Bookish List · Uncategorized

13 Books With Unexpected Story Structures

Hello everyone, it’s Sabrina here!  Something I’ve discovered in 2021 is that I love a book with a unique, interesting or unexpected structure to it.  To me, this encompasses the chosen breadth of a story, the separation of a book into distinct parts, the perspectives shown and other elements similar to that in a story.  I might not be using the correct terminology there, but hopefully you will understand what I mean when I get into this list.  A lot of these books are now favourites of mine, so it’s clear that these things have a big impact on my enjoyment of a story!

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The first few of chapters of this book really threw me for a loop because it was unlike anything I’d ever read before and it was, though captivating, really confusing.  There was barely any context to go off of, the reader is simply thrust into the bizarre life of the (wonderful) main character – he lives in a house with statues and tides.  I wondered for a while if maybe I was out of my depth with this book.  Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to get a grip on things and the mysteries of the story became so compelling that I struggled to put the book down – I just had to know both what had happened and what was going to happen.  So, it was unexpected in that way, but the book is also structured using the main character’s diary entries (which, might I add, had strangely long titles).  Because of this, the reader only finds things out once they’ve already happened and this adds an interesting layer of tension.

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
YA, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Unlike with Piranesi, I thought from the first few chapters of this Mulan retelling that I knew where the book was going to go – but how wrong I was!  I figured that the story would have been stretched into at least a trilogy, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is only a duology – and the second book is definitely not going to be what I was expecting from the beginning of Spin the Dawn.  It amazes me even now thinking about just how much plot was packed into this fast-paced story – it was such a welcome change from the norm, and it didn’t sacrifice its character development either. I can’t wait to read the sequel!

The Yield by Tara June Winch
Adult, Contemporary

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This beautifully written story has a strong focus on language, exemplified by approximately half the chapters which are part Wiradjuri dictionary, part memoir from a fictional Indigenous character.  It was both fascinating and sad to read these sections, knowing they are based off of the real, and quite recent, history of Australia.  According to the author’s note in the back of the book, “in the last two hundred years, Australia has suffered the largest and most rapid loss of languages known to history”.  Additional to these dictionary/memoir chapters are historical letters (based on the writings of real people) and regular chapters in which the main character, August, has her part of the story told.  The integral connections formed between each of the three kinds of chapters is so well done and they definitely make this book unique.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo
YA, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

For most books on this list, their unexpected structures worked in their favour for my preferences, but in the case of this book, it worked against it.  The book is split into two parts, and while the first is from one character’s perspective, the second switches things up and includes police interview transcripts as well as chapters about the main character that are no longer from her point of view.  It was such a discordant shift that it threw me out of the story and because the book it short as it is, I didn’t have enough time to readjust to the new style.  Still, it was unique!

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
YA-Adult, Sci-Fi, Space

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The basic premise of this book is that a new planet like Earth has been discovered and a small bunch of young people have been selected to make the journey there and get it ready for humanity.  But the book encompasses so much more than that – there is actually a lot included about the preparation the young people go through before the trip (they’ve been training and competing their whole lives to be able to do this) and detailed descriptions of their days leading up to it, which I thought was so unique.  It’s also very character focused during the space travel, which was unexpected but certainly appreciated. So while yes, this is obviously a book about a journey through space, there is a lot more to it than that.

The Mermaid, The Witch, And The Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
YA, Fantasy, Pirates

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I feel like I have talked a lot about this book recently, but it’s worth discussing again.  This book was unique to me in a few ways, including the structure and flow of storyline.  If I’m remembering correctly, the book is split into three parts – at the very least, there are three distinct parts to the story – and each serve an interesting purpose.  My favourite was the first part but the last part was a close second.  Without spoiling anything, I loved both the main characters’ separate but connected journeys – another aspect that contributed to the unusual structure.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
Adult, Contemporary, Literary

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m sure most of you know a lot about this book already, but I’m including it in this list nonetheless.  The main unique story structure found in this book is that it includes perspectives from many different women and a non-binary character, one section at a time, which allowed for an incredibly diverse array of experiences to be depicted.  If I recall correctly, some were from different time periods as well, (though they might have just been reflections on the past).  Because I read this via audiobook, I didn’t realise until later that there was also a second unique structure to this book – it is apparently written as a mix of prose and poetry!

