From Nadia and Alan to Oatmeal and Horse, were we ever mesmerized by Netflix’s latest obsession-worthy series, Russian Doll. Twisty time loops and a lovable, irascible protagonist make for a jaw-dropping, nail-biting, knee-slapping television experience. While we can’t turn back time and watch the series with new eyes, we can find comfort in YA reads that challenge, confuse, and captivate. We guarantee you’ll lose yourself in them before you can even say, “Sweet birthday baby!”
Neverworld Wake, by Marisha Pessl
Through a series of strange events, five high school friends find themselves trapped in a splinter of time, forced to stay in limbo (in this case, a Rhode Island mansion) until they make an impossible choice: only one of them can make it out of this alive, and they must decide who that person will be. It’s a hell in stasis, and as the teens rack their brains for a way out, questions linger about the death of the sixth member of their former clique. There’s nothing predictable about how this dilemma unfolds.
They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera
Looking for another unique take on death? Consider a near future in which you get a phone call when your time is up. Both Rufus and Mateo have received notice that they have fewer than twenty-four hours to live, and after connecting on an app called Last Friend they spend their final day together. Over the course of that single momentous day, the two hash out their complicated feelings about their respective lives and build a true, if not lasting, bond. Prepare to cry.
100 Sideways Miles, by Andrew Smith
The king of weird YA, Smith has a knack for marrying bizarro fantasy with very real everyday struggles. He takes a more contemporary turn here, looking at the world through the eyes of Finn Easton. Finn’s coming of age story is one of deep childhood trauma and profound chance encounters; the difference between Finn and Russian Doll’s Nadia is the visibility of their scars. Finn wears his physically, in the form of the epilepsy and the pins left by the freak accident that killed his mother.
Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman
Exquisitely painful, Challenger Deep is a peek into the mind of Caden Bosch as he descends deeper into schizophrenia. For Caden, reality is split. There’s everyday life, where he exhibits increasing and deepening symptoms of mental illness. And there’s the hallucinatory life aboard his ship heading for Challenger Deep, the deepest known point on Earth. The story switches between these worlds, which makes for a jarring experience, as we dive deeper and deeper alongside Caden.
Long Way Down, by Jason Reynolds
Much like Russian Doll, this novel in verse uses its supernatural elements to speak to greater truths and the greater trauma of its characters. After seeing his brother gunned down, Will sets out with a gun and thirst for vengeance. Will’s story takes place in the span of sixty seconds, the time it takes to ride the elevator from his apartment to the street. But at every floor, a new ghost gets on the elevator, forcing Will to confront the actions he’s about to take.
Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King
King’s brand of dazzlingly dark magical realism is on display here with Glory O’Brien, on the verge of high school graduation and still grappling with her mother’s death by suicide years earlier. After drinking a strange substance, Glory is plagued by bleak visions of a terrifying future America. The visions tie together past and future in ways that will break your brain, and Glory’s subsequent reckoning with her own wounds (and her own future) raises profound and provocative questions.
The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X.R. Pan
In Russian Doll, Alan and Nadia must deal with their individual burdens (a harsh breakup and refusal to seek therapy; a traumatic childhood and a lost, mentally ill mother) while also sorting out the whole “dying repeatedly” thing. Pan’s debut has the same dramatic blend. Shipped off to meet her maternal grandparents in Taiwan following her mother’s death by suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders is on a quest to find a large red bird. This bird, she’s convinced, is the reincarnation of her mother. The rest is a compelling story of wrestling with grief and what comes next.
Noggin, by John Corey Whaley
Seemingly a direct heir to the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Noggin is a helluva ride. This oddball story should appeal to fans of Russian Doll’s humor, and as a protagonist, Travis Coates is hard not to love. After a fatal fight with cancer, Travis’s head was cryogenically frozen, and now it’s been transplanted onto an entirely new (to him) body. Five years have passed, but for Travis, it seems like mere moments. The resulting fish-out-of-water challenges are fascinating, relatable, and strange.
The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand, by Gregory Galloway
The plot here is straightforward; the emotions and gallows humor are not. Adam Strand has killed himself thirty-nine times. But no matter how he has tried to end things, he always comes back to life. Unlike the side characters who populate Russian Doll, however, Adam’s friends and family are well aware of the situation. That’s an important twist, and one that eventually provokes some introspection in Adam, who begins to contemplate the yawning effect his actions have on those around him.