Strange & Speculative: Sara Faring Shares Her Favorite Mind-bending Reads

Strange & Speculative: Sara Faring Shares Her Favorite Mind-bending Reads

Last year, Bookish announced the publication of Sara Faring’s debut novel The Tenth Girl, which transports readers to a South American boarding school shrouded in mystery. We’ve been counting down the days until the book hits shelves, and to celebrate its publication tomorrow Faring stopped by Bookish to share five books that she couldn’t stop thinking about after turning the final page.

My favorite books help me view life with a fresh astonishment. In them, our world is a bit off, a bit different, but still recognizable. These books surprise me and make me re-examine the human experience with mind-bending hooks and effortlessly lyrical prose (which wouldn’t be out of place in a Mary Oliver poem). Read on if you like books that will leave you with goosebumps of awe for the world we live in. 

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

From the first chapter of this book, I could feel its strange brand of special in my bones. The Grief Keeper is a depiction of sisterly love that will melt you and strengthen you in a single paragraph. It contains a fascinating speculative premise (what if human beings could physically take on another’s grief?) and a timely, thoughtful discussion of immigration politics. I adored it.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a gorgeous modern classic. Leigh believes her mother turned into a bird after dying by suicide, and this belief takes her to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. Emily X.R. Pan vividly conveys the idea that grief is a lifelong portrait-in-progress with many layers and an ever-changing face. This book took me on an emotional journey I will never forget.

Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

A girl dreams herself into a classmate’s room, and a singular relationship develops. As soon as I finished this psychologically insightful, surreal gem of a book, I drafted an intense note of thanks to the author, excerpted here: “I can only wish in some other dimension, my teen self reads a book like this one, a book that makes me feel so very seen and understood, so I do not have to wander the sweaty, uncomfortable swamp of adolescent life unable to meaningfully connect with others and unable to forgive myself for that.”

To quote Maggie Stiefvater, “This is a novel for lizard-hearted girls looking for other lizard-hearted girls in fiction.”

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

I savored every page of Marisha Pessl’s layered work and only wish I could discover it again for the first time. Five friends are trapped in time, forced to repeat the same day until they decide who deserves to live most. It might sound bleak, but the result is luminous and darkly funny. A good book to burrow into this fall, when the air is crisp and a small piece of you dreams of being a boarding school graduate solving a cosmic mystery (Oh? That’s just me?).

A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Nova Ren Suma is my national treasure for her poignant poeticism and the beautifully hazy-yet-razor-sharp nature of her books. A Room Away from the Wolves, set at a mysterious girls’ boarding house in my current hometown of New York City, felt gloriously surreal and so, so intimate at the same time. This is the kind of book that changes you each time you read it because you’re drawn to different nooks inside of it, only to realize those nooks are unexplored corners of… yourself. And isn’t that what the best mind-bending fiction is all about?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book launched me into a yearlong expedition reading all of Kazuo Ishiguro’s shape-shifting work. It’s the most compulsively readable masterpiece that I return to every couple of years: It called into question everything I knew about the human soul (which, admittedly, wasn’t much—it’s the human soul, after all). Is the desire to make art what makes us human? 

Born in Los Angeles, Sara Faring is a multi-lingual Argentine-American fascinated by literary puzzles. After working in investment banking at J.P. Morgan, she worked at Penguin Random House. She holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania in International Studies and from the Wharton School in Business. She currently resides in New York City. The Tenth Girl is her first novel.


  1. My daughter has been patiently waiting for The Tenth Girl, she will be getting it for Christmas! She’s reading a fantastic Gothic thriller called A Darker Shade by Laura Curtis, she loves it! I love when she get’s excited about a good book!!

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