Books can have a profound effect on your outlook on life and death, as evidenced by Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack. In the spirit of The Shack, we have compiled a list of books about life and death that readers have found transformative. We’ve compiled a list of recommended books, along with descriptions from their publishers, below.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Eddie, a war veteran who works at a seaside amusement park, feels like he’s living a meaningless existence. Work, loneliness, and regret fill his days.
In a tragic accident on the eve of his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies saving a young girl from a falling cart. To his horror, he discovers that heaven isn’t a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly experiences are explained to you by five people. There was no way to know if these people were close friends or family members. Nevertheless, each of them altered your course in some way.
One by one, the five people in Eddie’s life shed light on the connections he had no idea existed. Toward the end of the story, Eddie is desperate to find redemption in the last act of his life: A heroic success or a devastating failure? As inspiring as catching a glimpse of heaven, the answer appears from the most unlikely of places.
Mitch Albom’s novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, is a breath of fresh air when it comes to ideas about the afterlife and the purpose of our existence on this planet. Readers of fine fiction, as well as fans of Tuesdays with Morrie, will appreciate this book’s timeless tale and universal appeal.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
In every generation, a novel that taps into universal human experience and resonates with readers of all ages is discovered. An incredible #1 bestseller, The Lovely Bones is celebrated for its narrative artistry, emotional clarity, and the ability to connect with readers around the world. It’s a book that can’t be ignored.
“Salmon, like the fish, was my given name; my first name was Susie.” My murder occurred on December 6, 1973, when I was fourteen years old.
To begin, this is the story of how Susie Salmon, now in heaven, deals with life on the other side of the veil: her friends gossiping about her disappearance; her killer attempting to hide his tracks; and her grief-stricken family unraveling.
The Lovely Bones manages to weave a tale of hope, humor, suspense, and even joy out of the ashes of unspeakable loss.
To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay
It’s been 25 years since the original publication of the book Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “a hauntingly beautiful story about love, family, and relationships,” and now the author has written an updated preface.
It is with great sadness that Sam Peek has learned that his wife of 57 years, Cora, has passed away. He is worried about his children. Nobody has any idea how Sam will make it through this ordeal. This elderly man can’t possibly be left alone. How on earth is he going to manage a farm? In order to get to the pecan trees he tends, he must drive his old truck down to the fields. They think their father has finally succumbed to grief and old age when Sam starts telling them stories about a dog that’s as white as a fresh fall of snow but invisible to the rest of the world.
Sam Peek, “one of the smartest men in the South when it comes to trees,” outsmarts everyone, whether or not the dog is real. After reading this heartbreaking novel, readers will feel Sam and the White Dog’s connection as they embark on a warm and moving final rite of passage as life draws to a close.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
For Markus Zusak, the #1 New York Times bestseller and now a major motion picture, his unforgettable story is about the power of books to nourish the soul.
It’s 1939, and the world has changed significantly since then. The Nazis ruled Germany at the time. As a whole, the country is on pins and needles. Death is busier than it has ever been, and it will continue to be so.
A foster child outside of Munich, Liesel Meminger makes ends meet by stealing books when she sees them and can’t help herself. During bombing raids, she learns to read with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, who also hides a Jewish man in her basement.
One of our most enduring tales is told by award-winning author Markus Zusak in his book I Am the Messenger, a work of art full of passion and intensity.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Tuck Everlasting, which was widely praised when it was first published, has since become a beloved modern classic.
After drinking from a magical spring, the Tuck family is either doomed to — or blessed with — eternal life. They now rove the countryside, trying to blend in as much as possible. When 10-year-old Winnie Foster discovers their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain to her why living forever at one age is less of a blessing than it might initially appear to be.” When Winnie is pursued by a stranger who wants to sell the spring water for a fortune, complications arise.
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Elsewhere has welcomed you. The weather is pleasant, and the beaches are spectacular. It’s calm and serene here. You will never fall ill or grow old. Want to see some brand-new Picassos? Visit one of the museums in Elsewhere. Do you feel the need to speak with another person about your concerns? Visit the psychiatric office of Marilyn Monroe.
Her final resting place is in a different location. It’s a place that’s both familiar and alien at the same time. Liz will age backwards from the day of her death until she is a baby again and returns to Earth in this facility. While this may seem like a good idea, Liz has other ideas. She aspires to be able to drive. She plans to attend college after graduating from high school. Liz is now forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she’s only just met because of her mother’s death. So far, things aren’t going well. In order to move forward, Liz will have to let go of the only life she’s ever known. Does living a life backwards mean the same thing as living a life forwards? You’ll remember this book about death and grief long after you’ve finished reading it.
Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
Whether we can save ourselves or if we have to rely on others is an important question. It’s possible that our beliefs aren’t always correct.
Summers of fun and adventure with June Nealon’s family were just around the corner, but in a split second, she was staring at a future that felt empty as her own heart. Her life is now a constant state of anticipation. Waiting for the pain to subside and for justice to be served. Basically, we’re waiting for a miracle.
Shay Bourne is done being surprised by life’s little quirks. He has nothing to give the world, and the world has nothing to give him. However, in a split second, something happens that completely alters his life. Claire, June’s 11-year-old daughter, is his last hope for salvation. Shay and Claire are separated by an abyss of resentment, remorse, and a mother’s rage over the death of her child.
Winning vengeance on someone you despise in order to save someone you care about is a tough decision. Is it really worth it to have your hopes and dreams fulfilled if it means granting the final wish of an enemy?
