Books have an extraordinary ability to put the impacts of climate change into perspective. Dystopian novels transport us to the future, offering a glimpse of the world that could be if we don’t avert looming disasters. Historical fiction books expose how missed opportunities to course-correct have stacked up over the decades. And contemporary fiction and nonfiction show the terrifying reality of where we’re at now. Featuring a broad range of characters and dynamic plots, these books span many genres, so you’re sure to find something to read this Earth Day, whether you’re ready to reflect on its beauty or fight for its survival.
8 Timely Novels to Read this Earth Day
Stories about the end of the world have always fascinated us. Apocalyptic novels entertain because they feel so distant from the world we live in. NOT THIS ONE. This is a family novel struck through with humor, but it is nervous laughter. Because Jens Liljestrand has nailed the terrifying truth which is that even as the world (literally?) ends, it is the great tragedy of the human to condition to wonder, “but what does it mean...FOR ME?” If Greta Thunberg and Jonathan Franzen wrote a novel: this would be it. I couldn’t put it down, and it has stayed with me ever since.
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Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this astonishing and unforgettable debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world.
Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenaged love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out.
Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of masculine incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenaged daughter who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.
“Simultaneously nerve-wracking, astute, and consumedly entertaining” (Sydsvenskan, Sweden) and through these four related stories, Even If Everything Ends eloquently illustrates a picture of a very near future that is at once extraordinary and entirely realistic.
It’s summer 1977 in the redwood belt, and Rich has agreed to accompany Lark, a friend of his late tree-topper father, to the town’s only tavern. Here he learns of plans for 24/7 Ridge, which holds the largest redwood in the area—land Rich’s family has always dreamed of owning. With new roads being constructed in nearby Damnation Grove, these old-growth trees will finally be accessible for loggers and 24/7 Ridge’s current owner is looking to sell. As Rich contemplates whether he can afford the purchase, we hear from his wife, Colleen, as she cares for their son, Chub, while mourning her recent miscarriage, which she begins to suspect could be pinned on a logging company’s use of chemicals. Whether related to family or forest, Rich’s and Colleen’s voices capture the complex sides of progress and human intervention in nature.
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Named a Best Book of 2021 by Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times
“A glorious book—an assured novel that’s gorgeously told.” —The New York Times Book Review
“An incredibly moving epic about an unforgettable family.” —CBS Sunday Morning
“[An] absorbing novel…I felt both grateful to have known these people and bereft at the prospect of leaving them behind.” —The Washington Post
A stunning novel about love, work, and marriage that asks how far one family and one community will go to protect their future.
Colleen and Rich Gundersen are raising their young son, Chub, on the rugged California coast. It’s 1977, and life in this Pacific Northwest logging town isn’t what it used to be. For generations, the community has lived and breathed timber; now that way of life is threatened.
Colleen is an amateur midwife. Rich is a tree-topper. It’s a dangerous job that requires him to scale trees hundreds of feet tall—a job that both his father and grandfather died doing. Colleen and Rich want a better life for their son—and they take steps to assure their future. Rich secretly spends their savings on a swath of ancient redwoods. But when Colleen, grieving the loss of a recent pregnancy and desperate to have a second child, challenges the logging company’s use of the herbicides she believes are responsible for the many miscarriages in the community, Colleen and Rich find themselves on opposite sides of a budding conflict. As tensions in the town rise, they threaten the very thing the Gundersens are trying to protect: their family.
Told in prose as clear as a spring-fed creek, Damnation Spring is an intimate, compassionate portrait of a family whose bonds are tested and a community clinging to a vanishing way of life. An extraordinary story of the transcendent, enduring power of love—between husband and wife, mother and child, and longtime neighbors. An essential novel for our times.
A story tailor-made for those most at home in the garden, SOIL is Camille T. Dungy’s real-life journey of diversifying her garden despite strict restrictions imposed by the predominantly white community of Fort Collins, Colorado, where she resided. A beautifully written treatise by the National Book Critic Circle Criticism finalist on how homogeneity threatens the future of our planet, SOIL explores our relationship to nature and to one another in an effort to better understand what it means to be “home.”
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A seminal work that expands how we talk about the natural world and the environment as National Book Critics Circle Criticism finalist Camille T. Dungy diversifies her garden to reflect her heritage.
In Soil: The Story of a Black Mother’s Garden, poet and scholar Camille T. Dungy recounts the seven-year odyssey to diversify her garden in the predominately white community of Fort Collins, Colorado. When she moved there in 2013, with her husband and daughter, the community held strict restrictions about what residents could and could not plant in their gardens.
