There are many fascinating stories that examine themes of purgatory and explore the realm between life and death. In some, purgatory is a place: A desolate island, the fifth floor of an office building, or the middle of the ocean. In others, it’s a temporal anomaly, such as a time loop that the main character is forced to experience over and over until they find the missing piece of the puzzle, or are deemed worthy enough to move on. If you’re interested in these kinds of stories, the following list is a great start.
Sign Here by Claudia Lux
Peyote Trip works in Hell. Literally. He’s got a solid job in the deals department on the fifth floor where the pens are out of ink and the coffee machine doesn’t work. When presented with the opportunity for a promotion, Peyote jumps. All he needs is one more member of the wealthy Harrison family to sell their soul. With the help of his coworker Calamity, Peyote forms a plan. Meanwhile at the Harrisons’ family lake house, secrets are revealed, darkness is exposed, and new dangers arise. Will Peyote be able to land the promotion of his dreams, or will he be forced to endure life on the fifth floor forever?
Pincher Martin by William Golding
A gripping story about a man stranded in the middle of the Atlantic, Pincher Martin is an epic tale of survival. When the destroyer he was aboard is torpedoed, Christopher Martin finds himself fighting for his life upon a rock in the middle of the ocean, forced to face the elements and his own isolation. Surviving off rain water and sea anemones while succumbing to the harsh climate, reality and fantasy begin to blur as Martin attempts to walk the line between life and death.
The Long Walk by Stephen King
In this dystopian thriller, 100 boys enter an annual contest where they must walk until only one is left standing. The rules are simple: keep a pace of four miles an hour, no stopping. Three warnings and you’re out. Forever. The winner will be awarded anything he wishes for the rest of his life. Sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty marches on with 99 others in this brutal test of stamina and strength. But as the days go on and the boys fall one by one, Garraty begins to question whether he, too, is marching toward his own death.
The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Aiden Bishop wakes up at Blackheath with no knowledge of who he is or how he got there. Lost and confused, he’s offered shelter at the manor and discovers that the homeowners are throwing a ball that same night. At the end of the evening, the daughter of the house, Evelyn Hardcastle, is murdered. When Aiden wakes up, he finds himself experiencing the same day all over again—and soon learns that in order to break the loop, he must identify her killer. The catch: every time the day resets, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. He has eight days and eight “host” bodies to solve the mystery. If he doesn’t figure it out, the cycle resets and Aiden’s memory is wiped clean all over again. Will he be able to put the missing pieces together, or will his existence be reduced to an endless loop of the same day?
Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister
One night in late October, a mother waits up for her seventeen-year-old son, who is out past curfew. As she watches from the window, she witnesses her funny, happy teenage boy kill a man in cold blood. She doesn’t know who he is and she doesn’t know why, but now her son is in custody and she sinks into despair. Until she wakes up the next morning and the horrific day begins all over. When she wakes again, she jumps one more day back in time. With every morning, she travels further into the past, and she’s forced to ask herself whether she’s being punished for the crime her son committed, or whether this is her chance to stop it from ever happening.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
When seventeen-year-old Mia Hall finds herself in a coma after a horrific car accident, she learns that she occupies a space somewhere between life and death. She also learns that she’s the sole survivor of the accident and has a decision to make. She can choose to stay with her grandparents and the love of her life, Adam, or she can choose to move on and avoid the pain of living without her parents and her younger brother. Mia watches her friends and remaining family from a place they can’t reach her, while reflecting on her life and weighing this pivotal decision. A heart-wrenching story about love, family, grief and healing.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
When Citra and Rowan are selected as apprentices to a Scythe, they learn the true costs of a perfect world. In this world, there is no poverty, war, disease nor suffering. Humanity has conquered everything—including death. Those who are killed by accident can be revived. Scythes are the only ones with the ability to end life and are ordered to do so for population control. In this enthralling dystopian thriller, Citra and Rowan must study under a Scythe and learn how to take life—or else risk losing their own.