Last month, we asked BuzzFeed Book Club members to share their favorite books about second chances or new beginnings, in honor of our February selection, Sugar Run by Mesha Maren. Here's what they had to say.
1. Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
A man named Milo has only five chances left (having already lived 9,995 lives) to solve the puzzle that is existence and earn a spot in the "cosmic soul." But all he really wants is to spend more time with the love of his many lives — Death herself.
"Michael Poore's Reincarnation Blues is one I recently read and enjoyed which had a 'new beginnings' theme — albeit with about 10,000 do-overs instead of just one 'second chance.'" —Andy Barnes
2. The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan
Pearl Brandt and her mother Winnie Louie have kept secrets from each other for most of their lives — Winnie doesn't know Pearl has multiple sclerosis; Pearl doesn't know anything about Winnie's traumatic past in China during World War II, before her move to the US. When Pearl's aunt Helen gives both an ultimatum — tell each other the truth, or she will — the two are forced to open up to each other, and grow closer in the process.
"A wonderful read! One woman reveals the truth of her frightening past in China, and how she was able to escape and start a new life in America." —Susan
3. Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
When a chartered Boeing 707 carrying over 100 of Atlanta's wealthy elite crashes on the way back from Europe, killing all passengers on board and irreversibly changing their city overnight. Visible Empire imagines the aftermath of the real event (at the time, the worst single-aircraft disaster) as surviving friends and family try to move on.
"I recently finished Hannah Pittard’s Visible Empire, and I loved it! The characters are forced into new beginnings and unfamiliar territory, and the chances that they give each other — the forgiveness, the compassion, the love, the grace to stumble and try to right things again — made for such a layered and interesting story." —Caroline Brooks
4. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Violet and Amber are trapped in their own ways — Violet, by a secret in her past; Amber, by the literal walls of the girls' juvenile detention center she's in. Tying them together is the ghost of Orianna — the only person who knows truth of what really happened to Amber and Violet, and who holds the key to their freedom.
"A book I read (and loved) recently was The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. It's full of girls living with regret and longing to start over. One girl does get that chance as the story comes to a bittersweet end. It's lovely and worth a read." —Amy Hill
5. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are true work nemeses — they aren't simply annoyed by each other; they detest each other. But when they're up for the same promotion, their competitive and passive-aggressive games morph into something more like sexual tension.
"My favorite book about second chances is The Hating Game by Sally Thorne! It is my favorite book of all time and means so much to me. Lucy, the MC, perceives the other MC as a stoic condescending man when he is anything but and gets the chance to see for herself!!" —Nishta Reddy
6. My Brother's Husband by Gengoroh Tagame
"I just finished reading My Brother's Husband, and it is a bittersweet manga about Yaichi, whose twin passes away. The twin's husband, Mike, a Canadian guy, has come down to see the place his husband grew up in. Yaichi's daughter, Kana, has become besotted with this 'foreigner' uncle.
"The story revolves around Kana being introduced to the idea of two men marrying, which she finds fascinating, but also utterly normal (but she's surprised at being related to a 'foreigner'). It also focuses on Yaichi trying to understand his estranged brother through his husband, and accepting his homosexuality posthumously.
"I really, really enjoyed reading the book. Just couldn't put it down!" —Arathy Puthillam
7. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Ursula Todd is born for the first time in 1910, but she dies before she takes her first breath. She's born again later that night — and after she leaves that life, she's born a new time, over and over again.
"Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is an amazing book about second chances. Each chapter gives the character a second chance at life. Read it if you haven't." —Barbara Monaghan
8. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
After her mother Ingrid, the brilliant but flawed poet, is imprisoned for murder, Astrid is sent on a journey through the Los Angeles foster home system — each stop is a place of pain, discovery, and growth.
"Altogether about grief, abuse, neglect. Astrid was thrown into the foster care system after her narcissistic mother was incarcerated, and every new home was a new start, a new chance. Astrid readily absorbed the personality and lifestyle of each very different home, like a sponge, starving for the attention and love she never had a real chance to know. I read this book every three or four years. It sticks with me, and I get new things out of it every time." —Jacqueline Hoffman
9. The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
The shepherd Santiago is desperate to fulfill his destiny, and The Alchemist is his journey across the Egyptian desert in search of it.
"It has such a powerful message of transformation that extends far beyond your physical circumstances to reach the depths of your soul." —Katie O'Leary
10. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
The narrator of The Enchanted is in prison on death row, but he sees his dark surroundings as full of magic — including recurring characters like the woman hired to help men escape execution and the warden who delivers them to their death.
"It’s not your typical second chance story, but about a woman who works with death row inmates to try to get them off of death row. It’s an amazing book!" —Danielle Proulx-Gaudet
11. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Though Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza have been in love since their youth, Fermina eventually marries a wealthy doctor — and though Florentino is devastated, he carries on in his career and relationships, always for the reunion he's certain will bring Fermina back into his life.
