The Book Thief
"Just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery." So says Death, the narrator of Markus Zusak's phenomenal WWII novel. Without a doubt, this is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. I called my mom after finishing it and she thought something terrible had happened to me because I was sobbing unintelligibly. Lest that deter you, I promise the tears were worth it. Zusak's writing is gorgeous, and his beautifully-crafted characters and powerful ideas will take up space in your head long after you've closed the book.
The Song of Achilles
Retelling the Iliad is no mean feat, but it is one Madeline Miller accomplishes beautifully. The story of Patroclus and Achilles told from Patroclus' point of view, following both boys from childhood to adulthood as they must deal with Achilles' cruel goddess mother, the judgment of those around them, a brewing war, the pull of Troy, and above all the threat of prophecy ("But what has Hector ever done to me?" Achilles asks playfully). Anyone who loves the Iliad ought to read The Song of Achilles -- it's the sort of book you carry around for days afterwards, just to be near it.
I fell in love with Christopher Moore years ago, but even after reading nearly all his other novels, Lamb remains my favorite. Told by Christ's childhood best friend, Biff, and covering the story of the childhood and adolescence of the future Messiah missing from the New Testament -- which includes yak milking, snake taming, an unexpected love triangle, a good deal of baptism, and an angel who likes to watch daytime television -- Lamb manages to be irreverent without being mocking, and is impossibly funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.
The Secret History
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill. This book may seem plodding at times, but Donna Tartt writes beautifully, and her narrative will stick with you for a very long time.