Top 10 Best Fiction Books to Read in Your 20s

Your 20s can be an exciting and turbulent decade, a time when you are growing, changing and discovering who you are. These best fiction books are perfect to complement these years, featuring many relevant themes such as identity, personal growth, adventure, romance, and overcoming challenges of many types. See below for the best fiction books to read in your 20s.

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1. The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath | 1963

College girl Esther Greenwood is fighting two battles: one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, romance, looks, career... and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens, she finds herself encased in it, an invisible barrier firmly between her and the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Witty and disturbing, this is Sylvia Plath's only novel but it has a lot to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women.

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2. Ready Player One

Ernest Cline | 2011

It's 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. Famine, poverty and disease are rife. Like most people, Wade Watts spends much of his time jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be on any of 10,000 planets. And like most people, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate jackpot within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who has promised to leave his fortune to whoever can solve the riddles he has scattered throughout his creation. Millions have struggled in vain to attain this prize - and then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle. Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the prize...

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3. The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood | 1985

In the dystopian Republic of Gilead, Offred is forced to be a Handmaid, a woman with only one function: to breed. If she dares to challenge this position, she - like other dissenters - will be hanged at the wall or sent out to die, slowly and painfully, of radiation sickness. Offred remembers all that has been taken away from her: love, family, access to the news. But even a tyrannical state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men upon which her future depends...

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4. Neverwhere

Neil Gaiman | 1996

Beneath the streets of London, there's a world most people could never even imagine: a city of monsters and murderers, saints and angels. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman, but a single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is both eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. He encounters a girl named Door, an angel named Islington, an earl who holds court in a tube train, a beast in a labyrinth, and endless dangers and delights he could never have dreamed of. And Richard - who only wants to go home - is soon to find a strange destiny waiting for him in this unsettling version of his native city...

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5. NW

Zadie Smith | 2012

This brilliant tragi-comic novel about city life follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan - after they've grown up, left their childhood council estate and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful, and complex. After a chance encounter, however, they each find that the choices they've made - the people they once were and are now - can suddenly, inescapably unravel. A portrait of modern life, this book is poignant, funny, relevant and brimming with vitality.

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6. One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez | 1967

This breath-taking work blends the natural with the supernatural in one of the most spellbinding reading experiences ever published. It tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family and of Macondo, the town they have built. Though little more than a small settlement surrounded by mountains, Macondo has its own wars and disasters, wonders and miracles. A microcosm of Colombian life, its secrets lie hidden, encoded in a book, and only Aureliano Buendia can unravel its mysteries and reveal its shrouded destiny. Blending political reality with magical realism and fantasy, this book is one of the most daringly original works of the 20th century.

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7. Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy | 1877

This renowned novel features one of the most loved and memorable heroines of literature, whose wonderful charm dominates a book of unparalleled richness. Tolstoy considered this his first real attempt at the novel form, and it addresses the very nature of society at all levels - of destiny, death, human relationships and the irreconcilable contradictions of existence. Although there is much in the novel that evokes despair, the story also offers an abounding joy in life's many ephemeral pleasures, and contains sprinkles of comic relief.

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8. Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte | 1847

A novel ahead of its time, Jane is the feisty, argumentative and keenly intelligent protagonist of this enthralling novel. She refuses to accept her designated position in society and resolves to find love on her own terms. She thinks she may have found it when she meets the dark and brooding Mr Rochester, but she will endure terrible tragedies, setbacks and challenges, from a difficult childhood with her cruel aunt, to shocking encounters and deadly fires. This rich work of literature is simply a must-read.

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9. To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee | 1960

This inspiring and gripping story is told from the perspective of six-year-old Scout, a girl who lives in the American Deep South. Her father, lawyer Atticus Finch, is determined to defend a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Animosity and prejudice against Scout's family inevitably follow, and Scout comes to truly comprehend the magnitude of the injustice present in her own hometown. Powerful and moving, this classic is a must-read.

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10. The Color Purple

Alice Walker | 1982

Set in the American South between the wars, this haunting novel stars Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and persecution. Abused by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie, and is trapped in an ugly marriage. But then, Celie meets the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and magic-maker, a woman who commands her own destiny. Celie will gradually uncover the power and joy of her own spirit, and will have the chance to free herself from the past and reunite with those she loves...

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Don't forget to check out our entire range of the best fiction books.

  • AAIJW
    Neil Gaiman
    • £7.19
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    Under the streets of London there's a world most people could never even dream of - a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman who is about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and yet utterly bizarre. There's a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining...And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city. This title includes extra material exclusive to Headline Review's edition.
  • AADFX
    Leo Tolstoy
    • £8.89
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    Anna Karenina is one of the most loved and memorable heroines of literature. Her overwhelming charm dominates a novel of unparalleled richness and density. War and Peace author Leo Tolstoy considered this book to be his first real attempt at a novel form, and it addresses the very nature of society at all levels - of destiny, death, human relationships and the irreconcilable contradictions of existence. It ends tragically, and there is much that evokes despair, yet set beside this is an abounding joy in life's many ephemeral pleasures, and an element of comic relief.

