There are as many definitions of ‘the millennial novel’ as there are millennial readers. At its most fundamental, the millennial novel is a book written by an author born between 1981 and 1996. But in my view, there’s also a specific millennial sensibility to it: millennial novels are skeptical, a touch nihilistic, with characters that are unsettled or directionless and a bit self-obsessed. They often depict how technology has infiltrated our everyday lives, something that happened during the formative millennial years. They address the new ways in which we’re forming families, biological and otherwise, and what issues arise from that. It’s a nebulous idea, but it’s one that you can see in this generation of books if you look close enough. Here are twenty brilliant millennial novels by way of example.

20 Brilliant Millennial Novels - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
Help a millennial out: make a purchase through an affiliate link to support this site.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People - Sally Rooney - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Just about every list of millennial novels starts with Sally Rooney. She’s been hailed as the millennial wunderkind, the voice of a generation, and Normal People was her big breakthrough novel. It’s definitely a character-driven novel; there’s not much of a plot to summarise, beyond saying that it follows two Irish millennials over a four year period, as they graduate high school and attend college and their relationship ebbs and flows. It’s not a romance novel, though! Rooney uses this relationship as something like a case study of the millennial condition, the strange fact of coming of age where you seem to have everything and nothing simultaneously. Read my full review of Normal People here.

Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster - Raven Leilani - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I think the main reason for the mixed reviews of Luster is that non-millennial readers really struggle to get it. The story follows follows Edie, a 20-something Black woman who gets involved with Eric, a middle-aged white man in an “open” marriage (except that his wife is clearly not overjoyed about the arrangement). Edie’s relationship with Eric takes a back-seat quite early on, though, and what propels the novel is her interactions with Eric’s wife, Rebecca, and their adopted (Black) daughter, 12-year-old Akila. The prose is witty, sharp, explicit, and matter-of-fact, and Leilani does really interesting things with sentence structure. Read my full review of Luster here.

Good Material by Dolly Alderton

Good Material - Dolly Alderton - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Have you ever read or heard something that made you stop and think “wow, I thought I was the only one who was crazy like that”? That’s the feeling a lot of millennials get all through Good Material. Jen and Andy have just broken up, and Andy can’t for the life of him figure out why. He’s heartbroken, he’s homeless, and he’s struggling to get his fledgling comedy career off the ground while everyone around him seems to have grown up overnight. Dolly Alderton manages to capture the frustration and bewilderment of approaching mid-life when you still barely feel like a grown-up – a millennial state-of-mind if you ever heard one.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler

Fake Accounts - Lauren Oyler - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is there anything more millennial than discovering your lover has a secret life online, completely freaking out, and fleeing to Europe? That’s a potted summary of Fake Accounts, but I promise you this is one of the best millennial novels you’re yet to read. It explores the tricky issue of trust for millennials, and the real-world impact that our digital lives can have on those around us. It’s a relatable story for the generation that came of age at the same time as the internet, and explored these online landscapes before we know what the ‘rules’ should be.

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Such A Fun Age - Kiley Reid - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Such A Fun Age might look like a sweet summer read, but underneath lurks a serious critique of race, class, and good intentions. Emira is a millennial woman still struggling to find her feet. As she stumbles through her twenties, she makes ends meet with a baby-sitting job, employed by the feminist advocate and “personal brand” Alix. When a video of Emira’s confrontation with a supermarket security guard goes viral, she finds herself at the heart of a debate she never asked for but can’t ignore. She also falls in love with the man who captured the footage, only to discover that he’s connected to her boss in the most unexpected way. Read my full review of Such A Fun Age here.

