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15 Books that creatively explore what the afterlife might be like

Recently I’ve become captivated with books about the afterlife. It’s not as morbid as it sounds, it’s just that no one knows what happens after we die. In terms of fiction stories, this allows for infinite possibilities.

They are so incredibly interesting to read, and when you’ve lost someone, they are comforting reads to make you feel like people never really leave us.

We’ve compiled a list of 15 fiction novels that creatively explore what the afterlife might be like.

1. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse. Then at the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth she finds herself transported to a library. There she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived. Which raises the ultimate question: with infinite choices, what is the best way to live?

2. The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

‘Remember me when I’m gone’ just took on a whole new meaning . . .

Laura Byrd is in trouble. Three weeks ago she and her friends found themselves alone in one of the coldest, most remote places on earth. Her friends set out in search of help, and now Laura realises that they are not coming back. So she gathers her remaining supplies and sets out on an extraordinary journey.

Meanwhile in another city, more and more people arrive every day. Each has a different story to tell, but their accounts have one thing in common – it was their final journey. For this is the city of the dead. And the link between this city and Laura’s journey lies at the heart of this remarkable novel.

The Brief History of the Dead tells a magical story about our lives – about our place in the world, our connections with each other, and what happens to us all after our deaths. It is a story of spellbinding power and imagination, which resonates long after the final page.

3. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

They say ‘live every day as if it’s your last’ – but you never actually think it’s going to be. At least I didn’t.

The thing is, you don’t get to know when it happens. You don’t remember to tell your family that you love them or – in my case – remember to say goodbye to them at all.

But what if, like me, you could live your last day over and over again? Could you make it perfect? If your whole life flashed before your eyes, would you have no regrets? Or are there some things you’d want to change…?

4. The Everafter by Amy Huntley

Madison Stanton doesn’t know where she is or how she got there. But she does know this–she is dead. And alone, in a vast, dark space. The only company she has in this place are luminescent objects that turn out to be all the things Maddy lost while she was alive. And soon she discovers that with these artifacts, she can reexperience–and sometimes even change–moments from her life.

Her first kiss.

A trip to Disney World.

Her sister’s wedding.

A disastrous sleepover.

In reliving these moments, Maddy learns illuminating and sometimes frightening truths about her life–and death.

5. Layoverland by Gabby Noone

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell.

At least, that’s what she believes. Her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most–her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed who knows where, she’s confused, to say the least.

Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: she’s in purgatory. If she ever wants to catch a flight to heaven, she’ll have to help five thousand souls figure out what’s keeping them from moving on.

But one of Bea’s first assignments is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. And as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of eating bad airport food and listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him.

From debut author Gabby Noone comes a darkly hilarious and heartfelt twist on the afterlife about finding second chances, first loves, and new friendships in the most unlikely places.

6. If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Everybody has to make choices.

Some might break you.

For seventeen-year-old Mia, surrounded by a wonderful family, friends and a gorgeous boyfriend decisions might seem tough, but they’re all about a future full of music and love, a future that’s brimming with hope.

But life can change in an instant.

A cold February morning . . . a snowy road . . . and suddenly all of Mia’s choices are gone. Except one.

As alone as she’ll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all.

Haunting, heartrending and ultimately life-affirming, If I Stay will make you appreciate all that you have, all that you’ve lost – and all that might be.

7. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

In heaven, Susie Salmon can have whatever she wishes for – except what she most wants, which is to be back with the people she loved on earth. In the wake of her murder, Susie watches as her happy suburban family is torn apart by grief; as her friends grow up, fall in love, and do all the things she never had the chance to do herself. But as Susie will come to realize, even in death, life is not quite out of reach . . .

A luminous, astonishing novel about life and death, memory and forgetting, and finding light in the darkest places, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones became an instant classic when it was first published in 2002. 

8. More Than This by Patrick Ness

From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life – or perhaps afterlife – of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.

