Just like I love quirky indie flicks, I love a good off-the-wall, not-your-norm, unusual (and sometimes weird) tales. Here are my favorite quirky indie books for when you’re feeling bored of your typical genre, and want to mix things up.
NOTE: I’m calling these “indie books” but I really mean “indie-style books.” I’m not going to go to the trouble of researching each and every publisher. They may be self-published or have a large publishing house behind them: in my head (such as it is), “indie-style” means a bit off-the-wall, unusual, and maybe even kooky.
Ok let’s take a look at my favorite quirky indie books to help you mix up your reading list!
19 Delightfully Quirky Indie Books
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1. My Sister, the Serial Killer
by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Set in Nigeria, this really strange story centers around sisters Korede and Ayoola. Korede is always cleaning up her little sibling’s messes – not that unusual in a family dynamic, until you realize cleaning up Ayoola’s messes usually entails burying a body.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is a small book, with short chapters, but it packs a punch! Korede is stuck between her beautiful baby sister, who you COULD say just has the worst taste in men (so who’s gonna miss em anyway?), and her love for her boss, who just may or may not be the next victim on Ayoola’s hit list.
This is not your normal crime thriller, and I loved it. Braithwaite is for sure one to watch and I’m excited to see what she writes next.
2. The Cabin At the End of the World
by Paul Tremblay
We’re introduced to a truly twisted story-line with Wen, along with her parents Eric and Andrew. They’re vacationing and Wen is outside, playing in the yard, catching grasshoppers and giving them names. Out of the dusty gravel road comes a man: the largest Wen has ever seen, and he comes with a difficult thing to hear: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”
I mean, that right there sucks you in, amIright? The gnarly story gets weirder and weirder and you’ll be flying through the pages trying to figure out where it goes.
Note: there’s some brutal, nail-biting violence in this one, so if you’re triggered with blood/terror/horror, this is not the book for you.
3. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
by Matthew J. Sullivan
Don’t let the dumb title (sorry, Mr. Sullivan), and the cheesy cover art (sorry, Mr. Cover Artist) throw you. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a surprisingly good read that sat on my coffee table for weeks before I cracked it open out of desperation and a lack of anything else to read.
Once started, I found find it was really hard to put down due to the unusual story and compelling characters.
Lydia is our heroine. She’s an employee at a bookstore, shy, awkward, and somewhat people-phobic. One night she stumbles upon the beginnings of a mystery: a patron known as a Bookfrog, named Joey, hangs himself in the upper room above the store.
While Joey was her favorite bibliophile, Lydia is still shocked to discover Joey left her everything in his mixed-up, mentally ill, occasionally homeless life. Not only that, she has to unravel the reason why Joey killed himself, which becomes intricately entangled with her own violent past.
I loved this story for it’s totally bizarre plot that went places I never saw coming. It LOOKS like a cozy, feel-good, chic lit… but it TASTES like the best kind of indie book: lingering, spooky, strange, and scary.
4. Fierce Kingdom
by Gin Phillips
A friend asked for the best book I read all of 2019, and you guys, this may be it. Fierce Kingdom is a lyrical, hauntingly beautiful book that is simply unforgettable. And I can’t compare it to anything else, because there just aren’t any books to compare it to!
The story is about Joan, a normal mom, with a four year old son named Lincoln. Both characters are superbly drawn: Joan is every mom, and Lincoln is precocious and at times annoying (like every four year old – ha!).
They’re simply enjoying a day at the zoo, a day like any other, when… well, I really don’t want to give anything away. Something happens. Something that causes Joan to go back INTO the zoo and not come back out.
The suspense is nail-bitingly good, and you really don’t know where the story is going to end. There are weirdly a lot of bad reviews of this book and I think those reviewers should be smacked. This is such a good, good book.
5. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised Ten Kids on 25 Words or Less
by Terry Ryan
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a book you can recommend to absolutely anyone in your life and they will be delighted. It’s such a fun tale, and, best of all, it’s true.
Written as a basically one big thank-you and love letter to her mom, Evelyn, you will fall deeply into this book and not want to get back out. It’s the early ’50s and Evelyn has ten rambunctious children, and one alcoholic abusive husband.
You’d think she’d just give in and give up, but she’s a spunky, cheerful heroine who raises her family with laughter and humility. When the money runs out, as it does at the end of every month with a spouse who drinks most of it, Evelyn turns to writing jingles and entering contests.
What follows is hilarious, yet poignant, and by the end if I wasn’t laughing I was totally crying.
There’s a good movie based on Ryan’s biography with the same name, starring Julieanne Moore, and it’s well-done. But it’s not as good (as is usually the case) as the book.
6. Just One Damned Thing After Another
by Jodi Taylor
This is a clever, witty, and sometimes hilarious opener for Taylor’s delightful The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series.