  • AAEEB
    Charlotte Bronte
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    'Such a strange book! Imagine a novel with a little swarthy governess for heroine, and a middle-aged ruffian for hero.' Sharpe's London Magazine (June 1855) Jane Eyre is an orphan grown up under the harsh regime first of her aunt and then as a pupil at Lowood Institution. She leaves to become a governess to the daughter of the mysterious Mr Rochester; gradually their relationship deepens, but Jane's passionate nature has yet to endure its deepest blows. In this new edition Sally Shuttleworth explores the power of a narrative that questions the rights of women, the nature of servitude and madness, martyrdom and rebellion in a story whose emotional charge is a strong today as it was more than 150 years ago.
  • AADAM
    Margaret Atwood
    (1)
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    The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs...
  • AKASE
    Alice Walker
    • £7.19
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    Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker - a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves. 'One of the most haunting books you could ever wish to read ...it is stunning - moving, exciting, and wonderful' Lenny Henry
  • AAGNJ
    Sylvia Plath
    • £7.19
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    Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
  • AEBLA
    Ernest Cline
    (1)
    • £5.99
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    Steven Spielberg has adapted Ernest Cline's modern classic Ready Player One into a hit film and now you can add this sci-fi masterpiece to your bookshelf.

    It's 2044 and we've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty and disease have become widespread so Wade Watts escapes the horrors of real life by spending hours plugged into the OASIS - a virtual word where you can be anything you want to be...

    Following the death of founder James Heir, it turns out this alternate reality hides an Easter egg - the chance to inherit his massive fortune and take control of the OASIS. All the winner has to do is unravel the riddles scattered around this vast world...
  • AGTJW
    Zadie Smith
    • £8.89
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    "NW" is Zadie Smith's masterful novel about London life. Zadie Smith's brilliant tragi-comic "NW" follows four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan - after they've left their childhood council estate, grown up and moved on to different lives. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated. Yet after a chance encounter they each find that the choices they've made, the people they once were and are now, can suddenly, rapidly unravel. A portrait of modern urban life, "NW" is funny, sad and urgent - as brimming with vitality as the city itself. Praise for "NW": "Her dialogue sings and soars; terse, packed and sassy. Smith is simply wonderful: Dickens' legitimate daughter". (Boyd Tonkin, "Independent"). "Astonishing, dazzling. Really - without exaggeration - not since Dickens has there been a better observer of London scenes. Zadie Smith is a genius. It's hard to imagine a better novel this year - or this decade". (A.N. Wilson). "Intensely funny, richly varied, always unexpected. A joyous, optimistic, angry masterpiece. No better English novel will be published this year". (Philip Hensher, "Daily Telegraph"). "Absolutely brilliant. So electrically authentic". ("Time"). "Captivating. Funny, sexy, weird, full of acute social comedy, like London. She's up there with the best around". ("Evening Standard"). "Marvellous ...crackles with reflections on race, music and migration. A lyrical fiction for our times". ("Spectator"). "Undeniably brilliant ...rush out and buy this book". ("Observer"). Zadie Smith was born in north-west London in 1975. She is the author of the novels "White Teeth", "The Autograph Man" and "On Beauty", and of a collection of essays, "Changing My Mind". She is also the editor of "The Book of Other People".
  • AJDHK
    Gabriel Garcia Marquez
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    One of the world's most famous novels, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, blends the natural with the supernatural in on one of the most magical reading experiences on earth. 'Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.' Gabriel Garcia Marquez's great masterpiece is the story of seven generations of the Buendia family and of Macondo, the town they have built. Though little more than a settlement surrounded by mountains, Macondo has its wars and disasters, even its wonders and its miracles. A microcosm of Columbian life, its secrets lie hidden, encoded in a book, and only Aureliano Buendia can fathom its mysteries and reveal its shrouded destiny. Blending political reality with magic realism, fantasy and comic invention, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most daringly original works of the twentieth century. "Dazzling". (The New York Times). As one of the pioneers of magic realism and perhaps the most prominent voice of Latin American literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez has received international recognition for his novels, works of non-fiction and collections of short stories. Those published in translation by Penguin include Autumn of the Patriarch, Bon Voyage Mr. President, Collected Stories, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in his Labyrinth, Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, In the Evil Hour, Leaf Storm, Living to Tell the Tale, Love in the Time of Cholera, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, News of a Kidnapping, No-one Writes to the Colonel, Of Love and Other Demons, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor and Strange Pilgrims.
  • KMK2 14 years +
    Harper Lee
    14 years +
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    Harper Lee's acclaimed To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize after its publication in 1960 and is hugely influential in its exposure of racial prejudice.

    Set in the American Deep South, the story is seen through the eyes of six-year-old Scout, whose lawyer father Atticus Finch defends a young black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman.

    As Scout's family deals with the hostility and prejudice as a result of the case, there's a dawning realisation for Scout of all the inequality and injustice in her world.

    Powerful and moving, this 'Great American Novel' is a must-have addition to every reader's bookshelf and with the publication of follow-up Go Set a Watchman already one of the biggest sellers of the year, now is the perfect time to rediscover the hugely important book.