A boy called Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he is here? And where is this place?

It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighbourhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him?

Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this…

9. On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door,
Leave the weight of the world in the world from before

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

Powerful, magical and utterly romantic, On the Other Side will transport you to a world that is impossible to forget. A love story like no other, it will have you weeping from the sheer joy and beauty of it all.

10. What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson

What happens to us after we die? Chris Nielsen had no idea, until an unexpected accident cut his life short, separating him from his beloved wife, Annie. Now Chris must discover the true nature of life after death.

But even Heaven is not complete without Annie, and when tragedy threatens to divide them forever, Chris risks his very soul to save Annie from an eternity of despair.

Richard Matheson’s powerful tale of life—and love—after death was the basis for the Oscar-winning film starring Robin Williams.

11. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

In this delightful novel death is a begining, a new start. Liz is killed in a hit a run accident and her ‘life’ takes a very unexpected turn. At nearly sixteen she knows she will never get married, never have children, and perhaps never fall in love. But in Elsewhere all things carry on almost as they did on earth except that the inhabitants get younger, dogs and humans can communicate (at last) new relationships are formed and old ones sadly interrupted on earth are renewed.

Full of the most ingenious detail and woven around the most touching and charming relationships this is a novel of hope, of redemption and re-birth. It is a novel that tells of sadness with heart-breaking honesty and of love and happiness with uplifting brilliance.

12. The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HEAVEN is a wonderfully moving fable that addresses the meaning of life, and life after death, in the poignant way that made TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE such an astonishing book.

The novel’s protagonist is an elderly amusement park maintenance worker named Eddie who, while operating a ride called the ‘Free Fall’, dies while trying to save a young girl who gets in the way of a falling cart that hurtles to earth.

Eddie goes to heaven, where he meets five people who were unexpectedly instrumental in some way in his life. While each guide takes him through heaven, Eddie learns a little bit more about what his time on earth meant, what he was supposed to have learned, and what his true purpose on earth was.

Throughout there are dramatic flashbacks where we see scenes from his troubled childhood, his years in the army in the Philippines jungle, and with his first and only love, his wife Marguerite.

13. Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Nick and Allie don’t survive the car accident–and their souls don’t exactly get where they’re supposed to go. Instead, they’re caught halfway between life and death, in a sort of limbo known as Everlost: a shadow of the living world, filled with all the things and places that no longer exist. It’s a magical, yet dangerous, place where bands of lost kids run wild and anyone who stands in the same place too long sinks to the center of the Earth.

When they find Mary, the self-proclaimed queen of lost souls, Nick feels like he’s found a home, but Allie isn’t satisfied spending eternity between worlds. Against all warnings, Allie begins learning the “Criminal Art” of haunting, and ventures into dangerous territory, where a monster called the McGill threatens all the souls of Everlost.

14. Radiance by Alyson Noel

Riley has crossed the bridge into the afterlife—a place called Here, where time is always Now. She has picked up life where she left off when she was alive, living with her parents and dog in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. When she’s summoned before The Council, she learns that the afterlife isn’t just an eternity of leisure.

She’s been assigned a job, Soul Catcher, and a teacher, Bodhi, a possibly cute, seemingly nerdy boy who’s definitely hiding something. They return to earth together for Riley’s first assignment, a Radiant Boy who’s been haunting a castle in England for centuries. Many Soul Catchers have tried to get him to cross the bridge and failed. But all of that was before he met Riley . . .

15. The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

If I’d known right then that this was the kid who would grow up to break my heart beyond repair, maybe I would’ve stayed upstairs on the phone with Tess.

Maybe I would’ve gone to bed early. Maybe I would’ve begged my parents to take me with them – even though those doctor dinners are pretty much the boringest things ever.

But I didn’t know. Couldn’t know. So instead I shrugged and said something really genius like “Um, whatever.” And proceeded to fall totally, madly, crazy in love.

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