In resistance to the homogenous policies that limited the possibility and wonder that grows from the earth, Dungy employs the various plants, herbs, vegetables, and flowers she grows in her garden as metaphor and treatise for how homogeneity threatens the future of our planet, and why cultivating diverse and intersectional language in our national discourse about the environment is the best means of protecting it.
Definitive and singular, Soil functions at the nexus of nature writing, environmental justice, and prose to encourage you to recognize the relationship between the peoples of the African diaspora and the land on which they live, and to understand that wherever soil rests beneath their feet is home.
Starting in 2013 and extending to 2040, THE DELUGE explores the lives of various individuals living, learning, despising, ignoring their way through the past, present, and near-future climate destruction. There’s a large cast of characters, including a mathematician, a religious zealot, and a drug addict—who span the range from climate activist to climate denier, and everything in between. We also see how they handle various traumatic events over the years stemming from climate changes, including terrorism, social justice crises, economic upheavals, and so much more.
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“This book is, simply put, a modern classic. If you read it, you'll never forget it. Prophetic, terrifying, uplifting.” —Stephen King
From the bestselling author of Ohio, a masterful American epic charting a near future approaching collapse and a nascent but strengthening solidarity.
In the first decades of the 21st century, the world is convulsing, its governments mired in gridlock while a patient but unrelenting ecological crisis looms. America is in upheaval, battered by violent weather and extreme politics. In California in 2013, Tony Pietrus, a scientist studying deposits of undersea methane, receives a death threat. His fate will become bound to a stunning cast of characters—a broken drug addict, a star advertising strategist, a neurodivergent mathematician, a cunning eco-terrorist, an actor turned religious zealot, and a brazen young activist named Kate Morris, who, in the mountains of Wyoming, begins a project that will alter the course of the decades to come.
From the Gulf Coast to Los Angeles, the Midwest to Washington, DC, their intertwined odysseys unfold against a stark backdrop of accelerating chaos as they summon courage, galvanize a nation, fall to their own fear, and find wild hope in the face of staggering odds. As their stories hurtle toward a spectacular climax, each faces a reckoning: what will they sacrifice to salvage humanity’s last chance at a future? A singular achievement, The Deluge is a once-in-a-generation novel that meets the moment as few works of art ever have.
In a near future ravaged by climate change, Rose agrees to spy on an architect running the mysterious Camp Zero in the far north of Canada, in exchange for help for her Korean immigrant mother. Once there, Rose meets another newcomer—a college professor named Grant who is running from his family’s dark secrets—and together the two discover that Camp Zero and its architect are not what they seem . . . nor is the group of women soldiers stationed nearby. CAMP ZERO is a bold and transportive feminist thriller.
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In a near-future northern settlement, a handful of climate change survivors find their fates intertwined in this mesmerizing and transportive novel in the vein of Station Eleven and The Power.
In the far north of Canada sits Camp Zero, an American building project hiding many secrets.
Desperate to help her climate-displaced Korean immigrant mother, Rose agrees to travel to Camp Zero and spy on its architect in exchange for housing. She arrives at the same time as another newcomer, a college professor named Grant who is determined to flee his wealthy family’s dark legacy. Gradually, they realize that there is more to the architect than previously thought, and a disturbing mystery lurks beneath the surface of the camp. At the same time, rumors abound of an elite group of women soldiers living and working at a nearby Cold War-era climate research station. What are they doing there? And who is leading them?
An electrifying page-turner where nothing is as it seems, Camp Zero cleverly explores how the intersection of gender, class, and migration will impact who and what will survive in a warming world.
Jessie Greengrass’s sophomore novel, a marvel of non-linear storytelling, is set in a not-so-distant dystopian future plagued by climate catastrophes. Despite the large-scale destruction that surrounds THE HIGH HOUSE on all sides, Greengrass tightens the scope of her novel to examine a family looking to, quite literally, stay afloat through impending disaster. It’s a piece of literature that excels in equal measure as a compelling, intimate portrait of a family and a sly cautionary tale about what we may be looking forward to in our climate future. Just a humble bibliophile here, but if this book doesn’t scare you straight about taking major climate action NOW then best of luck to you.
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Shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Novel Award
In this powerful, highly anticipated novel from an award-winning author, four people attempt to make a home in the midst of environmental disaster.
Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?
Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster—but not before they call and urge Caro to leave London. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, limits to the supplies, limits to what Grandy—the former village caretaker, a man who knows how to do everything—can teach them as his health fails.