"I recommend Love in the Time of Cholera. It is a book I have read many times for its wonderful imaginative story." —Sondra Miller
12. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
In war-torn Afghanistan, a wealthy boy falls under the care of his father's servant, after his father's death. It's a story of unlikely friendship, betrayal, and sacrifice.
"It's one of my favorite books, and it can certainly be said it's about a second chance to make things right, and about new beginnings in a new country for its main characters." —Miriam Garcia
13. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
In 1969 rural North Carolina, Kya Clark — known in local circles as "Marsh Girl" because she lives in the wild — is the main suspect when a young man is found dead. But Kya Clark isn't what everything thinks she is.
"Kya must restart her life not once, not twice, but three times when as a child she is abandoned by her family, as a teenager she is rejected by her love, and as a young woman she is jeopardized by a crime that she may be associated with. That is a lot of gear shifting." —Carole Knoles
14. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Yanagihara's novel follows a friendship over decades — four college classmates move from Massachusetts to New York, and their relationships change and grow as they live through heartbreak, ambition, addiction, and professional success. But it's one member of the group, the magnetic litigator Jude, whose troubled childhood keeps rearing its head.
"Wow, my favorite book about second chances is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It's incredible, and everyone with a soul should read it. But I will warn you — it will break your heart." —Sara Komo
15. The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman
Lilian Girvan has been a single mother since her husband died in a car accident three years ago, and she's settled into what she considers a steady routine. When her boss convinces her to sign up for a vegetable gardening class, she doesn't anticipate how much it will change her life.
"It's an amazing book about gardening and a widow's second chance at love." —Carlee Clark
16. No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol
Glynnis MacNicol's memoir follows her 40th year, as she enters into a life largely without a blueprint. How does the single, middle-aged woman live when she's not relegated to the role of the cautionary tale, the punchline spinster, the wacky aunt whose family suffers her visits out of equal parts love and pity?
"It’s a memoir about coming to terms with being single and choosing a different path than expected as a woman — and being okay with that!" —Kristin Shaak
17. The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey
In the land of the Five Hundred Kingdoms, 19-year-old Elena Klovis lives at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and stepsisters. But there's a magical force that promises happily ever afters to deserving men and women — and Elena's fairy godmother helps her escape the evil that intends to keep Elena from hers.
"I absolutely love The Fairy Godmother. The main character gets a new beginning away from her evil stepmother and grows into the woman she was meant to become." —Tinisha Selvy
18. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
In this immersive and evocative novel, Amor Towles takes us to 1920s Moscow through the lens of Count Alexander Rostov. After being sentenced to house arrest for his inciting and rebellious poetry, the count must watch — from the distance of an attic room across from the Kremlin — as his country goes through some of its most chaotic decades.
"The protagonist tries to find friendship, happiness, and a purpose, despite his circumstances. The book’s narrative incorporates the passage of time extremely effectively." —Paridhi Khulbe
19. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
When Trevor Noah was born in South Africa to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, his very existence was evidence of their illegal union, punishable by jail time. His memoir describes his fearful upbringing before the end of apartheid, his relationship with his parents, and his journey of self-discovery.
"An incredible book about growing up in a community where you don’t feel as if you belong and overcoming challenges to succeed." —Rebecca Housh
20. The Lost Man by Jane Harper
In the remote Australian outback, brothers Nathan and Bub are shocked to discover their brother dead right on the land between their cattle ranches. Together with Nathan's son, the family heads out to Cameron's ranch to support the family he left behind and try to solve the mystery of his tragic demise.
"I love The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Great comparisons of the hard Australian climate and geography, and the struggle to get over the past." —Ash Zamek
21. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Recently retired Harold Fry lives in a small English village with a wife who seems to be annoyed by his every move. When he receives a goodbye letter from Queenie, a woman from his past who is now in hospice, he decides he needs to deliver his response in person, and sets off on 600-mile quest.
"I love this book. It’s never too late for a second chance!" —Gabrielle Pippin
22. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
When artist and single mother Mia Warren moves into a Cleveland suburb with her teenage daughter, the duo disrupt the quiet, organized community with their mysterious past and rejection of the status quo. And when Mia clashes with Elena Robinson — one of the community's more upstanding citizens, and Mia's landlord — Elena sets out on an obsessive and destructive mission to uncover Mia's secrets.
"I love Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s about new beginnings for a mother and daughter in a new town." —Macy Smith
23. Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts
Novalee Nation is 17 years old, seven months pregnant, and heading for California with her boyfriend — when she suddenly finds herself stranded alone at an Oklahoma Walmart with nothing but $7.77 in change. Facing a new, scary reality, she's surprised to find this small Southwest town is home to a group of deeply caring people more than ready to help a stranger out.
"The changes Novalee makes in her life — aided by an entire cast of characters who were also given second chances — is heartwarming. It’s one of my favorite books." —Beverly Hobbs
24. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The classic coming-of-age story of Jane Eyre as she grows into an adult and falls in love with Mr. Rochester.
"I know it's a classic, but I love it. To me it epitomizes the idea of a second chance, not only for Rochester, but also for Jane, who is given multiple chances at having a family." —Ariel Teague
Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.