Normal People is a messy, pull-at-your-heart-strings depiction of first love. In other words: It’s incredibly realistic. This is part of what has made it such a popular fan favorite and why you must be looking for more books like Normal People to read next.
These 17 recommendations all hit on the themes Sally Rooney explores in her second novel and feature characters who are similar to Marianne or Connell. Throughout these character-driven recommendations, themes of desire and sexuality, alienation and connection are explored through a literary lens.
About Normal People
Normal People is the coming-of-age story of Connell and Marianne. It explores the intensity of first love, and the complicated nature of growing up and finding your identity. The novel follows them from secondary school and into university as they orbit one another.
At the beginning of the novel Connell is the popular student while Marianne is a social outcast at their school. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s family home, but while Marianne’s family is better-off financially than Connell’s, there is much more than meets the eye.
When the two begin exploring their attraction for one another it is done in secret in the shadows. From the very beginning of their relationship this complicates matters greatly, muddying the waters of first love.
But then the two move away from their small hometown and there is a massive shift in their dynamic. At Trinity College Dublin suddenly it is Marianne moving in the popular social circles. Meanwhile, Connell is struggling to find his place in this new world.
The pair continue to orbit one another as each explores new avenues or other relationships. But they find themselves inextricably linked and coming back to one another.
This was Sally Rooney’s second novel and with it she manages to balance commercial success with literary recognition. Normal People has sold a million copies, and was also long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. There is also a popular TV adaptation starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.
Books Like Normal People
But now let’s dive into the books that share similar themes to Normal People by Sally Rooney. These recommendations share the messy depiction of first love, and sometimes of first heartbreak.
The below 17 books aren’t afraid to explore the more difficult moments of growing up, growing together, or growing apart. So, get your tissues ready as these books are emotional, beautiful reads, just like Normal People.
1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The first book on our list of books like Normal People doesn’t get the top spot just because the screen adaptation also stars Daisy Edgar-Jones, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens explores similar themes to Normal People. For example, the question of belonging, the pull of desire, and the bewildering experience of growing up and finding your place. In addition to these themes there is also a hint of mystery in this Owens novel.
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So, in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.
Drawn to two young men from town, who each find her wild beauty intriguing, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world — until the unthinkable happens.
2. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
This is another profound coming-of-age story which takes place in an immersive setting, but this time in Italy. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman is the story of a sudden and powerful romance. It blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest of his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera.
Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them.
What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of sarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: Total intimacy.
Just like Normal People this book explores the psychological maneuvers that are inextricably linked with attraction and intimacy, and not just the happily-ever-after often presented in books.
3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
If you’re someone who adored Normal People, then it is likely that you enjoy a bit of angst and the emotional pull of a bittersweet romance story. If that’s the case, then you should absolutely read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This Greek myth retelling is the ultimate bittersweet love story.
It tells the story of Achilles and Patroclus. Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” is son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus. He is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence.
Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name.
Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
4. Out of Love by Hazel Hayes
The somber tone continues with this next recommendation for books like Normal People. This book flips the anticipated narrative of a love story on its head. Rather than be told from meet cute onwards, Out of Love by Hazel Hayes tells a love story in reverse.
The novel begins with the couple breaking up. Then, during the proceeding chapters, we watch their relationship meander all the way back to the beginning with their magical first kiss.
As a young woman boxes up her ex-boyfriend’s belongings and prepares to see him one last time, she wonders where it all went wrong, and whether it was ever right to begin with. Burdened with a broken heart, she asks herself the age-old question: Is love really worth it?
This is Hayes’s debut, and in it she crafts something unique. It is a tender but unapologetic exploration of love told in reverse, weaving together an already unravelled tapestry. It is truthful and tragic, yet ultimately full of hope.
5. One Day by David Nicholls
The fifth book on our list tells the story of two people on the same day for twenty years. One Day by David Nicholls is a modern classic for character-driven contemporary romance.
It begins in 1988 as Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day — July 15th — of each year.
Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.
Just like Normal People this is an enticing will-they-won’t-they love story that has an addicting quality to it. One Day will have you staying up long into the night to see how this story ends.
6. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This next recommendation for books like Normal People has a hint of magical realism. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle leans more into the romance genre, but does pose philosophical questions about destiny, free will, and choices. It also asks the question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.
But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment. There is a different ring on her finger, and she is beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night — December 15 — but 2025, five years in the future.
After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions.
That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her life-long best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.
That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.
7. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This book isn’t a coming-of-age story like Normal People, but it does reflect on that period of time in the protagonist’s life with the hindsight of age and maturity. Just like Normal People it will be an addictive read to find out more about the main character’s life.
That’s because aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love.
Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star. But as Evelyn’s story nears its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Just like Normal People this is a heartbreaking, but beautiful read about facing the truth.
8. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
The next recommendation for books like Normal People comes from another Irish author, but Exciting Times is Naoise Dolan’s debut. It is an intimate look at love and desire as the main character becomes entangled in a love triangle with a male banker and a female lawyer.
Ava moved to Hong Kong to find happiness, but so far, it isn’t working out. Since she left Dublin, she’s been spending her days teaching English to rich children. She’s been assigned the grammar classes because she lacks warmth. Then her nights are spent avoiding petulant roommates in her cramped apartment.
When Ava befriends Julian, a witty British banker, he offers a shortcut into a lavish life her meager salary could never allow. Ignoring her feminist leanings and her better instincts, Ava finds herself moving into Julian’s apartment. She lets him buy her clothes, and, eventually, strikes up a sexual relationship with him. When Julian’s job takes him back to London, she stays put, unsure where their relationship stands.