Sort of like if you combined the television series The Librarians with Warehouse 13, with some Indiana Jones and Sherlock thrown in for good measure, this book is chock full of unusual and funny characters (Taylor is kind enough to provide a Who’s Who in the front), hilarious subplots, near misses, plenty of explosions, some juicy romance, and a quirky setting.
Overall it’s very snarky and smart. My only complaint was too many exclamation points (why do indie authors do that?), and a few too many characters. Still, Just One Damned Thing After Another is a very fun and quirky indie book to curl up with!
by Jennifer McMahon
Other than Ann Patchett, Jennifer McMahon is the only author I know who writes incredibly bizarre story lines, yet makes them intriguing and believable.
Burntown is no exception. In fact it’s probably her weirdest book ever. The story begins starts with a murder committed by a man in chicken suit, and a stolen invention of Edison’s that can speak to the dead.
BTW that’s the most normal part of the whole book. No lie.
From there, we’re introduced – sometimes in flashbacks, sometimes in real time – to a fat lady of the circus, some fire eating hippy drug addicts, runaways, and all sorts of other oddness.
I loved the first half or 2/3s of the book, like LOVED loved, but I have to admit the ending started getting a bit too silly. I for sure could have done without the fire eaters; they didn’t add anything to the book and weren’t particularly believable. McMahon doesn’t explain much, especially about the invention which you would think would play a much bigger part than it did, but that’s a relatively small disappointment.
If you are completely bored with your TBR stack on her nightstand, add this one to the top.
8. Deceased Miss Blackwell and Her Not-So Imaginary Friends
by K.N. Parker
I was privileged enough to get an advanced copy of this utterly bewitching book, and I feel so lucky that I did. K.N. Parker has an imagination to rival the most creative authors out there, a fact I knew after reading The Death of Death a couple of years ago.
The story alone for the Deceased Miss Blackwell is enchanting all by itself, but add to that the absolutely gorgeous and creepy illustrations, and you have a book for the ages.
I had heard that Mr Parker had had this tale in his mind for years, but lacked an illustrator. That strikes me as oddly fortuitous, because his own drawings are spot-on and lovely. I can see this being the first of many elementary aged, illustrated, scary, deliciously macabre tales. A whole set!
There’s no one else out there that I know of doing this, and I just know there is a market for it. For fans of Tim Burton, The Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet book, and Coraline, this is an absolute must read.
9. Eliza and Her Monsters
by Francesca Zappia
(a name I wish I had)
From what i can tell, this book was a very hyped-up, must read, gotta have it, book of the year in Young Adult Fiction in 2017. And I think it mostly lives up to all the hype: it’s a binge reading kind of beautiful adolescent novel and is hard to put down.
I’m 42 and grew up with no internet or cell phone, chatrooms, fan fiction (honestly didn’t know what that even was until like a month ago), or web comics. That makes some of Eliza and Her Monsters unrelatable to me, but I can understand that had I been born later, I totally would have disappeared into those worlds too.
Her social anxiety was drawn (pun – haha) very well. I enjoyed the artwork, though I found myself skimming the Monstrous Sea excerpts. There were some things I found unrealistic or just irritating and for the sake of a review I’ll list them here.
While at times Eliza is a bittersweet heroine, most of the time she is an absolute, grade-A BRAT. Seriously. Okay, I have teenage daughters so maybe that’s why, but I wanted to slap her silly A LOT. Her mom was a saint – I don’t care if she “ruined her life” by exposing her secret. Eliza’s parents deserve trophies for putting up with her crap.
Okay, that aside, another thing I didn’t care for was the weird adults hanging out with the kids: Megan, the single mom who spends all her time fangirling with high schoolers , and Max, Eliza’s online friend, who should maybe have his search history and texting reviewed by his girlfriend, since all he does is IM preteens and teen girls. No one finds this creepy? Just me? Ok, fine. The mom in me comes out again, I guess.
While in the beginning I found Wallace’s texting/writing instead of talking kind of dumb (actually, really dumb), the reason becomes clearer later. Also, the hard-boiled eggs … kind of bizarre. Wouldn’t that make her cholesterol high and wouldn’t that concern her very health conscious parents? Not to mention the other side effect of so many hard boiled eggs. Ahem.
So those are just a few little things that kept me from giving this 5 stars, but all in all, it really is a lovely novel by a very talented writer.
10. The God of Animals
by Aryn Kyle
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age, memoir(esque) tales, and if you throw in some horses, well, it’s golden.
Alice is twelve, lonely, and growing up in a dysfunctional family, where her mom has literally not left her bedroom since Alice was a baby. Dad has a bad temper, and big sis ran off to marry a rodeo cowboy. Alice has no one.
She doesn’t particularly WANT girlfriends, lies a lot, and she begins a strange obsession with her English teacher – who, creepily, is all in with their secret friendship. Blech, Mr Delmar.
