If you’re like me, when you see a book described as ‘heartfelt’, you’re immediately skeptical. I’ve read too many books that are overtly manipulative, or achingly earnest, and it’s made me wary. For some reason, the qualifier of ‘quirky’ sets me at ease. It promises a book that’s a little more offbeat, and that offsets the sickening sincerity somehow. Here are 15 quirky heartfelt novels that won’t give you the ick.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman has never had a second date. He’s got a good job as a genetics professor, he’s highly intelligent and articulate, he maintains a good level of personal fitness and hygiene, and he can cook (according to his carefully calibrated Standardised Meal System). But something always goes wrong – like the Ice Cream Incident. Or the Jacket Incident. In The Rosie Project, Don sets out to find love with a questionnaire he’s designed to find his most compatible potential partner. He soon discovers that the woman he’s most drawn to doesn’t actually tick any of the boxes, but maybe that’s okay if the Incidents aren’t deal-breakers. Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.
Hot tip: I highly recommend reading this quirky, heartfelt novel on audiobook. Some of the nuance doesn’t quite land on the page, but it really sparkles in the audio format.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an odd duck. She has a routine for everything: work, meals, chats with Mummy, vodka, and that’s about it. It’s a lonely life, because she also has an… unusual way of relating to people. But, as Gail Honeyman reveals gradually throughout Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, it turns out she has a very good reason for being a little left-of-center. As “fine” as Eleanor is with the way things are, perhaps there’s more to life than what she’s had so far. It’s a lot more trauma-heavy than your standard feel-good fare, but this quirky, heartfelt novel is sure to make you want to hug it to your chest by the end. Read my full review of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine here.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
In a sleepy small town on the Maine coast, Evvie Drake rarely leaves her big empty house. All the neighbourhood gossips blame the death of her husband for her self-isolation, and she lets them think that – even though it couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s where Evvie Drake Starts Over begins, but it’s all about to change. Professional baseballer Dean Trenney arrives to rent Evvie’s granny flat, and the two of them strike a deal: she won’t ask him why he’s suddenly lost the ability to pitch, as long as he won’t ask about her dead husband. This is a quirky, heartfelt novel about new beginnings and unlikely connections.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This quirky, heartfelt novel will have you making room in your heart for the guy who grumbles in the queue at the post-office. A Man Called Ove follows a curmudgeonly old-before-his-time 59-year-old man (called Ove, in case you missed it). He’s been having a rough trot. He’s still mourning the loss of his wife, and recently found himself forced into early retirement. As fate would have it, on the day he plans to intentionally depart this mortal coil, an exuberant young family moves in next door. That’s when everything changes for Ove, even though he resents it every step of the way. Read my full review of A Man Called Ove here.
Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman
Chani Horowitz is a twenty-something journalist, desperate for her big break. She thinks it’s going to come in the form of an interview with heart-throb (and her celebrity crush) Gabe Parker. And it does… just not in the way she expected. Funny You Should Ask is a quirky, heartfelt novel that plays out across two timelines. The first is Chani’s interview-cum-whirlwind weekend with Gabe, the second is a decade later, after a brutal divorce and a lot of therapy. Chani’s tired of being asked about the profile that changed everything for her, but maybe revisiting it could heal the wounds she thought she’d have to live with forever.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
If you’re looking for quirky, heartfelt novels that will appeal to bibliophiles, you’ll get the best of both worlds in The Reading List. Aleisha is a bright but anxious teenager with a summer job at her local library. One day, she finds a crumpled up piece of paper in the back of one of the returns, a reading list full of novels she’s never read. On a lark, she decides to read her way through the list – and ends up passing it on to a patron, Mukesh. Mukesh is a widower, desperately seeking any way to connect with his bookworm granddaughter. This list of books might be the very thing to save them both.
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less worries that he is “the first homosexual to ever grow old”. He finds himself suddenly single, when his long-time fuck-buddy dumps him to marry a far more eligible (and age appropriate) bachelor. Arthur Less decides that he must act. He can’t RSVP “no” to the nuptials and admit defeat, but he couldn’t possibly attend either, especially with his own 50th birthday looming… so, he proceeds to accept every half-baked invitation he’s received to literary events around the world, and sends his ex his regrets, citing “unfortunate” prior engagements. Less is a quirky, heartfelt novel with a road-trip vibe and the literary chops to win a Pulitzer Prize. Read my full review of Less here.
Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
A 24-hour bookstore sounds like every booklover’s dream – who wouldn’t want a place to go when you get the itch for a book haul at 3AM? But there’s more to Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore than meets the eye, as Clay Jannon is about to find out. The shop has barely any customers and they never seem to actually buy the books on the shelves; they simply ‘check out’ weird titles from little-used corners. Clay turns to some of his analytical friends to try and figure out what’s really going on here, but it turns out the bookstore’s secrets – and those of its enigmatic owner – extend far beyond its walls.
The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
It doesn’t get any more quirky or heartfelt than The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared. Centenarian Allan Karlsson is sitting in his retirement home, contemplating the dreadful birthday party the staff and residents are planning for him (with no booze), when he decides to do something different. He jumps out the window, and so begins a whirlwind adventure, with hoodlums and drug money and foiled assassination plots and elephants and (of course) lots of vodka. It’s like a European Forrest Gump, but less earnest and more funny. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.
The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa
Quirky, heartfelt novels often have strange bedfellows at their heart – and they don’t get much stranger than a bookish high-school student and a talking cat. In The Cat Who Saved Books, Rintaro Natsuki finds himself roped into helping the feline save the world’s books from neglectful owners. They visit the man who leaves his books locked in cabinets unread, the company director who cuts books down into snippets in the name of teaching others to ‘speed read’, and persuade the publishing magnate to set aside his profit dreams to make books what they should be. It’s an unusual and fantastical story, but all the most heartfelt ones are.
The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock
Mercy Blain hasn’t been outside her house in years. Until she watched it burn down, that is. In The Other Side Of Beautiful, she finds herself living in a camper van, with her ever-faithful sausage dog Wasabi by her side, forced to re-enter the world she’s been avoiding. Lacking any other options (or any permanent address), she drives the length of Australia from Adelaide to Darwin. She has to contend with badly-timed breakdowns, grey nomads, a potential love interest, and a mysterious box of cremated remains under the passenger seat. This is a quirky, heartfelt novel about plunging headfirst into what scares you. Read my full review of The Other Side Of Beautiful here.
Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
You don’t need to read a word of Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows to know that it’s a quirky heartfelt novel – just look at that title! The story has the goods, too, with an unusual premise and a close examination of cultural politics in immigrant communities. A twenty-something in dire financial straits takes on a job teaching creative writing at a local community center. That’s how she finds herself drawn into the heart of London’s Punjabi community, with a group of older Sikh widows learning for the first time to express their desires and creativity. Of course, the unconventional approach risks invoking the ire of the Brotherhood, but some secrets need to be shared, even if they risk scandal.
Nothing To See Here by Kevin Wilson
Lillian is 28-years-old and down on her luck. She could’ve lived the good life, but her mother was bribed into letting her take the fall for her roommate’s drug possession back in high school. So, she drifts from shitty job to shitty job, barely able to see past the fog of poverty and depression. The inciting incident of Nothing To See Here comes when Lillian receives a letter, from that roommate who escaped a drug charge. Madison begs Lillian to come and take her up on a “job opportunity”. She doesn’t know until she gets there that the “job opportunity” is taking care of Madison’s step-kids. Who spontaneously combust, at inconvenient times. Just… whoosh! It doesn’t get any more quirky than that. Read my full review of Nothing To See Here here.
The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer by Ilsa Evans
The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer is one of those books with a dark premise, but a tone so quirky and heartfelt that it’s an absolute delight to read. Two older women on opposing sides of a family divide come together to protect their granddaughter after they learn she is being abused by her father. Beth and Shirley are very Odd Couple: the cynic and the optimist, the conscientious planner and the free thinker. But Winnie, the sneaky and snarky great-grandmother, really takes the cake. This is a wise and witty novel about the lengths women will go to protect their family. Read my full review of The Unusual Abduction Of Avery Conifer here.
When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald
Zelda is 21 years old. She lives with her older brother, Gert, and she’s obsessed with Vikings. Not the TV show, or the football team – literal Vikings, the Norse people who kicked around Northern Europe up until the 11th century. Zelda’s a little bit different, and she knows that, but she’s figured out how to get by in the world. That is, until she figures out that Gert has made friends with some not-nice people who are getting him to do not-nice things for money… and she decides to take matters into her own hands. When We Were Vikings is a surprisingly charming and quirky heartfelt novel that balances compassion with humour in a beautiful way. Read my full review of When We Were Vikings here.