading them.
Nothing by Janne Teller (2000, translated by Martin Aitken 2010)
This is a Danish book, about a boy called Pierre-Anthon and his classmates. Pierre-Anthon decides one day that nothing matters. He sits in a tree and shouts down at his classmates about how nothing is important, and they react by building a pile of things that mean something to them, to show that the world and life doesn’t just mean nothing. This book quickly becomes thrilling, terrifying and brutal. It is one of the few books I’ve read that I literally found difficult to put down. I read it about a year and a half ago and I still think about it often. It is incredibly thought-provoking and challenging in the way the ideas root themselves in your head. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)
I read this book only about a week ago. I loved it. It’s about a super rich American family, narrated by the eldest grandchild, Cadence. In the summer, she and her extended family live on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Two years ago, Cadence had some sort of accident, it’s called, and she can’t remember exactly what happened. The mystery hangs over the book the whole way through, and the accident is nothing like I expected. At all. And I loved it for that. I also loved the characters and their relationships, and the analysis of families with extreme wealth. It’s a book that’s both gripping and gentle, before the ending, which escalates to completely shocking.
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (2012)
Bitterblue is the third in a trilogy, the first two being Graceling and Fire. Graceling and Fire are more like companion books, but you really need to have read at least Graceling before Bitterblue. I found Bitterblue quite different to the others because of the suspense and ominousness of it, as Queen Bitterblue, now eighteen (she’s ten in Graceling), tries to figure out what her psychopathic father did to the people of Monsea during his long reign. I loved the clever codes and ciphers in it and the great characters, and the wonderful (but horrifying) world.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
Never Let Me Go isn’t quite as forceful as the other books. It’s a lot more subtle in its ideas and plot, but this one and Nothing are possibly the most mind-invading books here. It’s narrated by a young woman called Kathy H., who is remembering her past at a boarding school-like institution with a shocking true nature – but when you read it, it’s almost not shocking because of the way Kathy tells it. This book is one of my favourites ever, and is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The writing, the characters, everything.
Liar by Justine Labalestier (2009)
This is a book about (wait for it) a liar. Her name is Micah Wilkins and she is a hugely unreliable narrator, but you kind of trust her anyway. The story is split between before and after the death of her boyfriend Zach. When you finally get to the truth section, similar to We Were Liars, you’re not really sure whether to believe Micah or not. There are other mysteries throughout it – she’s a liar, after all – and the revelations can be brutal. It’s a great book. Micah is likeable and relatable, and not frustrating even though she keeps revisiting her words and telling you the truth (or what you hope is the truth). I loved it.
The Diviners by Libba Bray (2012)
The Diviners is an awesome book. It’s fun and creepy and brilliantly put together. Evie O’Neill, the protagonist, is completely fantastic, and the 1920s setting just makes it even better. Evie is essentially exiled from her hometown and moves to New York City to live with her uncle. He runs a museum of the occult, and is called to help with a murder investigation. Evie has a supernatural power that proves very useful for this, but things are complicated and this is just a great book ok. It was mainly the character of Evie who took over my thoughts, I think. She’s great. And there is great mystery, of course, with both the plot and the backstories of other characters, as it switches points of view.
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (2012)
This book completely swallowed me. It is dense and intense and magical and detailed and passionate and beautiful and dark. It is split between the stories of three women: Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a real historical figure who wrote the earliest version of Rapunzel, a young girl from Venice called Margherita who is locked in a tower, and the witch, Selena Leonelli, who holds her there. The stories interweave with utter precision. This must have been a painstaking (but interesting and exciting too, I’m sure) book to research and write and arrange, and Forsyth’s mastery is evident in every page. The characters and their motives and actions are fascinating, which is why it invaded my mind.
Dreaming of Amelia by Jaclyn Moriarty (2009)
This is one of my favourite books. Jaclyn Moriarty is actually referenced in We Were Liars, which made me very happy. This is a companion novel with Moriarty’s other books about the schools Ashbury and Brookfield. In this one, the characters are in Year 12. I read this first when I was in Year 8, and though I didn’t re-read it last year in Year 12, I thought about it a lot. Like the other Ashbury/Brookfield books, it’s told through what the characters write, in this case for their Year 12 assessment tasks and HSC exams, which I loved (although how on earth they managed to write that much in an Extension English exam I have NO CLUE). There is mystery again (yay!), but it doesn’t weigh down the whole book. Actually, there are quite a few mysteries (two main ones) that are gloriously interwoven throughout it. It makes you think and smile and gasp and wonder.
The covers I’ve included here are the covers I read the books with. Most of them have at least one newer cover.
The main image is of Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop in Paris that I really want to visit one day.