Add to that the mystery of a dead classmate and the arrival of spoiled, rich women who want to board their horses at Alice’s farm. Quirky? Yes. Indie style? Definitely.
The God of Animals is a story cleverly told, rich in narrative, with characters that totally come alive (although there is a lot of sadness, too). There’s also the mystery of Polly’s death and the suspense of wondering if Mr Delmar or Dad could have been involved, which adds a whole other level of page turning worries.
I wish the author would write a sequel. What happens to Alice as a teenager and as a grown woman? What happened to Polly? And Nona? Does Mom EVER leave her bedroom again?
I definitely need another book. Ms Kyle, are you hearing me?
11. Tell Me Three Things
by Julie Buxbaum
This quirky indie book is probably along the lines of 3.5 stars, but I rounded it to 4 so it can make this list. Plenty of other reviewers on Goodreads have given it 5 stars, and you might too. I read it all in one day, so that’s always a really good sign.
Jessie is a 16 year old, with a late mom (and by late I mean dead, not anti-punctual), and a dad who has remarried and moved them to Los Angeles. “SN” (Somebody/Nobody) is a mystery person who begins to email her, and they start a relationship based on their instant messages and emails, even though she doesn’t know who he is.
Basically, you’ll keep reading because you want to know who SN is too. There are only three options, and to be honest, all three kept meshing together in my head (maybe because I’m an old fogy, and not a teen girl, so the boy’s characteristics seemed all the same to me… they’re all vintage t-shirts and tragic backgrounds and great hair, etc).
I was kinda rooting for more of a twist at the end, like SN was really her new stepmom or something, but since there’s flirting in the emails, I guess that would have been a little TOO weird.
The writing is good, the author isn’t too pretentious (which I can’t say about many contemporary YAs, can you?), and the pages will flip fast as you read.
Is it super memorable? Not really. Will I pass it onto my teen? Probably… but there are some scenes that made me cringe: especially the chapters on sex, specifically the one where her bestie loses her “V-card” (seriously? Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Lawd, I’m old), and Jessie’s best advice is “if it feels good, do it,” which made me want to reach through the pages and smack both of them upside the head with their own book.
But that aside, Tell Me Three Things is a really fun book. And since contemporary YAs are usually torture for anyone over twenty to read, I give it kudos for keeping a middle-aged mama entertained. I will be checking out Buxbaum’s adult novels next.
12. Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not
by Amy Sedaris
Sometimes I binge read genres, and lately (like, the last twenty years lately) it’s been darker things, mysteries, suspense, drama, YA angst, etc, so it was time to pick up something hilarious.
And this book is hilarious. Not just the banter among the characters (who are absolutely ridiculous and come with photos), but even the descriptions and plots.
I would pick out an example, but you can just pick up the book and turn to any page; it’s that funny.
A clever, easy-to-read, and quirky indie book, Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not is one that you shouldn’t read in public because of all the snorting you’ll be doing. An R-rated Patrick McManus type of giggle-fest.
13. You’re Never Weird On The Internet
by Felicia Day
You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) is a super fun, hilarious, quirky, and surprisingly difficult/deep read.
I had never heard of Felicia Day when I read it three years ago, not being a gamer or anyone who knows anything about technology at all, though she seemed familiar, but my sister assured me I would enjoy her writing and find a lot in common with her.
She was right.
Having both been homeschooling ‘back in the day,’ the beginning parts of the novel where she focused on those years was hysterical and completely spot-on.
We were very similar weirdos as children and adolescents, right down to the diary entries (no joke, my diaries look exactly the same and were filled with the same dorky “I’m talking to you” paragraphs) and the social awkwardness and the starting of college early (and being woefully unprepared).
Then she gets heavily into the gaming world, where I got a little lost but still found it funny and educational. The ending quarter or so is actually hard to read, because, while I’m no internet celebrity, I can only imagine the horrors of the trolls she has had to live with. It shouldn’t be downplayed into anything less and my heart hurt for her, and for anyone else living with that kind of abuse and threat and hatred.
All in all, it’s a smart book written by a smart woman and has something for everyone. I hope she does less world wide web stuff I’ll likely never see because I’m out of the loop of anything cool and/or cutting edge, and more writing of dem old-fashioned books this this one.
by David Arnold
This coming-of-age, quirky tale made me think of a book I would have written as a teen and co-authored with my own teen daughter (if we were of course, time travelers. Something we are working on. Stay tuned).
Mosquitoland boasts writing that is hilarious and clever, with characters who are memorable and well-drawn. Mim is great; super-flawed and smart at the same time. The only reason I wouldn’t give it the ol’ five stars is that it does have that pretentious John Green style that, for me, can get a bit old about 3/4s of the way through. It doesn’t always ring true.
