I’m a Librarian, and These Are the 20 Best Drama Books I’ve Ever Read
From romantic dramas and family sagas to dramatic thrillers and historical epics, these are the librarian-recommended drama books you won't be able to put down
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Must-read drama books
As a librarian who both loves gossip and has anxiety, the best place for me to get my drama fix is within the pages of drama books. Luckily, there’s a near-endless supply of incredible works of fiction to reach for on our library’s shelves. Drama exists across book genres—you’ll find dramatic tension in fantasy, romance, mystery, thrillers, historical fiction and more. And it generally doesn’t matter if it’s a family saga, dramatic thriller or historical epic, I’ve read it. I’ve been a librarian for almost a decade now, and every job I’ve ever had involved books in one way or another. So if you’re looking for some book recommendations from someone with a true love of reading (I read more than 700 books last year), I’ve got you covered. Which are the best drama books I’ve ever read? Let’s get into it.
What are drama books?
The term “drama books” covers a wide range of topics in fiction: Family, legal, historical, crime, romantic and even horror dramas exist. (In nonfiction, “drama” might be used to refer to books on theater, so we’re focusing on fiction here!) One easy comparison is to consider awards shows, like the Emmys. Television series are split into comedy and drama categories. Lines between the two can be blurred—there are funny dramas and dramatic comedies, after all. But if you’re looking for mostly non-comedic fiction, you’ll find a lot of the best books in the drama category here. These are the top 20 drama books I’ve ever read.
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1. Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
Release date: March 20, 2018
With so many books published every year, it’s rare that I get to meander through a favorite author’s back catalog—reading one book by them and immediately needing everything else they’ve ever published. But that’s what I’ve been doing with Kennedy Ryan’s backlist, and I’m so in love with this one: the first installment of the Hoops trilogy book series. Set in the world of professional basketball, Long Shot follows Iris as she lives through an abusive relationship with a pro basketball player and later finds new love with another hooper named August.
2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Release date: May 12, 2015
Celeste Ng’s remarkable debut is one of the most beautifully written pieces of art I’ve come across, and definitely one that left me with a book hangover. The Lees were a Chinese American family in small-town Ohio in the 1970s, and Lydia was the favorite child, destined for the dreams her parents left behind. But after Lydia’s body is found in a lake, the family falls to pieces. Everything I Never Told You is a portrait of a family with the ground taken out from under them, and I ate up every minute of it.
3. Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong
Release date: Jan. 10, 2023
Stalking is the name of the game in Liar, Dreamer, Thief, as Katrina’s obsession with her co-worker Kurt certainly crosses the line. So when she finds a message from him that implies he knows she’s been watching him, and later witnesses his suicide, she’s desperate to uncover answers. Instead, she learns that he was watching her just as closely the whole time. One of those page-turning drama books I’d love to see as a TV show (just look how well You has done!), this one made my heart beat pretty fast. It’s one of the best books of the year.
4. We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz
Release date: July 05, 2022
Emily is struggling to readjust to normalcy after her trip to Chile with her best friend Kristen. It could be the typical return-to-reality headaches—or it could be the dead body of a backpacker that Kristen killed in self-defense that’s causing her anxiety. The drama in this one feels reminiscent of the “please, I have to know” propulsion that my sister had while watching Pretty Little Liars (and that I occasionally had after catching half an episode and frantically googling spoilers because I couldn’t handle the stress). So if that’s the high drama you’re looking for, add Bartz’s We Were Never Here to your TBR list immediately.
5. The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Release date: May 3, 2022
The Hacienda quickly became one of my favorite books of all time when I read it last year (and Isabel Cañas one of my favorite authors). With its Jane Eyre-meets-Crimson Peak atmosphere, it’s not hard to see why it ranks highly in drama content. In the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, and the execution of her father, Beatriz marries in hopes of procuring safety for herself. She soon realizes the estate that was supposed to be her refuge has dangerous secrets, and the only one who believes her is a young priest.
6. Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink
Release date: Jan. 12, 2021
For some, the thought of teen books brings to mind immature high-school dramas and messy, young-love relationships. And while I devour all that and think it’s wonderful and fun, I also love a lot of the amazing historical dramas that YA has to offer. And Angel of Greenwood by Randi Pink is an absolutely exquisite look at a piece of history so many aren’t taught. It’s the 1920s, and Isaiah and Angel live in Greenwood, a district in Tulsa, but they don’t really cross paths until they’re both offered a job on their English teacher’s mobile library bike. Life changes quickly for both of them, and for their whole community, when in May of 1921, a white mob storms in and destroys the town.
7. Babel by R.F. Kuang
Release date: Aug. 23, 2022
I could have put any R.F. Kuang book here and felt content about it, as they’re all incredible and extremely different from each other, but if I was forced to choose a singular genre to read for the rest of my life, it would be historical fantasy books, so that’s why Babel wins today. Robin Swift is an orphan in 19th-century London. He is brought to train at Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation at Oxford, where students study not only translation, but also magic. When Robin realizes that Babel helps the British Empire’s expansion, he comes into contact with an anti-imperial organization called the Hermes Society.
8. Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
Release date: Jan. 29, 2019
Family dramas don’t have to exist only in realistic fiction, and this science fiction novel proves that. Here and Now and Then is a perfect blend of time travel and human emotion that I was in love with from the first chapter—I even selected it for our library book club. Kin lives a normal life with his wife and daughter in San Francisco, and despite the fact that he was a time traveler from 2142 who got stranded, he’s content. But when his rescue team shows up, and he is returned to his own time, he will do whatever it takes to get back to the daughter he’s left behind.
9. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Release date: April 12, 2022
This historical drama absolutely knocked me out emotionally for about a week (and still does when I reflect on it). Inspired by history, Take My Hand follows Civil, a young Black nurse working at a family planning clinic in 1973. She is assigned to two new patients, an 11-year-old and 13-year-old who are sisters and who will change Civil’s life. Once you read this one, make sure to check out more books by Black authors.
10. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Release date: April 2, 2013
When I started as a bookseller (my very first job at 18 years old), I wasn’t well-versed in adult fiction at all. But I would sometimes wander over to the fiction wall and pick up something that sounded interesting. Life After Life was one of those books, and one that has stuck with me the longest. (It’s also been adapted by the BBC, and I would very much love for it to become available stateside!) Ursula Todd is born in 1910, and then she dies. Ursula Todd is born in 1910, and takes a breath, then dies. As she grows, she dies repeatedly and in varying ways. Her seemingly infinate lives continue as a world war looms.
11. House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson
Release date: Sept. 27, 2022
This gothic horror drama follows Marion Shaw as she decides to apply to a listing in the newspaper for a bloodmaid at the House of Hunger. There, she becomes a favorite of the Countess, and becomes all too aware of the fact that her fellow bloodmaids are going missing. Although I am a wimp for most horror, gothic horror is my sweet spot, and the atmosphere in House of Hunger is out of this world.
12. The Daughters of Madurai by Rajasree Variyar
Release date: Feb. 28, 2023
There’s something about multigenerational stories that is just so compelling to me. It doesn’t matter how many I read, I will always want to pick up more. The Daughters of Madurai is a heartrending book that begins in 1992 in the south Indian city of Madurai, where Janani is a young mother whose worth to others is dictated by her ability to produce a son. So while she’s able to keep her first daughter, the other daughters are taken and murdered as soon as they are born. In present-day Sydney, Australia, Nila is about to join her parents as they journey to Madurai, where her grandfather has fallen ill.
13. There There by Tommy Orange
Release date: June 5, 2018
This Pulitzer-Prize finalist is another modern classic, following a dozen characters from Native communities traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Tommy Orange uses characters in such an impactful way, and this book has lingered in my mind since the very first page. There There comes together like puzzle pieces, a true ensemble story that I absolutely devoured.
14. One Blood by Denene Millner
Release date: Sept. 5, 2023
Denene Millner’s eponymous imprint was responsible for publishing the masterful Wings of Ebony duology, so I was already excited to read this even before learning what it was about—and as I mentioned earlier, multigenerational stories are an immediate yes for me! Following three women through a century in the United States, One Blood starts with Grace as she is sent North from Virginia to live with her aunt after she loses her Maw Maw. Lolo is doing her best to hold everything together, including giving up her dreams and lying to get to a place of stability. And Lolo’s daughter, Rae, is expecting a baby, not long after learning she was adopted.
15. Our Best Intentions by Vibhuti Jain
Release date: March 14, 2023
This year has had no shortage of incredible new books, and when I learned about Our Best Intentions, I was immediately intrigued. A stabbing incident at the local high school throws an entire community into chaos, including introverted teen Angie, who found the body, and her father Bobby, an Indian immigrant who owns a moving business. This father-daughter duo re-examines their own relationship and their place in the community.
16. The Great Reclamation by Rachel Heng
Release date: March 28, 2023
Coming of age drama books in adult fiction are not always ones I gravitate toward, but this historical novel is one that I savored every page of. Ah Boon lives in 20th-century Singapore. He’s a gentle boy with a gift for finding bountiful islands. When the Japanese army invades in Ah Boon’s teenage years, his village is threatened, and he and childhood friend Siok Mei have to learn how to reinvent themselves in the midst of great upheaval.
17. Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
Release date: Nov. 8, 2022
Historical dramas can exist at any length (great news for those of you looking to read more books), and this magnificent 1940s novella proves that. I feel like I’m constantly putting this one on lists because it just hits so many of my interests—short reads, historical fantasy, queer love story, vampires—and does it so well! In Even Though I Knew the End, Helen traded her soul to save her brother’s life, so when she’s offered the chance at a future with the woman she loves in exchange for tracking down the White City Vampire, she takes the job.
18. More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez
Release date: June 7, 2022
As someone who is a firm believer in not judging a book by its cover, I will fully admit that I picked up More Than You’ll Ever Know because of the cover. What followed was a wild ride, where true-crime writer Cassie is delving into the story of Lore Rivera. Back in 1986, Lore’s husband shot a man … a man who was also her husband. Her double life, and the murder that followed, has fascinated the world. But Cassie wants to know the truth of what really happened.
19. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Release date: June 7, 2016
Historical drama and family drama align in this modern classic, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and considered one of the best books of all time. Homegoing chronicles a family’s diverging journeys through generations and continents. Half-sisters living in 18th-century Ghana, Effia and Esi’s paths split. Effia’s marriage to an Englishman moves her life to the Cape Coast Castle, while Esi is sold into the slave trade and brought to America. What follows is a journey through the lives of Effia’s descendants in Ghana and Esi’s descendants in America, leading all the way to the present day.
20. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Release date: June 4, 2019
If you’re looking for drama-filled LGBTQ books, you can’t go wrong with author Abdi Nazemian. Like a Love Story is a historical drama that upon initial reading, I really enjoyed. Then, in the weeks after reading it, my love for it grew even more intense. It’s set in 1989 New York City amid the AIDS crisis. Reza is a closeted gay Iranian boy who has just moved to the city, and he’s just started dating Judy. Judy’s best friend Art is an out and proud photographer documenting the AIDS crisis through his photos. As Reza and Art begin to grow closer, everything grows even more complicated for the trio.