A searing novel that takes on parenthood, sacrifice, love, and survival under the threat of extinction, The High House is a stunning, emotionally precise novel about what can be salvaged at the end of the world.
In FELLOWSHIP POINT, celebrated author Agnes Lee desperately wants to protect the coastal Maine peninsula of Fellowship Point, which requires convincing investors to terminate a long-standing partnership. While it may seem convenient that her best friend, Polly, happens to be one of those shareholders, Polly more so values creating beauty and harmony in her well-off life and doesn’t know what she wants when it comes to Fellowship Point. The pair’s lifelong friendship is further tested when Agnes is encouraged to write her memoirs, which means long-buried secrets and darkness from each woman’s past is bound to come to light. Though this novel stands at nearly six hundred pages, with the vast number of themes it covers—women’s lives, class divisions, protection of the natural world, and our relationship to history—it’ll keep you thoroughly engaged.
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The masterful story of a lifelong friendship between two very different women with shared histories and buried secrets, tested in the twilight of their lives, set across the arc of the 20th century.
Celebrated children’s book author Agnes Lee is determined to secure her legacy—to complete what she knows will be the final volume of her pseudonymously written Franklin Square novels; and even more consuming, to permanently protect the peninsula of majestic coast in Maine known as Fellowship Point. To donate the land to a trust, Agnes must convince shareholders to dissolve a generations-old partnership. And one of those shareholders is her best friend, Polly.
Polly Wister has led a different kind of life than Agnes: that of a well-off married woman with children, defined by her devotion to her husband, and philosophy professor with an inflated sense of stature. She exalts in creating beauty and harmony in her home, in her friendships, and in her family. Polly soon finds her loyalties torn between the wishes of her best friend and the wishes of her three sons—but what is it that Polly wants herself?
Agnes’s designs are further muddied when an enterprising young book editor named Maud Silver sets out to convince Agnes to write her memoirs. Agnes’s resistance cannot prevent long-buried memories and secrets from coming to light with far-reaching repercussions for all.
Fellowship Point reads like a classic 19th-century novel in its beautifully woven, multilayered narrative, but it is entirely contemporary in the themes it explores; a deep and empathic interest in women’s lives, the class differences that divided us, the struggle to protect the natural world, and, above all, a reckoning with intimacy, history, and posterity. It is a masterwork from Alice Elliott Dark.
Ann-Helén Laestadius’ soon-to-be Netflix-adapted novel conjures an enchanting world. You can see the fresh snow glimmering against the arctic blue of Sweden’s daylight. You can hear the reindeer huffs and the crunch of snow boots wading through an ocean of white. There is magic in the book’s natural setting. And that’s what makes the ensuing bloodshed especially horrifying. Nine-year-old Elsa, part of a long lineage of Sámi reindeer herders, witnesses a gruesome killing one morning in 2008. A hunter butchers her precious calf and threatens her to keep quiet. With her father’s help, Elsa tries to report the crime to authorities, but to the police, reindeer killings are only “thefts” that don’t warrant investigation. In the ten years that pass, reindeer corpses continue to pile, and the Sámi herders decide to fight back. But when animals are no longer the only casualties in this Swedish community, Elsa begins to war with herself. How can she reconcile her sense of justice, environmentalism, and indigeneity?
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SOON TO BE A NETFLIX FILM
Louise Erdrich meets Jo Nesbø in this spellbinding Swedish novel that follows a young indigenous woman as she struggles to defend her family’s reindeer herd and culture amidst xenophobia, climate change, and a devious hunter whose targeted kills are considered mere theft in the eyes of the law.
On a winter day north of the Arctic Circle, nine-year-old Elsa—daughter of Sámi reindeer herders—sees a man brutally kill her beloved reindeer calf and threaten her into silence. When her father takes her to report the crime, local police tell them that there is nothing they can do about these “stolen” animals. Killings like these are classified as theft in the reports that continue to pile up, uninvestigated. But reindeer are not just the Sámi’s livelihood, they also hold spiritual significance; attacking a reindeer is an attack on the culture itself.
Ten years later, hatred and threats against the Sámi keep escalating, and more reindeer are tortured and killed in Elsa’s community. Finally, she’s had enough and decides to push back on the apathetic police force. The hunter comes after her this time, leading to a catastrophic final confrontation.
Based on real events, Ann-Helén Laestadius’s award-winning novel Stolen is part coming-of-age story, part love song to a disappearing natural world, and part electrifying countdown to a dramatic resolution—a searing depiction of a forgotten part of Sweden.
Photo credit: iStock / takayib