When I’m looking for a mystery that’s a bit trickier to solve on my own, I always look for the ones with unreliable narrators. Most of the time, they’re at the center of the story and don’t know how the story ends, so it just adds another layer to the book. On a few occasions, it’s actually the victim telling the story from beyond the grave. But overall, unreliable narrators are just some of my favorite storytellers. It’s like listening to a friend’s story over dinner, but with a lot more intrigue. So, here are some of the more popular books with unreliable narrators. Spoiler alert: I might spill the beans on a few of these mysteries.
The Lying Game by Sara Shepard
In The Lying Game, the narrator is a ghost who is trying to figure out how she died. She follows her long-lost twin sister as she takes on her life to unravel the mystery of where her sister went, how she died, and who was behind it.
When I read this book in high school, I remember devouring all six in less than two weeks because I couldn’t put them down. Sutton, the dead sister, might have gotten annoying, but it was fun reading her commentary on her sister, Emma’s, actions.
In addition, the overarching mystery of the killer kept taking me on twists and turns. It made me doubt my guesses in every book, even my first guess, which ended up being correct. Sara Shepard’s other series, Pretty Little Liars, might be more popular, but The Lying Game was the better story.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
In case you didn’t know, that Leonardo DiCaprio movie from 2010 is based on a book. Though there are quite a few differences, the story in both is a bit similar. Regardless, I think the book is better, and the reason is that the narrator completes the story.
Shutter Island is narrated by Teddy (aside from the prologue), and he is so untrustworthy with this story. You can never tell if he’s telling the truth or lying to save his own behind. It keeps you tripping over the tale he’s letting us in on.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
While we get both sides of the story, we don’t realize how unreliable the narrators are until the middle of the book. The first part focuses on Amy’s diary entries from early in her relationship with Nick. Nick’s narration during part one also shows what he really thought of Amy.
The second part is where we’re introduced to all of their flaws and motives behind Amy’s disappearance. Both narrators are set in the present day, but Amy’s side is a little more interesting to me. Part three is when Amy reveals her whole plan and that she’s even more sociopathic than the reader could possibly imagine.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly broke my heart and twisted my mind. Mary might have been an unreliable narrator and witness, but what else can you expect from a nine-year-old who witnessed a tragedy? The entire time I read this book, I couldn’t help but try to figure out what she actually lived through since her mind pushed it away.
The book follows Mary as she navigates life in her group home after getting out of jail for allegedly killing a baby. That’s what the public believes, at least. When she gets pregnant, the state government tries to take her baby, and she has to uncover the secrets of the deceased baby’s death. And she must talk to her mother, who was also there and blamed Mary for the tragedy.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t love this book. In fact, I didn’t even finish it because I saw the twist at the end coming early on in the book. Despite that, I think if you want a mystery with a huge twist, unreliable narrator, and family secrets, We Were Liars is the book for you.
I’m also surprisingly looking forward to the companion novel following another generation in the Sinclair family. I just hope Family of Liars has a better twist that I don’t see coming. We Were Liars is like Gossip Girl meets the mystery genre.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Six years prior to the novel, all of Mary Katherine (Merricat) and Constance’s siblings and parents were poisoned at dinner one evening. Even their Uncle Julian, who plays a part in the novel, was poisoned, but he survived. And while it’s a mystery to the reader, Merricat and Constance know what went down that day.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle shows how isolation from other people can affect a person’s sanity. The ending of the novel also leaves the fate of the sisters open to interpretation a little bit. Did they really live happy lives together while hiding from the villagers? There was also a movie made based on the book in 2018 starring Alexandra Daddario and Sebastian Stan.
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
It’s no surprise that the narrator of One of Us is Lying is extremely unreliable. Especially when the title says that someone is lying but doesn’t say which “one” it is. There were also five people in the room where Simon died, but there are far more suspects than that.
The sequel, One of Us is Next, is also narrated by some unreliable characters. We also see some characters from the last book come back in, but you don’t need to read the first one to understand most of what’s going on in the book. A third is also on the way for a 2023 release.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I remember not knowing the 2016 movie was based on a book until after I had seen it. And looking back, I’m glad I was able to enjoy it without knowing what would happen in the end. Both the book and movie are amazingly done psychological thrillers.
There are three narrators, and each has their own personal problems. We don’t know what the real story is because we only get three sides to a story instead of the full truth. Rachel’s side involves memory blackouts which cause a little more intrigue to the story.
You by Caroline Kepnes
What else would you expect from a story told from the perspective of a serial killer and stalker? The You trilogy the show is based on is a little bit more intense than Netflix’s take. However, I think the books add a little bit of intrigue since we’re literally in Joe’s head.
The only thing I wish we’d gotten in the sequels to You was a book following Love’s narration instead of Joe’s. She always seemed like a more interesting character, both in the show and books, but I can live without it just because Joe’s craze is enough drama for me.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This is basically the college version of One of Us is Lying to me, and I love it. I still need to revisit it since it’s been years since I read it, but I remember loving the dark academia vibes and unreliable narrator. Not to mention, each of the six protagonists just caught my attention immediately.
The Secret History investigates the death of a college student, Bunny, and its effects on his friends. The book follows the timeline of how and why he died and makes each character a suspect. The group going their separate ways was just a heartbreaking touch to the story, too.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The original trilogy, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, was a hit when it first came out. And for good reason. Mara’s narration and story just pull you in. If I was in the same position as her – waking up in a hospital with no memory – I can’t imagine I’d go down a similar thought process as her.
The second trilogy, The Shaw Confessions, gives us another take on the story from Noah’s perspective. And to be honest, it doesn’t quite live up to the original series, but I loved it anyway. Noah’s story is almost as interesting as Mara’s, and it will keep you hooked until the last word.
The Amateurs by Sara Shepard
I couldn’t finish the series because I solved the main mystery during the first book, but I had to end this list with another Sara Shepard series. Despite my thoughts on the series, it has great reviews and an amazing mystery that was fun to solve.
The Amateurs follows five teens investigating the disappearance of Helena, the sister of one of the teens. We don’t know the full story, especially because the only other person who was there doesn’t want to share their side of the story.