The 20 Best Books Like The Bell Jar (Modern Classics)

In her 1963 semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath delivers an evocative and harrowing tale of mental illness, isolation, identity, and the societal expectations of women. 

The 20 Best Books Like The Bell Jar (Modern Classics)

Through her witty, self-deprecating style and a masterful grasp of the English language, Sylvia Plath weaves readers into a story focused on Esther Greenwood, yet exposing the enduring faults of human nature. The Bell Jar quickly pulls readers into its pages, humorously sharing the bleak truths that warrant its title as one of the best modern classic novels everyone should read.

If you finished Sylvia Plath’s only novel, you are probably looking for books similar to The Bell Jar. We’ve rounded up a list of modern classic books you’re sure to enjoy. Here are the 20 best books like The Bell Jar.

The 20 Best Books Like The Bell Jar

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Girl, Interrupted: A Memoir

Girl, Interrupted is a bestselling memoir by Susanna Kaysen with several parallels to The Bell Jar, including its depiction of mental illness and its treatment in the 1960s. The story follows Susanna Kaysen as a patient in McLean Psychiatric Hospital, where Sylvia Plath also spent time.

This funny, heartbreaking modern classic novel is available to purchase here.

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America

Another memoir for your TBR pile that chronicles its author’s mental illness treatment is Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Tackling cultural issues surrounding AIDS, divorce, and economic instability, this book quickly “became a cultural touchstone” (New Yorker).  

Published in 1994, it is one of the best modern classic books to read for anyone who enjoyed The Bell Jar. Buy it here.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way Down

In his critically acclaimed bestseller Turtles All the Way Down, John Green delivers a powerful story about friendship, love, and strength. It follows Aza Homes, a sixteen-year-old with compulsive behavior and mental illness who always has bacteria on her mind. As she navigates her mental illness, she’s pulled into an investigation by her best friend Daisy, hellbent on solving the disappearance of Russell Pickett and claiming the hundred-thousand-dollar reward.

Get a copy here.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Filled with heartbreaking yet often hilarious coming-of-age high school experiences, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is one of the best modern classic novels of its time.

Set in 1991, fifteen-year-old freshman and “wallflower” Charlie is learning to navigate the tumultuous, significant days of his teens. Stuck between being a kid and becoming an adult, he writes letters to an unknown friend, recounting experiences as a mostly observing, rarely participating member of his own life.

Readers who enjoyed The Bell Jar will appreciate this honest look at the importance of inclusion, acceptance, and self-identity. Buy your copy here.  

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway

An outspoken feminist in an era preceding women’s rights, Virginia Woolf is one of the most prestigious Modernist writers. Her modern classic novel Mrs. Dalloway delivers a story of a day in the life of one woman who, as she prepares her home for a party, finds herself questioning the choices she’s made in her life and disillusioned with her position as a socialite.

Buy this modern classic novel here.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger

This novel by Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Albert Camus is a poignant modern classic novel centered around the philosophy that life is meaningless. The story follows the indifferent narrator Meursault in the wake of his mother’s death. When a brief altercation on a beach leads to him murdering a man, Meursault is arrested and sentenced to execution but maintains his outlook that life is meaningless and the world is purely physical.

You can buy a copy here.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People: A Novel

Salley Rooney is a beloved bestselling Irish author known for her character-driven coming-of-age stories that often reflect her Marxist point of view.

In Normal People, she delivers a beautiful story about first love and its insecurities as we follow the story of Marianne and Connell, high-school-turned-college classmates, through a rocky, heartbreaking relationship. This modern classic novel addresses issues of class, privilege, pain, mental illness, and submission interwoven with the power dynamics of relationships amidst global economic and environmental issues.

Buy a copy of Normal People here.

Without MAlice by Amesbury Clarke

Without Malice

Without MAlice is the debut novel of author Amesbury Clark, perfect for anyone looking for a modern classic like The Bell Jar.

Twenty-one-year-old Alice is living with mental illness and memory loss caused by a tragic accident when she was young. Unfortunately, her progress has arrested under the treatments she’s been undergoing at Grange House. But when a new doctor arrives, Alice’s treatment takes a dark turn, a mystery she is determined to uncover with the help of her love interest, Pete.  

This is a lovely, heartwarming story about the power of empathy, the stigmas and treatment surrounding mental illness, and the power of hope amid tragedy and loss. Purchase your copy here.

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka

The Metamorphosis

Known as Frank Kafka’s masterpiece, The Metamorphosis is a strange and funny modern classic novel about alienation, the limits of human sympathy, and the absurdity of life.

When a young man awakens one morning to discover he’s transformed overnight into a monstrous beetle-like insect, he becomes a disgrace to his family, alienated in the place he calls home.

Pick up a copy of this bizarre yet significant novel here.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement: A Novel

Atonement is a national bestselling modern classic novel by the esteemed and Booker Prize-winning author Ian McEwan.

It’s 1935, and thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis has seen her older sister, Cecelia, share a moment of passion with her childhood friend, Robbie Turner, a servant’s son. Briony believes Robbie was assaulting Cecelia, leading to events Briony will spend the rest of her life trying to reconcile.

Purchase this brilliant work of metafiction here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides: A Novel (Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition) (Picador Modern Classics, 2)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides delivers one of the best modern classics of the past century in his bestselling novel The Virgin Suicides.

Aptly set in a mundane suburb of Detroit, a group of boys in the neighborhood recall the year the five Lisbon sisters commit suicide one by one.

Richly written with themes of isolation, femininity, mortality, and sexuality, this coming-of-age novel will surely be enjoyed by anyone who liked The Bell Jar. Buy it here.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel by Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is the second novel from award-winning and bestselling author Ottessa Moshfegh. It follows an unnamed narrator who begins to increase her use of prescription drugs to escape the misery of life by sleeping for an entire year.