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
Middle Grade-YA, Fantasy, Contemporary

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Of course this is a (visually stunning) graphic novel so it inherently has a different structure to the typical novel that I read. But this one is extra special even amongst graphic novels because it includes fairytales and varied interpretations of them (some extremely dark) interspersed amongst the main character’s story.  It’s done in a way that makes perfect sense for the flow and themes of the book.  The different colouring for each section of the story was not only beautiful and creative but very cleverly done.  Overall, this is a wonderfully unique read!

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Adult, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book literally makes no sense for at least 95% of the time, so that is the main reason why I found it unexpected and unique.  The actual structure of the story is so scattered – there are often perspective shifts where you’re not really sure who’s point of view you’re seeing things from and the time frame of the perspectives seem to jump around as well.  It’s all very disorienting in the best sort of way and by the end, these structural choices make so much sense for the story (well, the actual end is also very confusing, but there is a point where I felt that I understood things, haha).  I can’t wait to read the next book in the series and see what that brings to the story.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
YA, Dystopia, Apocalyptic

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

To explain the unexpected structure of this book I have to first explain to you what it’s about.  The Marrow Thieves takes place in a dystopian version of our world where North America’s Indigenous people are tracked down to be forced donors of bone marrow.  While the story is very focused on one character, Frenchie, and his journey on the run with a group of other Indigenous people, the book also includes chapters featuring the “coming to” stories of the other members of the group, from their perspectives.  Additionally, it’s written in a reflective style – the reader often gets hints at what is to come next in the story, because Frenchie has already lived it, so to speak.  This interesting writing style and structure definitely made me appreciate the book more.

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan
Adult, Short Stories, Horror

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I didn’t know going into this book that this is no normal collection of dark short stories!  For starters, they are all organised into three separate parts based on the themes: The House, The Child and The Past.  Each part is quite unsettling.  On top of this, the collection is “written” by a fictional author who introduces many of the stories with a few paragraphs about their life and circumstances when writing and that often adds a bit of context – depending on how you interpret it all, of course.  Sure, I have read interconnected short story collections before, but nothing quite like this!

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Adult, Contemporary, Horror, Historical

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Described in the synopsis as “a story within a story within a story”, this at once enchanting and haunting tale involves the intertwined (fictional) stories of history, a book, a boarding school and a movie adaptation in the present – so you can already see how it is unique.  There are tonnes of different perspectives featured, all done in a beautiful, atmospheric writing style.  It was such a fascinating read, especially discovering all the connections, big and small, between each of the women and girls’ stories.  And it contains illustrations!  Bonus unexpectedness!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
YA, Historical, Horror, Retelling

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

There were two unique elements to the story in this book – first, it featured flashbacks sprinkled amongst the “current” storyline and second, it covered a lot of material that I wasn’t expecting.  Though the flashbacks were interesting and dramatically helped to establish the characters (which was absolutely necessary and clever because Victor was absent for much of the beginning of the book), I most adored the scope of the story.  I loved that it happened along the same timeline as Frankenstein, but is an almost totally original story – it truly is a retelling!

What do you think?

Do you like books with unique or unexpected structures? Do you have any recommendations? Have you enjoyed any of the books I’ve listed? Let me know!


19 thoughts on “13 Books With Unexpected Story Structures

  1. Ohh you completely sold a line in the dark to me! I LOVE those kind of unusual content in books; transcript, police interview, emails.. everything! Which the police report made me think about how similar « setting » it was to anxious people from frederik backman, which I loved.

    Things we say in the dark was already on my list; but it was interesting nonetheless. I knew about the split, but not that the author was fictional!

    Lastly, Elizabeth frankenstein and how you were speaking of a constant flow of flashback & « normal time » also made me think of I killed zoe spanos by kit frick and now im kinda interrested..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such an amazing post!! 💛 I love reading books with different story structures so in bookmarking this post for the future. I’m really intrigued by Plain Bad Heroines especially, and I already have Piranesi on my shelf so I’ll have to start it soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only read a couple of reviews from people I know for Piranesi (one of them being you). But it sounds so very unique and up my alley! Onto the TBR list it goes!
    Also, this was such a neat post idea 👍.

    Liked by 1 person

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