11 Acclaimed Realistic Fiction Novels to Read When You Need an Escape

Updated 04/29/19
Realistic Fiction

Escapism is popular these days. Movies and television seem to dominate, but books remain fierce competition. People who value print can simply carry a book around with them, not worrying about the battery life or internet service available to access it. The best e-readers are free from most of these woes as well, despite needing the occasional recharge, and when connected to the internet, they can pull up almost any novel you like.

If we have convinced you to pick up a new title and start reading, you might be wondering where to start. 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. Realistic fiction, also called “slice of life,” is universally enjoyed by anyone who lives in the real world.

Reading is said to foster empathy, and with that in mind, we have compiled a list of novels that touch on widely varying snapshots of the human experience. Though some may require a little suspension of disbelief, these stories will whisk you far away to meet diverse characters with unique trials and lasting consequences.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas The Hate U Give $12

Angie Thomas’s recent novel is acclaimed for the way it presents current issues like police brutality and socioeconomic disparity and has already 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

Markus Zusak The Book Thief $10

Put simply, the film adaptation of The Book Thief is underwhelming. 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

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere $14

Little Fires Everywhere is a sensitive study of not just one but many characters in a rule-abiding town. 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

Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird $12

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, it implores empathy in the face of unfair accusations based on something as trivial as the color of someone’s skin.


Laurie Halse Anderson Speak $8

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

Khaled Hosseini The Kite Runner $14

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

Jodi Picoult My Sister's Keeper $13

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

Gillian Flynn Gone Girl $10

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.

Soy Sauce for Beginners

Kirstin Chen Soy Sauce for Beginners $4

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.


Ann Patchett Commonwealth $14

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.

The Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling The Casual Vacancy $12

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.

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