This story of redemption, justice, and love by Jodi Picoult once again enthralls and mesmerizes readers.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
By Gayle Forman, bestselling author of Where She Went and Just One Day & Just One Year, comes her latest critically lauded novel. Everything can change in a split second. Mia, a seventeen-year-old girl, has no recollection of the accident itself; all she remembers is watching her own badly damaged body be removed from the wreckage later on in the day. Her mind is constantly racing as she tries to piece together what she’s been through, what she’s gained, and what, ultimately, she must decide. This will alter your perspective on life, love, and the importance of family forever. Especially after seeing Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, the story of Mia will stay with you for a long time.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
For every few decades, a book comes along that forever alters the lives of its readers. The Alchemist is a book like that. The Alchemist, which has sold over a million and a half copies worldwide, is already considered a modern classic and is highly regarded. Since it’s now available in English, Paulo Coelho’s charming fable will now be accessible to a much larger audience, inspiring and enlightening future generations.
As a young Andalusian shepherd’s boy, Santiago longs to travel the world and find a treasure as grand as any ever found. To meet the alchemist, he sets off from his home in Spain and travels to Tangiers and the Egyptian desert.
It is only through the tale of Santiago’s journey that we learn the value of following our hearts, observing the omens that litter the path of life, and, above all, following our dreams.
The Dreamseller by Augusto Cury
The dreamseller has a way of enchanting, upsetting, and motivating those who hear him: he leads them on a quest to find the most important thing of all: the human soul’s heart. A professor who has given up on his dreams, an alcoholic with no family, an elderly person who has lost their zest for life—these are the types of people he meets on his journey. As a result of the dreamseller’s probing and counsel, his clients are able to delve deeper into the source of their discontentment.
The Dreamseller is a moving, amusing, and ultimately enlightening story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most of all, this book will inspire you to ponder the meaning of your life, to value others, and to dare to follow your dreams.
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to read a book that will alter the course of your entire life.
In the Peruvian rain forests, an ancient document has been found. As we move toward a completely spiritual culture on this planet, there are nine key insights into life that each human being is predicted to grasp sequentially, one after the other. Using ancient wisdom, it teaches you how to connect the dots between what is happening in your life now and what will happen in the future. In addition to its gripping narrative, it serves as a guidebook that can help you better understand why you’re where you are in life and how you can move forward with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism for the future.
The Twelfth Angel by Og Mandino
When John Harding died, he left behind an adoring wife and a stunning son. With nothing left to live for, he’s returned to his hometown of Boland, New Hampshire, where he’s on the verge of taking his own life. On the other hand, an old friend approaches John about managing the Angels, his old Little League team. When he finally agrees, John meets a hopeless player who looks eerily like his deceased son, and through their extraordinary connection, John discovers the wisdom of living that he thought was lost to him for good…
Three Souls by Janie Chang
I’d been told that we have three souls. However, I could only be certain of this after my death…
Leiyin, the ghost of a young woman, watches her own funeral from above and wonders why she isn’t allowed to enter the afterlife in 1935 China, where the story takes place. To help her along the way, she has three companions—a stern yang, a romantic yin, and a wise hun—by her side. They insist that she atone for her actions.
Three spirits accompany Leiyin on her journey back in time to review her life, and she is reminded of the selfish, self-obsessed teenager she was in the midst of China’s civil war and social upheaval. The first time she meets Hanchin, a charismatic left-wing poet and translator, she falls in love with him.
That she has no control over her own destiny is what Leiyin learns when she defies her father and pursues Hanchin. Her disobedience leads to exile, an unwanted marriage, a pregnancy, and her death. After learning what she needs to do to be released from limbo, Leiyin realizes that she has less time to make amends.
Three Souls is an epic tale of revenge and betrayal, forbidden love, and the price we are willing to pay for freedom infused with historical and literary context.
Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan
For eleven lucky friends, San Francisco art patron Bibi Chen has put together a sensory journey along the famed Burma Road. As a result of her mysterious death, Bibi stands aghast from her ghostly perch as the travelers deviate from her planned route and encounter cultural gaffes, tribal curses, Buddhist illusions, and romantic fantasies. The tourists’ boat disappears into the mist on Christmas morning.
In Saving Fish from Drowning, we are given a voice as unique, sharp, and affectionate as those of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club. Bibi is human nature’s watchful eye, keeping tabs on the good intentions and bad outcomes, the desperate and the rescuers. By the end of the book, Tan has guided her audience to a place of hope within their own souls.
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
In the Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, a young man narrowly escapes a car accident that claims the life of his younger sibling. They are still so close after all these years, that their bond transcends the normal limits that separate life from death. New England fishing town of Charlie St. Cloud is Charlie’s home base. By night, he patrols the cemetery where his younger brother, Sam, is entombed, tending to the gravestones and mowing the grass. After surviving the accident, he was blessed with an extraordinary gift: he can still see, hear, and even play catch with Sam’s ghost. Even so, the rumor mill claims that Charlie is still struggling to come to terms with his loss.
Tess Carroll, a captivating and adventurous woman training for a solo world sailing trip, enters his meticulously ordered life. Fate sends her boat into a dangerous storm, forcing her to return to port, where she has an emotional run-in with Charlie and is hit with a shock greater than the force of the sea itself. They find themselves in the midst of a life-or-death decision, a race against time, and a choice to either hold on to their past or let go of their future.
One of those rare, wise books that reveals the mysteries of the unseen world around us while gently transforming the worst pain of loss into hope, healing, and even laughter, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is luminous, soulful, and filled with unforgettable characters. The film’s climax reaffirms the idea that tragedy can lead to miracles if we open our hearts enough.