This story was first published on The Reading Room.
Books with unexpected plot twists are often the most addictive page turners, and they keep you guessing (sometimes even after the twist). These books are nearly impossible to put down; the twists and turns that shock and rattle you may make you cry out in fear and anguish, or maybe you’ll say, “I knew it!” and feel like the smartest reader in the room. Plot curve-balls that come straight out of left field make excellent stories even more jarring, which is probably why a majority of the books on this list were turned into movies.
Here are some great novels with epic plot twists—let us know which book(s) you would add to the list!
Ready for even more book recommendations? Subscribe to Early Bird Books to receive offers for free and discounted ebooks delivered daily to your inbox.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
Plot twists can make your heart burst into emotional flames, so without giving anything away, prepare to cry a lot while reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The story is told through the eyes of an innocent boy whose father is the commander of a concentration camp in Germany. He befriends a young Jewish boy on the other side of the fence and, well, you can see why this might be one of the saddest stories ever.
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (with a shout out to The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)
Agatha Christie is a master of mystery—a genre which entails plot twists. It is therefore impossible to pick just one Christie mystery with crazy and ingenious plot twists. Both The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and And Then There Were None (which fans voted to be their favorite Christie Mystery—Roger Ackroyd came in third), are must reads for fans of mystery with suspense and twists.
The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Shadow of the Wind is more than just a crazy mystery; it is a beautifully written tale of secrets, romance, madness, and a boy’s obsession with an author whose books have been systematically destroyed for some unknown reason. With eloquent detail, he transports you to the windy, history filled streets of Barcelona as it recovers from the Spanish Civil War. Every time you think you know what is about to happen, Zafón turns a shocking corner that is sure to entertain!
She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb
She’s Come Undone is Wally Lamb’s debut novel, and he surprises readers by filling the novel with unexpected, yet realistic, plot turns throughout. Lamb tells the coming-of-age story of a funny, cynical, overweight girl, Dolores Price, trying to transform her life for the better. Like every teenager, Dolores faces challenges that come out of no where–providing plot twists for her, just as much as for readers. You will likely connect to many of the challenges Dolores faces.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
The Girl on the Train was all the rage in mystery when it hit shelves in 2015, and with good reason. Just like Rachel (the main narrator whose alcoholism constantly clouds her memory and obscures her perception of reality), readers will constantly be questioning what happened, and fear what is going to happen. The character development in this book is great, even if you hate every one of them. Hawkins switches narrators at times, each voice being as unreliable as the next, making this a mind-boggling psychological thriller. Who can you trust, Paula Hawkins?!
The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
This book has everything: zombies, post-apocalyptic dystopia, horror, action, creepy children, and gore. Combine these ingredients for a recipe that is sure to produce thrilling plot-twists. Set in the future where most of humanity has been wiped out due to a bizarre fungal infection, The Girl with All the Gifts is an interesting twist on the average zombie story with relatable characters (even if they are the ‘living dead’) and emotional entrancement. It will blow your mind.
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
The Turn of the Screw is a classic ghost story, incorporating the best of Gothic horror, unnerving children, and a haunted house. While this is horror at its best, the shocking twists are what really get you. Yet again, the unreliable narrator, who seems to be teetering on the brink of a mental break down, makes the story all the more chilling.
Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
When many think of Shutter Island, they think of Leonardo DiCaprio and how he could have won an Oscar for his portrayal of U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels. But the novel, which author Dennis Lehane has stated as paying homage to Gothic settings, B movies, and the Brontë sisters, is brilliantly written. Set on an isolated island in the 1950s, you will feel the paranoia (emblematic of the Cold War Era) and the fear of the unknown bursting from each page.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is different than most books with shocking plot twists: it is hilarious, while still troubling and emotional (similar to She’s Come Undone). Bernadette’s character, an agoraphobic mother, is a bit nuts and definitely frustrating, especially once she goes missing after promising her daughter to go on a trip to Antarctica. Bee, Bernadette’s daughter, scopes out her mother’s past and privacy in an effort to find her / figure her out, and makes many shocking (and not so shocking) discoveries along the way.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt
You may be surprised to find a non-fiction book on our list of books with unexpected plot twists, but as long as you don’t read ahead, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil will leave you shocked. The true story of the shooting of Danny Hansford, a male prostitute, in Savannah, Georgia in 1981, is written like a literary novel. The mysterious killing shook the neighborhood. Berendt’s account explores the murder as well as life in the Deep South, where rumors buzz around like flies. Twists occur in real life, not just in novels!