I’ve been on a quest to find books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society since I first read it in 2018, a full decade after its publication. How I managed to miss its existence before then, I have no idea. It’s not like it was a hidden gem: the book became a New York Times bestseller in 2009. Looking back, it must have been the buzz surrounding the film adaptation, also released in 2018, what sparked my interest.
Either way, this novel found me during a fairly bad reading slump. One morning, sitting in a coffee shop, desperate to distract myself from my inability to make it through 1984 (sorry, George; it was me, not you), I fished out the only other book in my purse: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I was enthralled immediately. I knew, as soon as I got to this passage, that this novel was going to become a favorite:
I’m so glad that your letter found me, and that my book found you. (…) I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.
I was right. I’ve fallen into the habit of rereading it every year.
It’s taken me some time to pinpoint what exactly I find so captivating about this story. It’s not perfect – even before getting into the Good Nazi™ subplot. But still, amidst all the tragedy and the grief within its pages, it makes me happy. I love the epistolary format, I love the theme of Reading Keeps You From Going Gaga (Really. That’s an actual quote.), and most of all, I love the beauty of the connections between Juliet, Dawsey, and the rest of the gang. It’s a story of hope, of finding joy and friendship even in the midst of horror. These are themes I will always gravitate towards.
So I began looking for books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I seek books with similar themes and formats. And with the same effervescent wit. Now, I have found very few books that merge all of these, but quite a few have at least two of these three qualities.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I read this book recently, and I was stunned by how much it felt like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The writing styles are so similar that I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that they were all written by one person.
Unlike TGLAPPS, however, this isn’t a novel: it’s the collection of real letters between an American writer and an English bookseller.
The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee
This historical YA is centered around Jo Kuan, a 17-year-old girl who moonlights as an advice columnist when she’s not working as a lady’s maid. Jo doesn’t hold back from pointing out society’s ills in her columns, leading to a clamor from many, many outraged bigots who want to uncover her identity.
Add in a mysterious letter, a cruel employer, and a notorious criminal, and you’ve got more complications than anyone should have to handle.
Dear Mrs. Bird (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #1) by A.J. Pearce
Emmy wants to be a war journalist, so she jumps at the chance to work at one of the most important newspapers in the country. Except…she’ll actually be working above the newspaper, for a woman’s magazine whose editor and advice columnist has no patience or sympathy for what she deems Unpleasantness.
Upset by her boss’s refusal to answer letters from anyone with actual problems, Emmy secretly replies to one. And then another. And one more. Soon, she’s in too deep to stop. Will her actions jeopardize her job?
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite
Written in epistolary format, this book focuses on Alaine Beauparlant. After she’s suspended from school, her family ships her off to Haiti. Once there, Alaine has to volunteer for a nonprofit, and she’s not too pleased about it. Trying to fit flirting with the cute intern and a possible family curse into her schedule? Well, why not?
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
This is set in Chawton in the 1940s. When Jane Austen’s home is threatened, a group of readers – whose only commonality seems to be their love of her books – come together to attempt to preserve it. As they work to form The Jane Austen Society, they discover that Austen’s plots may hit closer to home than they thought – and that they may have more in common than it appears.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa
A brilliant mathematics professor experiences a traumatic head injury, leaving him with a short-term memory of only 80 minutes. A young housekeeper is hired to work for him, and as they are introduced again and again, a peculiar relationship is developed.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A.J. Fikry is what some would call a curmudgeon. In the aftermath of his wife’s death, A.J. pushed everyone away. Now, his bookstore is struggling and he has lost his prized collection of poems. But when a mysterious package arrives at the store, A.J. might just discover that happiness can be found again.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
After his brother’s death, Major Pettigrew strikes up a friendship with Jasmina Ali. Bonding over the loss of their spouses and a shared love of literature, the Major and Jasmina soon fall in love. However, will their tiny village accept a relationship between somebody they consider the quintessential English gentleman and a Pakistani shopkeeper?