But that’s a minor thing and I felt most of the book was quite genuine, and I thought the (male) author did a good job drawing his (female) heroine, something that had to be quite difficult as I’m assuming he’s never been one himself.
There’s a slight twist in the end that was satisfying, but I almost wished it had gone further… scroll down for a spoiler:
SPOILER: if the med withdrawal really had caused most of the novel, and Beck and Walt weren’t real like she thought for a split second… But I’m mean like that. I like tragic endings and plot twists.
All in all, it’s a very fun read that is deeper than what you think you’re getting into it, and I would recommend it for 13+.
15. When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
When You Reach Me is very fun book. It’s Middle Grade/YA, but soooo clever. Heck, it won a Newberry, so you know it’s good.
You’ll want to read it all in one or two sittings so you don’t miss anything. It’s imaginative and trust me when I say, it’s not just for kids or teens.
Miranda is a twelve year old in the late ’70s, and the story revolves around a strange year with her $20,000 Pyramid-playing single mom and their cast of friends in the city.
Odd, unexplained things begin to happen, and weird, creepy notes start arriving: who is writing them and how do they know things they shouldn’t know, sometimes even before they happen?
Fans of A Wrinkle in Time (as Miranda is) will love all the shout-outs. In a way, this is a love letter to that book. There’s a fun twist that younger teens especially will go bananas over (adults might see it coming, but that’s okay).
All in all, it’s great story with a likable heroine and an unusual plot that the author deserves kudos for. And it has one of the best ending lines ever.
16. The Magician’s Lie
by Greer Macalistair
According to the jacket, this book is Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus, which was enough to get me all-in right away. It ended up being great escapist reading – perfect for a lazy, cold day.
I loved the way the suspense starts at the very beginning, as we work backwards learning what brought the Amazing Arden to the role of alleged husband murderer. Usually I’m not a fan of that – starting at the end in the beginning – but it worked perfectly for this tale.
Like many of you fellow indie book fans, I’m a sucker for stories about magicians or circuses. Especially when they feature a heavy dose of mystery. I liked Holt as well, and while some readers thought the parts with him lagged, I enjoyed them.
You can see this novel unfolding as a movie: I still picture Arden in her torn costume, handcuffed with five different pairs, as she tells her sad story to the weathered and injured policeman. I didn’t necessarily buy into or find the healing aspect of the book to be needed – until towards the end when you realize how much more terrible the secret was for her to keep.
The ending WAS a bit rushed, a common complaint in the book’s reviews, but I found it satisfying and not a cop-out. Although I did miss that delicious feeling of goosebumps you sometimes get at the end of a really well-written last page…
I would definitely recommend The Magician’s Lie and sincerely hope Greer Macallister gives us more to read.
by Rainbow Rowell
I know she’s most famous for Eleanor and Park, a book I read and forgot immediately. I assume there was a character named Eleanor and one named Park, but it just didn’t stay with me.
This one however, I totally enjoyed. Attachments is a super cute page turner, about three characters: Beth, Jennifer, and Lincoln. They all work at the same boring job, and to keep themselves from expiring from boredom, Jennifer and Beth begin some hilarious email banter with one another.
The problem is, it’s literally Lincoln’s job to go through every employee’s emails and make sure they’re doing their jobs and not sexually harassing one another or plotting a hostile takeover or anything. He knows he should tell the women to knock it off, but he becomes quite addicted to their writings, and besides … he’s falling for one of them.
What’s he going to say? “Hi. I’m the guy who reads your emails … and also … I love you.”
Actually, Linc. That would probably work.
18. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson
(aka the Bloggess)
I mean, just look at some of the chapter titles if you need to be convinced that this qualifies as a quirky indie book:
- Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel
- A Series of Angry Post-it Notes to My Husband
- And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator On A Plane
And also, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened comes with pictures, because, yeah, you’re going to need some proof of Lawson’s ridiculous antics. Crazy funny – again, not a book I can recommend to just anyone… holy moly, the language!
But man oh man, it’s funny. There was a point where I was seriously wiping away tears as I snorted in the laughter.
Again, as a best-seller from Penguin, this (and several others on this list) probably won’t fit your definition of “indie”, but it’s definitely in the “indie style” so there you go.
19. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews
Greg and Earl are typical high schoolers (and they have the mouths to prove it), and they’re perfectly content getting by and making terrible movies. But then Rachel, a girl Greg used to know when they were kids, gets Leukemia, and Greg’s mom insists on them renewing their friendship.
What follows is often hilarious, painfully real, brutally honest, and did I mention hilarious? Yes, sure, it has the overdone, much hyped, Fault-in-Our-Stars-type plot, but the book pulls it off beautifully. The movie is excellent too, by the way.
Note: definitely lots of sexual innuendo and language in this one. Probably not for your middle schoolers.
What Are Your Favorite Quirky Indie Books?
Do you have any favorite quirky indie books that we should know about? Comment below!