Most books fit into at least one category; romance, thriller, young adult, literary fiction, the list goes on. But every so often, a book comes along so original that it just defies categorization. The following books are celebrated for their trailblazing originality and you need to check them out.
1. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
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The entirety of Reynold’s novel Long Way Down takes place over one minute. In these sixty seconds, Will must decide whether he’s going to avenge his brother and shoot his killer. He has the opportunity to do so, but he may not know the full story. The story is told through free verse poetry, which is 1) an extremely unusual choice, and 2) an extremely apt one that actually gives the tale a momentum like no other.
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
2. [Disconnected]: Stories and Poems of Connection and Otherwise edited by Michelle Halket
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This anthology was assembled in a super original way. Enlisting some of the biggest names in online poetry such as Amanda Lovelace and Nikita Gill, eleven poets got together, each contributing three poems. Each poet was then assigned three poems by another poet and then wrote a short story based on one of these poems. This fascinating concept explores the theme of connection in a totally new and interesting way, and the book is also dotted with lovely line drawings that enhance the reading experience.
Humanity exists in a hyperconnected world, where our closest friends, loves, and enemies lie but a keyboard stroke away. Few know this better than the poets who have risen to the top of their trade by sharing their emotion, opinion, and art with millions of fans. Combining the poetic forces of some of today’s most popular confessional poets, this book presents poems and short stories about connection wrapped up in a most unique exercise in creative writing. Follow along as these poets connect with each other—offering their poetry to one of their fellow contributors, who tells a story based on the concept presented to them. With poetry, stories, and art, [Dis]Connected is a mixed media presentation of connection, isolation, love, and loneliness.
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewsky
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Different colored text, vertical footnotes, multiple appendices… this book is the OG of original and unusual books. Like any novel, House of Leaves has a plot: a family moves into a home that they discover is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The two children wander deep and become lost in the endless house, their voices echoing and telling a dark tale of the abyss…
Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.
Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.
The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.
4. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
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So, romance has pretty much been done. No matter how beautifully you depict the relationship between two people, people will always be able to draw comparison between your book and countless others that sought to do much the same thing. No so with David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary. This book charts a life-time-long relationship between two people entirely through dictionary entries, each definition providing brief snapshots and insights into their relationship. This is such a fantastic idea and really works to capture two people’s lives together in a totally original way.
How does one talk about love? Is it even possible to describe something at once utterly mundane and wholly transcendent, that has the power to consume our lives completely, while making us feel part of something infinitely larger than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this age-old problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary constructs the story of a relationship as a dictionary. Through these sharp entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of coupledom, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
5. Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
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Okay this book is so complex that I’m going to have to rely on the Amazon synopsis as it is more succinct that I could be. What I will say, however, is that I have read this book (insofar as I have read chapters 1 to 56, I have not yet read it in all of its other incarnations and calibrations) and can highly recommend this beautiful maze.
This book is divided into 155 chapters, and Cortazar includes in the beginning a complex set of instructions detailing two approaches to reading the novel. The first is to read chapters 1–56 straight through, and then ignore the final 99 chapters as “expendable.” The second is to “hopscotch” through the book by jumping from chapter to chapter in what might seem random ways. Even more confusingly, the 99 “expendable” chapters are not expendable at all, but fill in crucial gaps in the timeline and details. It’s safe to say you will never read another book structured like this.
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