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead - Emily Austin - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Look, obviously this one is worth picking up for the amazing title alone, but Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead is no bait-and-switch. It’s a brilliant millennial novel about anxiety, intimacy, and existential dread. The main character, Gilda, can’t stop thinking about death (and given the state of the world that millennials will inherit, it’s hard to blame her). In desperation, she responds to a flyer for free therapy from her local church – but, instead of healed, she finds herself installed as their new receptionist. Gilda’s anxious apathy and unsentimental delivery make this otherwise-dark story a hilarious and relatable read. Read my full review of Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead here.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

No One Is Talking About This - Patricia Lockwood - Keeping Up With The Penguins

If you’re a chronically online millennial, you’ll know Patricia Lockwood for her viral tweet about her cat Miette (“jail for mother for One Thousand Years!!!!”). It won’t come as any surprise to you, then, that the main character in No One Is Talking About This is a young woman who went viral with a spur-of-the-moment tweet, and it changed her life. She travels the world talking about “the portal”, the infinite scroll, the digital zeitgeist, until she’s suddenly forced to confront the fragility of her virtual life. A tragedy in her “real” life threatens its margins – a major gear change, in the story and in the reading of it. Read my full review of No One Is Talking About This here.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators - Kayla Rae Whittaker - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Animators interrogates the nature of female friendship, the kind that’s so deep and so penetrating it’s somewhere closer to family. Mel Vaught and Sharon Kisses are a dynamic millennial duo, living and working together and taking the male-dominated world of animation by storm. They’re on the cusp of making it big with their first full-length feature, a film about Mel’s difficult childhood, but their friendship starts to crack under the pressure. When Sharon visits her home state of Kentucky, a former friend comes out of the woodwork, and everything that holds the two besties together is torn apart.

The Summer Job by Lizzy Dent

The Summer Job - Lizzy Dent - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Birdy Finch is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a millennial rom-com heroine. She has an arsehole kind-of boyfriend, no real direction in life, and a suitcase full of clothes selected for purchase because they don’t need ironing. At the beginning of The Summer Job, she sees the opportunity to escape her life for a few months, impersonating her best friend Heather as a sommelier at a remote Scottish hotel. Millennials have taken the advice to ‘say yes to the job and learn how to do it later’ to heart, and that philosophy is on full display in this escapist summer read. Read my full review of The Summer Job here.

Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman

Funny You Should Ask - Elissa Sussman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Millennials, believe it or not, are finally old enough to be getting divorced and going to high school reunions, and that’s reflected in millennial novels like Funny You Should Ask. The story unfolds across two timelines: “Then”, when Chani met Gabe as a struggling MFA student and wrote a profile on the movie star that set the world on fire, and “Now”, after a messy divorce and lots of therapy and career success when the writer and the subject finally reunite. This addictive romance is as hot as it is sensitive, combining the best of both insight and escape.

How To Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann

How To Be Eaten - Maria Adelmann - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Millennial novels don’t have to be super-realistic to be deeply relatable. Some of them are downright weird, like How To Be Eaten, a book that interrogates the dark side of the fairy-tales we were raised on. Five women form a support group to process their traumas, ones millennial readers will recognise: falling in love with a blue-bearded billionaire, being eaten by a wolf, winning a man’s love in a competition, being held captive in a house made of candy… These women are, rightfully, wary of each other, but they have more in common than they realise at first. There’s no knight in shining armour coming to save them, either, so they might have to save each other.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl - Jean Kyoung Frazier - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Pizza Girl is a millennial novel for the cuspers, the ones almost young enough to bleed into Gen Z but not quite young enough to give up their side parts and skinny jeans. The protagonist is an eighteen-year-old pregnant pizza delivery girl who becomes obsessed with the stay-at-home mother who phones in a desperate order. It’s a welcome distraction from her live-in boyfriend and proud-as-punch mother and the ticking time-bomb in her uterus. Soon, that baby’s gonna come out, and she’s going to have to figure out how to at least pretend to have her shit together. Read my full review of Pizza Girl here.

Adults by Emma Jane Unsworth

Adults - Emma Jane Unsworth - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Adults (also published as Grown Ups in some territories) is a neurotic dramedy of 21st-century manners for the digital age. Adulthood is nothing like Jenny McLaine imagined when she moved out at eighteen. Now, in her 30s, just as it should all be coming together for her, it has completely fallen apart. Her ex has found new love, her job is a disaster, her friendships are fraying, and – worst of all – her mother is about to move in. Every millennial woman will see something of herself in this novel about the expectations we have of women, and the impossibility of living up to them all simultaneously.

