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16 Novels About Starting Fresh

Ring in the new year with these stories of new beginnings

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • December 31, 2023

I dwell in possibilities. —Emily Dickinson

It's 2024! We are always capable of reinvention, but many of us see the New Year as a particularly promising moment for change—a blank page, if you will. There are plenty of self-help books to address whatever hurdles we might be attempting to clear, but sometimes we get more inspiration from stories about people who are forging new paths. Here are sixteen novels about people making a fresh start in their lives.

Foster by Claire Keegan

It is a hot summer in rural Ireland. A child is taken by her father to live with relatives on a farm, not knowing when or if she will be brought home again. In the Kinsellas' house, she finds an affection and warmth she has not known and slowly, in their care, begins to blossom.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

One of the author's few adult works of fiction, this is the story of Valancy Stirling, a young woman of twenty-nine, who lives a cloistered, oppressed life with her overbearing mother. But when she receives a devastating diagnosis, Valancy embarks on a journey to live her life to the fullest.

Mrs. Quinn's Rise to Fame by Olivia Ford (comes out Jan. 30)

After fifty-nine years of marriage, as her husband's health declines, Jenny decides—uncharacteristically—that she wants a little something for herself. So she secretly applies to be a contestant on a baking competition show. This charming coming-of-old-age novel is both a love story and an ode to good food.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Dex is a nonbinary 29-year-old gardener-turned-tea monk living in the futuristic city of Panga. One day, their life is upended by an unexpected arrival. It has been centuries since robots gained self-awareness and laid down their tools, disappearing into the wilderness and fading into myth. Now one has returned.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, Linus's quiet solitary life is upended when he is summoned to an island orphanage where six dangerous children reside. There, he meets their caretaker, the charming and enigmatic Arthur who will do anything to keep his wards safe.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor struggles with social skills and relies on a carefully calibrated life of routines and isolation. Filled with unabashed wit, this charming novel follows its quirky and troubled female narrator as she realizes that the only way to survive her current state of mind is to open her heart to friendship.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Over the course of one humid Appalchian summer, this novel's intriguing protagonists face disparate predicaments but find connections to one another and to the flora and fauna with which they necessarily share a place. One of them is Lusa, a young woman from the city making an unexpected restart in her life.

A Scatter of Light by Malinda Lo

Aria Tang West was looking forward to a summer on Martha's Vineyard with her best friends. But after a graduation party goes wrong, Aria's parents exile her to California to stay with her grandmother, esteemed artist Joan West. Aria expects boredom, but what she finds changes her life forever.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Patrons of the enchanted Midnight Library find one book that tells the story of their life as it is, along with another book for the other life they could have lived if they had made different choices in life. Would any of these other lives be better? Nora Seed finds herself faced with this question.

Someone Else's Shoes by Jojo Moyes

After picking up the wrong bag at the gym, Sam finds her life unexpectedly changed when she dons the red Louboutin heels she finds inside. Meanwhile, Nisha, the owner of said shoes, is appalled by Sam's plain black pumps. Who do you become when you're forced to walk in someone else's shoes?

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller

It's 1916 when Sven leaves his restless life in Stockholm to seek his fortune in the Arctic Circle. After an avalanche cuts short his mining career, he retreats to an uninhabited fjord, where he finds salvation in the company of good friends, a loyal dog, and the arrival of an unlikely visitor who changes everything.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This Harlem Renaissance classic is all about new beginnings. Janie Crawford is an unforgettable protagonist, a free-spirited Black woman living in the American South in the 1930s. In the face of oppression and prejudice, she remakes herself again and again as she pursues independence, adventure, and love.

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

After coming out to their parents as nonbinary, Ben is thrown out of the house and moves in with their older sister, Hannah. Now in a new school, Ben's attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when a funny, charismatic classmate, Nathan, decides to take Ben under his wing.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

It's the spring of 2020 and the pandemic has forced Lara's three young adult daughters to return to the family's cherry orchard. There, as they harvest the season's crop, Lara shares the story of her own young adulthood when she was working as an actress and falling in love for the first time.

The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

It's Upstate New York in the mid-1990s and April feels stuck, fighting with her shiftless dad and flunking out of school. So when she "borrows" a neighbor's car to perform at an open mic night, it spurs her to leave town for good in search of a life that's all hers.

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Five years after a suspicious fire killed his mother, a Syrian-American trans boy searches for identity as he tries to choose a new name. Slipping out at night to paint murals on the buildings in his run-down Manhattan neighborhood, he begins to discover a sense of community and self-discovery.

Find inspiration for your own fresh starts with these novels of reinvention and transformation. And happy New Year from all of us here at Thriftbooks!

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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