Narrative Nonfiction that Reads Like a Novel
True stories that keep you turning the pages
Every November, the Postal Book Clubs begin forming inside the MMD Book Club (I talk about this at length here). A couple of years ago, one of the groups forming that sounded like it might be interesting was a “narrative nonfiction” group. I didn’t know much about narrative nonfiction, and once I found out that it was nonfiction written more like a novel instead of a dry reading nonfiction book, I was all in for it. I chose my book and read six really great books during the year.
I’ve read several definitions of what narrative nonfiction is, and they all are pretty much the same:
Narrative nonfiction, also known as creative nonfiction or literary nonfiction, is a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. It will include well developed characters, engaging dialogue, and identifiable theme. The facts must be true and verifiable, but it does not need to be objective. It’s the writer’s account of the story and most often written in first person, sometimes the writer is even a part of the story.
Knowing the definition helps to identify a narrative nonfiction book from a “regular” nonfiction one. Narrative nonfiction is not just for adults; plenty of authors write books for children, middle-grade, and young adult readers too.
I could write a book about all the narrative nonfiction books I researched for this newsletter, but I will spare you as I know your time is limited. Below are a couple of books from each kid’s age group and four adult narrative nonfiction books that I’ve read and really enjoyed. I’ll also put some links at the end to book lists with many more narrative nonfiction books to choose from for readers of all ages.
Adult narrative nonfiction books
Seabiscuit. Who knew I wanted to learn more about a racehorse? I don’t watch horse racing, and I know very little about it; why would I want to read a book about a less than desirable quality racehorse and the three people instrumental in making him a champion? Laura Hillenbrand is the reason why. She masterfully weaves the story of the horse and the owner, trainer, and jockey into a book that reads like a novel and one that you will never forget. She is one of the authors that I will come back to every new book she writes.
The Women With Silver Wings. This narrative nonfiction book tells the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who wanted to serve their country during WWII. These women were not allowed to serve in combat as pilots. Still, they were allowed to train male pilots and move supplies and military assets across the county where needed. This book is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve read about the WASP, and there are several fiction books also.
The Castle on Sunset. My love of historic buildings is no secret; I wrote about it here. And I love all things Hollywood, especially the golden age beginning in the ’20s. This book combines Hollywood and the golden age era to tell the tales of the hotel, its guests, the surrounding Sunset Strip area, and the scandals and behind-the-scenes information not widely known. I enjoyed this book, but you might not if you don’t like this era or location as the book is heavy on both.
Dannemora: Two Escaped Killers. This book is about the well-publicized escape from an upstate New York prison in 2015. The author has a background as a corrections professional and details how the violent criminals were able to escape, the people who helped in their endeavor, and the heroic law enforcement professionals and citizens that brought this to a close. The author goes deep into the timeline and deep into the lives of the people who lived this. I remember my fascination with this, and I followed the news daily. I read this book as soon as it was published and really enjoyed it.
Young Adult narrative nonfiction books
Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaptation): An Olympians Journey From Airman to Castaway to Captive. The adult version of this book is one of the best books I have ever read. Laura Hillenbrand is a master at writing narrative nonfiction, and this one does not disappoint.
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia. If you have a teen interested in history, this is an excellent book about the Romanovs.
Middle-grade narrative nonfiction books
Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile. What an inspiring story. A woman saw a need and created a solution for that need. The book contains a lot of old photographs and memorabilia from that time period.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. I love sea otters so when I saw this book I had to read it. It’s a quick read, enjoyable and informative from beginning to end. The photography throughout the book captures the essence of the book completely.
Children’s narrative nonfiction books
Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation. The true story of a father and his determination to ensure his children had the same opportunities at school like other children in the same neighborhood. The illustrations are so good.
Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation. This book is the story of the flag's history that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner.
Narrative nonfiction book links for all age groups
There are so many narrative nonfiction books available that it was hard to narrow the choices down to these few. I tried to highlight several that don’t get much publicity on other narrative nonfiction book lists. Just because it doesn’t show up on a list somewhere doesn’t mean it’s not a great book.
I hope this list has given you more books to add to your already overflowing TBR. I have several on my TBR. I’d love to hear about any narrative nonfiction books you have read that you’ve enjoyed. Tell me about it in the comments. Happy reading!