Life and death, humans are familiar with these two. We experience the stunning fruits life has to offer, and we all know that there will come a day where the very last chapter of our story will draw to a close. None of us are able to avoid the end, for it is inevitable. Explore six books below which tackles the boundaries and topics surrounding life and death.
1) They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera
“No one goes on, but what we leave behind keeps us alive for someone else.”
What would you do in a world where you know that you would die later today? Say goodbye to loved ones, hide in your house in fear of what could happen, or maybe reach out to make one last friend before you go?
Shortly after midnight on the 5th of September, Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio both receive a call from Death-Cast, a company that predicts people’s deaths. They find out that they will die in the next 24 hours. Total strangers but sharing the goal of befriending someone on their End Day, Mateo and Rufus meet through an app called Last Friend with a plan in mind — to live an entire lifetime in one day.
As you can take away from the title (which spoils the ending), this story is not filled with sunshine, rainbows or colourful sprinkles. No, it tells a profound tale of death, loss, and love.
The story of Mateo and Rufus unfolds with the pair finding love and comfort despite their dire circumstances. It’s a phenomenal book about how even with death looming over their heads, these two characters still find beauty in life and are trying their best to live one last epic adventure.
They Both Die At The End is a story that reminds us to make each day count, that we should live life with no regrets, and how a single day is enough to completely shift someone’s world.
2) The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
“The problem with the dead was that they all wanted someone to listen to them.”
Set in the 1890s of colonial Malaya, The Ghost Bride follows the story of Li Lan, a seventeen-year-old girl who lives a quiet life in the trading port city Malacca. One pivotal day, Li Lan’s father arrives home with news to grace his daughter — the prosperous and influential Lim family wants her to marry their son, Tian Ching.
The only problem? He’s dead.
This wedding would pull Li Lan out from her life of her father’s bankruptcy and provide her with splendour and wealth, but would she want that when she has to commit her life to be with a ghost?
As the nights pass, Li Lan finds herself curious with the Chinese afterlife that parallels the living world. With paper offerings, paranormal cities and the charming yet secretive Er Lang, a guardian spirit she befriends, she must seek the dark untold secrets of her family and the Lim family. If not, Li Lan would never be able to escape the ghostly world.
The Ghost Bride is a haunting story infused with Chinese folklore, fantasy and adventure. It tells the coming-of-age story of Li Lan who strives to find her way in life with the people she loves.
If you’re looking to support a local author, I definitely recommend this book as an excellent start!
3) We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
“I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.”
Grief, we all have to go through it some day, whether we want to or not. We drown in the waves, struggling to stay afloat to gasp for oxygen. And sometimes, it takes us having to open up, engage in conversation and look at ourselves, before we learn to swim and rise above the waves.
Nina LaCour writes a beautiful tale of grief, loneliness, and the extraordinary power of friendship in We Are Okay. We follow the story of Marin, a girl who is a freshman at college. She has left everything and everyone she knew and loved behind after the death of her grandfather, who raised her from a young age after her mother died in a surfing accident.
Marin’s best friend, Mabel will not let her go this easily. Several futile attempts to reconnect with Marin later, Mabel shows up to her empty dorm for winter break. With this visit, Marin will have to confront the sadness and the void in her heart.
Nina LaCour crafted this heart-wrenching portrayal of grief and love to remind us that happiness will come knocking on your door when we least expect it. And when that happens, we will be okay.
4) The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
“She had tricked him. She had made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there — like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”
Children are no stranger to imagination, nor does it truly end after the threshold of growing up. In the same way that music captivates and stories enthral, there is a world inside of each of us — a cocoon of impressions and words that is often difficult to share.
The story that Katherine Paterson crafts is one of love and loss, both in the same breath. It is a story that, at its heart, is about two children staying adrift in a world that no longer understands them. They create a kingdom for themselves — Terabithia — in a hidden creek far from any prying eyes.
Terabithia is a land that belongs to a king and queen, magical and wonderful. The effect that Jess and Leslie have on each other is apparent through every step of the friendship that they strike up. But the reach of reality is not so easily forgotten, and when tragedy strikes, the question is… How does one even begin to move on?
The Bridge to Terabithia is a breathtaking examination on dealing with the aftermath of loss, allowing the characters to express every bit of grief and guilt explicitly. Children build secret hideouts as a means of escape from reality as much as it may seem a game, and Katherine Paterson understands this.
The book is a masterpiece, from the start until the very end.
No spoilers – but that ending personally left me in a puddle of tears.
5) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“They were French, they were Jews, and they were you.”
Human history understands suffering in its very bones. Perhaps the most devastating of such is the toll of World War II – the cost it extracted, of what it had done to millions of people, and of the ragged scar still left behind on the minds and bodies of the survivors up to this day. By the end of it, Death itself would have worked overtime to reap over 72 million worth of casualties.
It is 1939 in Nazi Germany. It is the precipice of a blood-ridden war, and a blood-soaked era of systematic oppression.
Death is the narrator of this tale. The story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl living with her foster parents during World War II. It starts with a book in the snow by a graveside and a Jewish man named Max Vandenburg concealed in the family’s basement. It starts with learning to read and write, and stealing to save and smuggle books that are set to be destroyed by the state.
Even as the harsh realities of Nazi Germany starts to squeeze the throat of Liesel’s reality, as the world rains down fire and destruction, there is a strange comfort to be taken that, in a way, hope survives.
Whether years from now or in the next breath, it is not a mystery how this story ends.
It kills me sometimes, how people die, Death says. I am haunted by humans.
6) Dracula by Bram Stoker
“I suppose it is thus that in old times one vampire meant many; just as their hideous bodies could only rest in sacred earth, so the holiest love was the recruiting sergeant for their ghastly ranks.”
Life after death crosses the unspoken boundaries. It is no wonder that it’s been the basis for stuff of horror for centuries, all the way from mythological roots to ghost stories to the Walking Dead spooks. Perhaps one of the most prominent undead is Count Dracula himself — vampire extraordinaire, shapeshifter and quite literal blood-sucker.
Pop culture Dracula is that figure that lurks at the edge of the crowd, kinda hazy and there – the one that everyone vaguely knows the outline of. Ask anyone, and the answer will be the same — vampire, check, drinks blood, check, big spooky castle, check. Oh, and also, bat.
Through the grapevine of adaptations, the story has undergone a metamorphosis of changes that renders it rather, ah, extensively independent of the original source material.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel, narrated through a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper articles. Its use of horror is almost frighteningly effective — Stoker’s work is a masterclass of its own in both simplistic and descriptive writing devices. From the dwindling and despairing words of solicitor Jonathan Harker who finds himself trapped and toyed with, to the final words of a doomed sea voyage, the story encapsulates various moments that send shivers down the spine.
Perhaps the most enthralling thing about Stoker’s work is not merely the horror of the monster, but that of the subtler themes woven in between. The prevalent nature of such love and affection that the characters have for each other; shadowed and paralleled by the question of how far they would go.
At the risk of mild spoilers for a decades-old book – look, sometimes found family can include a lawyer, his train fiend wife, a cowboy, a psychiatrist, a lord and an unhinged academic. It was the blueprint for the first literary vampire hunters, after all.
Written by: Zhen Li and Trishta