Recently, I think contemporary fiction has gotten a bad rep. People seem to think this genre is full of fluffy, easy-to-read romance novels for pre-teens. Either that, or a selection of mediocre books with pretty covers that are used to keep Bookstagram’s feeds looking aesthetic.
However, this generalisation couldn’t be more wrong! Instead, I argue the definition of contemporary fiction is ‘fiction based on plausible events that could happen to real people, in real life.’ This definition opens up the world of contemporary fiction far beyond the fluffy and inane, and leaves you with a long list of pretty profound and book-hangover-worthy reads.
Below are some of my favourite contemporary fiction novels. This list has books suitable for a variety of ages, with a variety of themes. As always, please check content warnings yourself before reading.
By Helen Hoang
Quick Summary: Representation matters.
This is the first book in a series by Helen Hoang, which explores neurodiversity in relationships. It is hilarious, unconventional, steamy, and so incredibly readable. In fact, I recommend all of the books in this series because they are all fantastic.
The main character, thirty-year-old Stella works in algorithms, is an Autistic person, and has very little dating experience. The premise of this feels like a painfully dated representation of women with autism, but once I got reading I realised it was almost the opposite. In order to become more comfortable dating, Stella hires escort Michael Phan, and so the romantic drama begins.
This is a wonderful exploration of the sensuality of people with autism and of millennial relationships in general. With a no-nonsense female lead, and a probing look at intimacy and why it’s important, you absolutely have to read this book.
By Richard Powers
Quick Summary: Get yourself to your nearest Redwoods asap (Kew Gardens, my British friends!)
A friend recommended this book to me, and told me it would a) change my life and b) make me fall head over heels for trees. I would say it succeeded on both those fronts.
In this modern-day epic, we are introduced to an eclectic group of people one by one – a pilot in the Vietnam war who is shot out of the sky and is saved by falling into a tree. A hearing and speech impaired scientist who finds that trees can communicate to each other. A partying, drug-fuelled undergrad who is electrocuted, but is brought back to life able to see a strange and wonderful life force that tells her to travel west. This behemoth of a book is stuffed with activism and passion, and as it unfolds, we learn just how sentient, powerful and ancient trees really are.
This book challenges you in lots of ways. It makes you realise how careless we can be as a human race, and how important trees are. It makes you question your own moral standpoints, and what you could be doing more. A contemporary gem that feels as if it should be a classic.
By Bella Mackie
Quick Summary: How to get away with murder (and class inequality, and toxic family, and killer fashion)
Bella Mackie’s debut novel had me laughing out loud, gasping and saying “what? sorry, what??” more times than I can count. With sharp, witty and darkly comedic writing, How To Kill Your Family is the murder-comedy novel you never knew you needed.
I have killed several people (some brutally, others calmly) and yet I currently languish in jail for a murder I did not commit.
When I think about what I actually did, I feel somewhat sad that nobody will ever know about the complex operation that I undertook. Getting away with it is highly preferable, of course, but perhaps when I’m long gone, someone will open an old safe and find this confession. The public would reel. After all, almost nobody else in the world can possibly understand how someone, by the tender age of 28, can have calmly killed six members of her family. And then happily got on with the rest of her life, never to regret a thing.
In my opinion, there aren’t many better tropes than a well written anti-hero, and our protagonist Grace is an one of the best I’ve read. A product of the United Kingdom’s rigged class system, you will find yourself wondering who the true villain is in this tale of murder. Is it Grace? Is it the mega-rich family of which her hit-list entails? Or is it the systems of oppression that put them all in that position in the first place?
An absolute must-read, and a stellar debut novel from Bella Mackie.
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Quick Summary: Taking “Hollywood will take you, will eat you, will destroy you” to a whole other level.
This book left me with a book hangover of extraordinary proportions. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is full of smoke and mirrors, celebrity intrigue, love, devastation and greed.
In this deep dive into the glitz and glam of Hollywood, we meet reclusive film-star Evelyn Hugo, as she is ready to reveal the who, where and why of all seven of her marriages. And it is not at all what anyone expected. In this tale of ambition, love and loss you can take nothing for granted. The twists and turns will keep you reeling to the very last page.
This book was absolutely five stars for me. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a master of expectations, and she plays her cards perfectly in this book. You enter the book intrigued about Evelyn’s many husbands and marriages, but the husbands soon become a secondary concern as you learn about Evelyn herself. It called to mind the Netflix series Hollywood, which I thought did a similarly excellent job of peeling back the layers of the big screen, and showing what turmoil lies beneath.
Not at all what you expect, and yet so entirely plausible. The ideal contemporary fiction, and so worth the hype.
A fresh and accessible look into the American immigrant experience, and all its joys and heartbreaks.
Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?
The perfect read for a younger audience – and anyone else who loves a romantic page-turner.
Anna is looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. Which is why she is less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris–until she meets Étienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Étienne has it all…including a serious girlfriend.
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?