Enter Edith. A Hong Kong–born lawyer, striking and ambitious, Edith takes Ava to the theater and leaves her tulips in the hallway. Ava wants to be her — and wants her.
Ava has been carefully pretending that Julian is nothing more than an absentee roommate. So, when Julian announces that he’s returning to Hong Kong, she faces a fork in the road. Should she return to the easy compatibility of her life with Julian or take a leap into the unknown with Edith?
9. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
This title is slightly different from the other books like Normal People on our list, because it is a psychological thriller. However, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is a poignant observation on relationships, secrets, and obsession.
Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.
Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander. It is a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.
Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations. A search for the truth that threatens to consume him…
10. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
This next book is another slower-paced, character-focused read. Just like Normal People and other books on this list, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh explores the effects and consequences of alienation.
It is a novel about a young woman’s efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation. To do so she leans on the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.
Because our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, and a recent Columbia graduate. She works an easy job at a hip art gallery, and lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance.
But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?
11. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Not only about discovering oneself like Normal People, The Idiot by Elif Batuman is also a novel about inventing oneself. Through this exploration the author also weaves in one’s connections to others as part of that discovery and invention. Also, just like Connell, the main character in this story comes to grips with their desire to become a writer.
The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of and befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana.
Almost by accident, she also begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.
At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer. Meanwhile, Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana.
Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself. A coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.
12. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
It would be remiss not to include a Hoover novel on a list of bittersweet books about complicated relationships, as that is the niche Hoover plays so well within. Similar to Normal People, this book is a story about the perseverance and permanent impression of first love. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is the story of Lily, Ryle, and Atlas.
Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up. She graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business.
So, when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.
Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head.
But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.
As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan — her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.
13. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
The next recommendation for books like Normal People also explores the permanent impression of first love and its complicated nature tying it to identity.
Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead is the story of Joan. She is a ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the world-famous dancer Arslan Ruskov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet Union to the United States.
While Arslan’s career takes off in New York, Joan’s slowly declines. Then it ends when she becomes pregnant and decides to marry her long-time admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass, Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself.
But when Harry’s success brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and present.
14. Ordinary People by Diana Evans
In addition to sharing a title similar to Normal People, Ordinary People is also a character-study novel. It explores themes of identity, sex, grief, friendship, and the fragile architecture of love. It is a story about the lives of our main characters and the moments that threaten to unravel them, which many readers will relate to.
Ordinary People by Diana Evans takes place in South London in 2008. In the background, Barack Obama’s historic election victory is taking place in the US. But at the forefront two couples find themselves at a moment of reckoning, on the brink of acceptance or revolution.
Melissa has a new baby and doesn’t want to let it change her. But, in the crooked walls of a narrow Victorian terrace, she begins to disappear. Michael, growing daily more accustomed to his commute, still loves Melissa but can’t quite get close enough to her to stay faithful.
Meanwhile out in the suburbs, Stephanie is happy with Damian and their three children. But the death of Damian’s father has thrown him into crisis — or is it something, or someone, else?
Are they all just in the wrong place? Are any of them prepared to take the leap?
15. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Just like Normal People, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi is a captivating story about adolescence. But it is also about the external pressure and influence of those around our two main characters.
In the case of this book that influence doesn’t just come from peers and class disparity like with Marianne and Connell. That influence also comes from the adults surrounding our characters. This book will also incite questions about friendships and loyalties.
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a bubble. They ambitiously pursue music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes.
When within this striving “Brotherhood of the Arts,” two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed — or untoyed with — by anyone, especially not by their charismatic acting teacher, Mr. Kingsley.
The outside world of family life, economic status, academic pressure, and their future fails to penetrate this school’s walls. Until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that sends the action forward in time and flips the premise upside-down.
What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true. But it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place — revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.
16. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien
As we near the end of our list of books like Normal People, this book is for those who would like a deeper understanding of the influence that precedes Sally Rooney. That’s because The Country Girls, by fellow Irish author Edna O’Brien, was published in the mid-twentieth century. Just like Rooney, O’Brien pulls inspiration from classic nineteenth century literature.
This book follows Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship.
Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, their lives take unexpected turns. As a result, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.
17. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Finally, our last recommendation for books like Normal People is for those readers who fell in love with the book for Sally Rooney’s addictive writing. If you haven’t read Rooney’s debut, Conversations with Friends, then you should absolutely mark it on your TBR.
Conversations with Friends also has slow-burn character exploration. Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind. And to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms.
Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin. It is there that a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband.
Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil. And Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh.
But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect. As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control. With Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi.
Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: A painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.
Final thoughts on books like Normal People
In conclusion, here are the 17 books like Normal People that you should absolutely read next if you enjoyed Sally Rooney’s second novel.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018)
- Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (2007)
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)
- Out of Love by Hazel Hayes (2020)
- One Day by David Nicholls (2009)
- In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (2020)
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)
- Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (2020)
- The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (2019)
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (2018)
- The Idiot by Elif Batuman (2017)
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (2016)
- Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (2014)
- Ordinary People by Diana Evans (2018)
- Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (2019)
- The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien (1960)
- Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017)
These books, just like Normal People, all explore themes of love through an analytical and literary lens. Throughout these recommendations there are also themes of desire, sexuality, and obsession. As well as themes of identity, alienation, and connection in these character-driven books.
You may have fallen in love with Normal People for its literary prowess, the connection between Marianne and Connell, Rooney’s snappy, sharp prose, or all of the above. Regardless, there will absolutely be a book on this list that will be your perfect next read.