It seems like every new movie released these days is a sequel, a superhero story, or based on a book. Sometimes that irritates me, because surely there must be creators and artists out there coming up with original stories. Right? Somewhere? But other times — when the sequel is part of a series I love or the superhero is, well, super. Or heroic. (What? I love superheroes.)
And this month we have a whole bunch of movies based on books, which I’m surprisingly excited about. This weekend, the film adaptation of, “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society,” premieres on Netflix. Next week, “Crazy Rich Asians” will be in theaters. And next weekend, YA fans everywhere can watch, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” based on Jenny Han’s novel, on Netflix. All three look fantastic!
Strangely, two of those movies (the two on Netflix…coincidence? I don’t even know) are based on epistolary novels. (That means the story is told by a series of documents. Most frequently that means letters, but it could also include emails, text messaging, notes left on a wall, memos, or other forms of written communication.) I LOVE THESE KINDS OF BOOKS. And both Guernsey and To All the Boys fall into this category.
I love this category.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe because reading letters or emails or notes feels like we’re getting an intimate look into someone’s life, into his or her thoughts and motivations. Maybe it’s because, often, epistolary novels give us such a narrow viewpoint through the lens of what a character has written down that it leaves a mystery to be solved before we can see the whole picture. So basically we get to spy on the narrator while also solving a mystery.
Plus, dialogue is my favorite part of any novel, and a book that relies on correspondence to tell a story is just about all dialogue.
If you like epistolary novels, too (or want to give them a try), I’ve got a list of a whole bunch of them for you! Most of them are YA (young adult) contemporary, so more similar to To All the Boys than Guernsey. But a few are about adults, and if you keep reading, you’ll find additional books that include classics and historical fiction. There’s something for everyone! Well, everyone who loves books of letters…
Books & Series to Read if You Love Letters, Emails & Other Correspondence
- Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett – teens chat (and connect) online over a love of movies without realizing they’re working together (and not getting along at all) in person. Yes, you’re right, it IS like You’ve Got Mail.
- Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – emails between co-workers
- The “Boy” series by Meg Cabot – all kinds of correspondence between young professionals
- Cinder and Ella by Kelly Oram – a girl who’s injured and scarred by a car accident connects online with a famous actor. Seems like this would be a super silly story, but I actually really love it.
- Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata – student and soldier become pen pals and develop a friendship. (Warning: About 75% of this book is sweet and clean. Then bam! It gets REAL racy.)
- Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay – letters between a student and her anonymous scholarship donor
- Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – isolated sick girl and cute boy next door fall in love despite that actual, physical barriers between them
- From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Moon – aspiring filmmaker and student tells the story of receiving anonymous emails and working with her crush’s brother to make a movie with letters written to famous female directors
- Guitar Notes by Mary Amato – two very different music students share a practice room and exchange notes
- The Illuminae Files trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – sci-fi YA. Outer space. Teens fighting the bad guys and (duh) falling in love. A revolution. And all of it told with instant messages, emails, memos, and printouts from a sentient supercomputer. I LOVE THIS SERIES.
- It Started with Goodbye by Christina June – Cinderella type story features students from different schools exchanging emails about a graphic design project (Full disclosure: I didn’t love this one.)
- Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer – two students begin exchanging letters at the girl’s mother’s grave without realizing they already have a connection
- Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern – letters and emails between best friends who might end up being more
- The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot – yes, the ones the movies are based on
- P.S. I Like You by Kasie West – high school students anonymously exchange song lyrics, secrets, and more
- Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – high school student gets anonymous emails and finds a friend (This is one of my favorites!)
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple – teenage daughter tries to piece together an explanation for her mother’s disappearance by examining emails and other correspondence her mom left behind. I thought this was fantastic.
While I’ve read a lot of epistolary books, several others are still on my to-read list. Have you read any of these?
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wien
- Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
- Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence
- Hey Ladies! The Story of 8 Best Friends, 1 Year, and Way, Way Too Many Emails by Michelle Markowitz and Caroline Moss
- The “Internet Girls” trilogy by Lauren Myracle
- Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
- With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale) by Sarah Sundin
As I was researching and making sure I didn’t miss any important books in the epistolary genre (I’m sure I did anyway), I realized that a lot of classics are actually written in this format. Some I’ve read and knew (but forgot) that, but some I simply haven’t read yet. And yes, I am stretching the definition of “classic” with a few of these, so you can just call them “famous” if you’d rather.
- Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
- Carrie by Stephen King
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
- Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Do you like reading epistolary novels? What’s your favorite?