6 Beautifully-Written Novels

Warning: almost all of these recommendations contain a lot of mature content. Please be aware of the trigger warnings and do additional research before reading.

1. There There by Tommy Orange

Set in modern-day Oakland, California, this novel follows 12 Native American characters and explores their complex lives and struggles as they travel to a nearby powwow. Their stories connect and intertwine beautifully throughout the entire novel. It is a mature and emotional read with a lot of triggering topics.

TW: gun violence, mass shooting, drugs, domestic violence, alcohol/alcoholism, blood, death, rape.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Made popular by BookTok, this novel is a retelling of the Iliad (specifically the Battle of Troy) and features Achilles and Patroclus. It’s poignant and tragic, but is well worth the read: the writing is stunning and incredibly poetic.

TW: child abuse, death, human sacrifice, abduction, blood, violence, mentions rape.

3. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Theo Decker, a 13-year-old, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY with his mother when the room they’re in is bombed. In the midst of chaos, he steals a painting: ‘The Goldfinch.’ His life completely changes after the bombing and he continues to hold onto the painting as he grows up. This novel is haunting and heartbreaking as it examines the purpose of art.

TW: depression, substance abuse (heavy drug and alcohol use in minors), suicidal thoughts, addiction, physical abuse, grief, terrorism, strong language.

4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This is another novel by Donna Tartt but it’s a satire instead of a drama. It follows a group of students who study Greek at a small, Vermont college. It’s highly intellectual with a lot of philosophical conversation and comments. A staple for the “dark academia” aesthetic, it has inspired many other similar novels also featuring murder and academia. It examines the relationship between beauty and terror, as well as the danger of secrets.

TW: abuse, strong drug and alcohol usage, strong language, murder, death, homophobia, suicide, racism, incest, antisemitism, sexual assault, rituals, animal cruelty, hate speech.

5. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

This novel follows four friends from college as they move to New York to start successful careers. It delves into friendships and human relationships. It’s incredibly dark and upsetting but is also beautiful and (arguably) life-changing.

TW: ableism, misgendering, pedophilia, child abuse (sexual, physical, and emotional), eating disorders, suicide, death, self-harm, drug abuse, graphic, rape, toxic relationships.

6. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

The debut auto fiction novel of poet Ocean Vuong, this coming-of-age story follows a Vietnamese teenager who grows up in a family altered by the affects of the Vietnam War. He struggles with his own identity as both an immigrant and a queer man.

The writing is intensely engaging and reads almost like an epic poem.

TW: war, rape, sexual assault, racism, child abuse, drug use, homophobia, death, substance addiction, bullying, animal abuse.

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