Green Dot by Madeleine Gray

Green Dot - Madeleine Gray - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Hera is in her mid-20s, still living with her dad in Sydney and preemptively exhausted by the life of drudgery she expects to find in the workforce. Lacking any better options, she takes a job as an online comment moderator for a news publication. Things start looking up when an older male colleague catches her eye. When she finds out he’s married, it doesn’t put a dent in her plans to fall in love with him. Green Dot is a millennial workplace affair novel, where no one gets #MeToo’d and no one abuses their power. Hera knows exactly what she’s doing, consequences be damned. Read my full review of Green Dot here.

Search History by Amy Taylor

Search History - Amy Taylor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Search History is “a sharply funny debut novel about identity, obsession, and desire in the internet age”. But, unlike early books by older authors about relationships in tHe DiGiTaL eRa, this millennial novel actually rings true – in the way the characters think and behave, and the way their use of technology shapes their perceptions. In this story, Ana learns the hard way why so many millennials have rules against Googling their new love interests. She knows what she’s doing is bad for her relationship and her mental health, but she just can’t help herself. Let those who have never accidentally deep-liked a new love interest’s Instagram post cast the first stone. Read my full review of Search History here.

We Had To Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets

We Had To Remove This Post - Hanna Bervoets - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Is there a more millennial job than ‘online content moderator’? We Had To Remove This Post follows Kayleigh (again, a millennial name if you’ve ever heard one) as she works the new worst job ever, one she’s only doing for the money. She has to trawl her employer’s social networking site for the worst of the worst – offensive videos, dangerous conspiracy theories, blatant falsehoods – and decide what should be removed. But who is Kayleigh to decide, really? Who among us should get to decide what is right, what is normal, and what should remain in the digital archive of our lives? This is a surprisingly perceptive and insightful millennial novel that you can devour in one sitting.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Imagine if you had your own real-life Sliding Doors, a version of yourself that’s the result of a few key things playing out just a little differently. That’s basically the premise of The Vanishing Half, a historical fiction millennial novel that examines the lives of twin girls who grew up together in a small Southern community. One grew up to “pass” as white, the other married a dark-skinned man and had a dark-skinned daughter. Through this multi-generational family saga, Brit Bennett plays out the domino effect of reductive labels. Read my full review of The Vanishing Half here.

There’s Been A Little Incident by Alice Ryan

There's Been A Little Incident - Alice Ryan - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The desire to escape is a fairly common millennial feeling, but relatively few actually act on it. There’s Been A Little Incident sees one actually go through with her plans to disappear. Molly Black is grieving, and leaves only a hastily written note to tell her remaining loved ones that she’s gone for good. Her family gathers in a suburban semi-detached house, to work out what to do about it. They’re all battling their own demons, but Uncle John is determined to keep them focused – he’s not ready to lose anyone else, especially not his beloved niece.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa - Kate Elizabeth Russell - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Every generation of women has had to battle against the overreach of powerful men, but the internet has made the fight of millennial women particularly visible. That’s the context in which we read My Dark Vanessa, a novel about the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher. How much agency do young women really have? Should we consider them complicit in their own traumatic affairs? These are questions that make us deeply uncomfortable, which makes Kate Elizabeth Russell all the more brave for raising them in a best-seller.

Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition Baby - Torrey Peters - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Millennials have made families in ways unimagined by previous generations – but blazing new trails means navigating new problems without any guidance. Detransition Baby is a story about the kind of family that would have been unimaginable just a decade or two ago. A trans couple’s life of comfortable bourgeois mundanity is up-ended when one of them decides to detransition, and accidentally impregnates a cis-woman. Can they find a way to make a family out of this mess? It’s a provocative story, one that has raised many eyebrows, but Peters fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships.