Books of Letters (and diary entries, emails, text messages, and more!)

There’s something about a book where the characters’ thoughts and actions are revealed at least in part through their personal correspondence and private journals. Many popular classics and works of contemporary fiction use this epistolary style. I love to read them because I feel like I’m discovering bits and pieces of the “real” story as I go along, putting it all together without the filter of an all-knowing or unreliable narrator. If, like me, you often wonder “What were they even thinking?” while you read, these books can give you a little bit of that insight, along with great plots and storytelling.


Lincoln can’t quite believe that he’s being paid to read other people’s email. Beth and Jennifer know that it’s company policy to monitor their work emails, but can’t quite believe that someone is actually doing it. When Lincoln reads Beth and Jennifer’s messages to each other, he knows what policy says he’s supposed to do, but it’s a bit complicated since their stories have started to draw him in.

Code Name Verity

Two best friends – an airplane pilot and her passenger, both spies – crash in Nazi-occupied France in October 1943. “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo and given a terrible choice: talk or die. Now, as Verity slowly writes her confession, she reveals everything that led her to this dangerous mission and the desperate decision that she hopes will save her from the enemy.

Dear Mr. Knightley

Samantha copes with years in the foster care system by adopting the personas of some of her favorite literary characters, protecting herself from pain by concealing her inner thoughts and dreams. Upon graduation from college, Sam receives an invitation from “Mr. Knightley,” an anonymous benefactor who offers her a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree with the provision that she write to him with updates on her progress. As Sam opens up at her new school and in her letters to her mysterious patron, she also discovers that she’s not the only one with secrets.

Letters from Skye

In 1912, David mails a fan letter from America to poet Elspeth Dunn, a twenty-four-year-old who lives on the distant Isle of Skye in Scotland, beginning a correspondence that will lead initially to friendship and ultimately to love. When World War I breaks out and David volunteers for service on the Western front, Elspeth waits for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive to join her there. Twenty-eight years later, as World War II erupts, Elspeth’s house is rattled by a bomb blast and her daughter Margaret discovers hidden letters that expose secrets of her family’s past and a clue to her mother’s current whereabouts.

Love Letters to the Dead

Inspired by a class assignment to write a letter to a dead person, Laurel ends up composing letter after letter to famous people that died too young, just like her sister, May. She tells them about her struggles at school and at home, and about how hard she finds it to forgive the sister that left her behind. Through her one-sided correspondence, Laurel explores the truth of what happened and learns to see May in a new light.

The Martian

Believing him to be killed by the dust storm that forced them to abandon their mission on Mars, Mark Watney’s crew has left him behind on the red planet. He wakes up abandoned and injured, his survival threatened by his harsh surroundings, scarce resources, and an inability to let anyone on Earth know that he is still alive. Relying on his robust knowledge of botany and incredible sense of humor, Mark is determined to overcome the odds and make it home no matter what obstacles are presented to him by space and time. Find the 2015 feature film here.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

A couple of days before his sixteenth birthday, Eva’s son Kevin commits a horrendous crime at his high school. Two years later, Eva is trying to understand the role she may have played in creating such a monster. In her attempt to explain the unexplainable, she revisits her complicated past, mercilessly probing her perceived failures as a wife and mother, and penning a series of brutally honest and disturbing letters to her estranged husband.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Bernadette doesn’t quite fit the mold of her Seattle neighbors, particularly the other moms at her daughter Bee’s private school. She’s very outspoken with her opinions, but she’s less open about her past and why she left it behind.  When Bernadette vanishes after a disastrous school function, Bee undertakes an investigation of her mom’s disappearance, piecing together clues from Bernadette’s emails and other correspondence.