Genres such as fantasy and sci-fi are popular for their ability to tap into our imaginations and stretch our minds to the edge of the galaxy. Other novels can have different effects: A great mystery will keep you turning pages for hours while a suspense novel may leave you with lasting night terrors. But realistic fiction, which offers a “slice of life,” is perfect for those who are firmly grounded in reality.
The below novels touch on widely varying snapshots of the human experience in ways so real that you won't believe they're fiction.
Here are our picks for the best realistic fiction books to add to your shelf.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give is acclaimed for the way it presents current issues like police brutality and socioeconomic disparity and has even been made into a movie. It is a compelling story that will teach people of all backgrounds and age groups about empathy.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Put simply, the film adaptation of The Book Thief is underwhelming. But the lengthy novel by Markus Zusak is anything but; it maintains a unique style of writing, establishing the point of view from Death himself in a fictional town in Germany during the Holocaust. The main characters are young, but the themes will likely only resonate with mature readers.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Little Fires Everywhere is a sensitive study of not just one, but many characters in a rule-abiding suburb of Cleveland called Shaker Heights. It is Celeste Ng’s second novel and builds on her abilities to evoke emotion and color through her insightful descriptions.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
You may have read this title years ago in school, and it is worth a reread or consideration as a gift for a young reader in your life. The story is not set with the backdrop of the civil rights movement, as those events followed its publication. Still, To Kill a Mockingbird implores empathy in the face of unfair accusations based on something as trivial as the color of someone’s skin.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
To confront your inner demons is one thing, but in Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult novel Speak, the protagonist takes it a step further. Melinda Sordino navigates high school with trauma haunting her past and present, which manifests in her classmate and assaulter. This psychological tale will help anyone learn how to use their voice.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini’s story is a tear-jerker in which childhood bonds of friendship never fade, even in dark times. The Kite Runner is set in Kabul, Afghanistan, and describes adult traumas that are common in wartime. Its story winds throughout the protagonist’s lifetime, creating beautiful arcs and prevailing themes that will linger long after you finish reading it.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Controversy surrounded the release of this novel and its film adaptation starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. It presents a nuanced moral quandary facing the parents of a terminally ill child, their sibling, and how all are presented to the public. My Sister’s Keeper is heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Before the production of the acclaimed movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl had all your book club friends raving. Suspense and deception are the defining forces of this novel and some of Flynn’s favorite motifs across all of her work. Gone Girl is about a perfectionist wife gone missing in Missouri. Does her husband have something to do with it?
Soy Sauce for Beginners by Kirstin Chen
Gretchen Lin finds herself lost after making the decision to leave her marriage and return home to Singapore. In Kirstin Chen’s debut novel, we experience culture shock from a different perspective, as well as personal lessons that will resonate with anyone.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Stories within Ann Patchett’s successful novel Commonwealth create unintentional alternative timelines. This gives characters’ actions more depth and therefore more themes to pay attention to over the decades of ground that the story covers. It's about a romantic encounter changing the course of two families' lives.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
The author of the Harry Potter series caught some flak after the release of her very-adult novel The Casual Vacancy. It is not whimsical or really all that much fun considering the number of unsavory deeds that occur within its pages. But it is an entertaining tale of a small town torn apart by secrets, and that is why you should pick up a copy.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Witness the unraveling of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, a native New Yorker, in The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger's masterpiece follows Caulfield as he heads to New York City after leaving behind all the "phonies" at his prep school.