This New York Times Bestseller was named a Best Book of the Year by multiple publications, including Time, The Washington Post, Vice, NPR, Bustle, The New York Times, and The Guardian. Get a copy here.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle: A Novel

This satirical modern classic novel from literary giant Kurt Vonnegut is an apocalyptic science fiction tale written at the height of the Cold War.

Vonnegut satirizes the dangers of nuclear war and the absurdity of life through his legendary humor. You can buy this fantastic novel here.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It's Kind of a Funny Story

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini follows Craig Gilner, a teenager with one thing on his mind: Success. And for Craig, success means getting into the right high school: Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School. But he discovers he’s not the brilliant genius he once thought. He’s simply – maybe – average, and the pressure leads to him nearly killing himself. Finding himself in a mental hospital, Craig may finally be able to face his anxieties.

This is a provocative, funny, and moving story about mental illness, the pressures of our teenage years, and the road to happiness.

Buy a copy here.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury paints a bleak picture of the future in his dystopian modern classic novel Fahrenheit 451.

Book-burning fireman Guy Montag lives under an oppressive state with a ban on anything it deems will cause confusion or complicate the happiness of its citizens. Guy’s job is to rid the world of books by burning them. But after a chance encounter with the free-spirited Clarisse McClellan, Guy slowly begins to realize he and his fellow citizens aren’t truly happy. Instead, they live a disconnected and shallow life. So Guy embarks on a journey of awakening, starting with understanding the books he’s spent his life destroying.

The message of this brilliant work is as relevant today as when it was published in 1953. Pick up a copy here.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Award-winning and bestselling author Margaret Atwood is known for writing stories that criticize ideology, politics, and sexuality. In her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, she warns readers of the dangers of totalitarian states that abuse power and strip women of their rights.

Set in a dystopian future where fertility has seen a global decline, the Republic of Gilead has the solution: enslaving fertile women and enforcing archaic, strict roles for all citizens. Run by religious zealots, Gilead uses Handmaids to produce children for the upper class of Gilead. Offred is one such Handmaid, stripped of her husband, child, freedom, and name in the wake of Gilead’s rise.

Serving as commentary on feminist political policies, a dire warning about the future, and a satire of totalitarian regimes, this modern classic is a must-read for everyone. Get a copy here.

1984 by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four

Another tale of one person trapped in an authoritarian state, 1984 by George Orwell remains a relevant cautionary tale today as much as it did 70 years ago.

In Oceania, citizens live under close surveillance of the Party, even in their homes. Free speech, free thought, self-expression, and anything promoting individuality are strictly prohibited, a fact Winston Smith, a citizen, is increasingly frustrated by. It’s Winston’s job to alter history to meet the needs of the Party, their claims conflicting with Winston’s recollection of the past. Then he meets Julia and O’Brien and begins a quest to undo the Party.

Buy a copy of this best modern classic novel here.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

The coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street by San Cisneros is a tale of self-discovery about a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago. It vividly tells the story of Esperanza as she moves from apartment to apartment in Chicago, her first home on Mango Street deeply ingrained in her existence and identity.

Written with powerful prose, The House on Mango Street is a modern classic about the American Dream, the power of language, and the struggles of defining oneself. You can purchase a copy here.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Best known for her short story The Lottery, Shirley Jackson was one of the most influential authors of the twentieth century. Her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a literary tour de force and the perfect read for anyone who enjoyed The Bell Jar.

Following the tragic death of their family members, Blackwood sisters Merricat and Constance live isolated from their community with their Uncle Julian, hiding from their scrutinous looks and gossip that one of them is to blame for their family’s death. When their cousin comes for a visit with plans for their estate, however, a struggle ensues that could uncover the dark secret the Blackwood sisters are hiding.

This haunting and disturbing tale addresses issues of otherness, the relativity of truth, feminism, and the dangers of mob mentality. Get a copy here.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Another dystopian novel on the list, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was written in the 1930s when Fascism was looming overhead.

Considered by many to be the counterpart to 1984, the story paints a picture of a 21st-century future full of genetically bred humans of the highest intelligence. Under an authoritarian state, citizens live a pain-free, albeit meaningless, existence.

This modern classic novel warns of the dangers of tyranny and oppression. Buy your copy here.

Final Thoughts

Although it concerns bleak topics, The Bell Jar is humorous, filled with Sylvia Plath’s wit and phenomenal prose. It remains one of the best modern classics, critiquing attitudes toward mental illness, feminism, and other themes that remain relevant today. This list of books to read if you like The Bell Jar is just a taste of the best modern classics available for readers who enjoyed it.

FAQ

What classifies a modern classic?

A classic, by definition, is a novel with concepts that stand the test of time. Although they generally represent the period they are written, modern classic novels include themes that stay relevant for years to come. As for defining modern, it is generally agreed that these are books written in the post-World War I, possibly even post-World War II era. These events caused a significant shift in how we view the world, such as in the ideas surrounding gender, race, religion, class, and other aspects of our various cultures.

Is The Bell Jar a feminist book?

Yes, no doubt about it. Sylvia Plath was referred to as a feminist martyr, but that’s not why The Bell Jar is a feminist novel. The Bell Jar tackles various feminist issues like power, double standards surrounding gender, and identity.

Is The Bell Jar based on a true story?

Yes. As an autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar closely follows Sylvia Plath’s life, albeit with some fictional changes.

What is Sylvia Plath’s most famous quote?

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

How old was Sylvia Plath when she died?

Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 and committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. She died just one month after The Bell Jar was published.

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Maile Allen