If you’re looking for a mature protagonist in your next read – someone in their golden years who may (or may not!) be ready to retire – then you may want to check out the following books. Romance, friendship, murder, mayhem, and creativity are on offer in these stories featuring older adults.
Simple, forthright, yet eloquent chapters propel Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf’s final novel set in the fictional community of Holt, Colorado. Addie has lived alone since her husband died, and she misses having someone to talk to at night. Widower Louis feels the same way. Their arrangement grows into a warm and caring friendship that allows them to heal from the past and to hope for the future. It’s enough to scandalize some of their small-town neighbors. Their adult children aren’t keen on the relationship, either. When Addie’s grandson Jamie is dropped off for an extended summer visit, she and Louis offer him the gift of their time as well as their love, much to Jamie’s delight…and much to his father’s consternation. Read this for its unflinching look at relationships both familial and social, and for the gentle persistence of the human spirit embodied in Addie and Louis. Available in print, audio CD, large type, and OverDrive ebook and audiobook.
On the surface, Beth O’Leary’s The Switch is the story of two women: go-getter Eileen, recently divorced and ready for adventure, and her granddaughter Leena, who’s on extended leave from her high-pressure job. Realizing a change of scenery could be beneficial for both of them, they come up with a plan. Leena will stay in her grandmother’s idyllic Yorkshire cottage, away from the fuss and bustle of the city, and Eileen can fulfill her lifelong dream of living in London by crashing at her granddaughter’s flat while she looks for romance. They each face some challenges, which they mostly overcome. Adding a touch of gravitas is Leena’s estranged mother Marian, who is struggling to find meaning after unspeakable loss. Read this for Eileen’s indefatigable optimism, her conviction that everything will work out, and her resilience when it doesn’t. Available in print, audio CD, large type, and OverDrive ebook and audiobook.
In her debut novel The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, Beth Morrey introduces us to the eponymous Londoner who, at 78, is on her own. Her son lives in Australia with her only grandchild, and she hasn’t had a real conversation with her daughter in ages. Holed up in the house she shared with her husband Leo, Missy goes through the motions even as the bills pile up. Things begin to change for Missy after a series of chance encounters with her neighbors, and they really take off when she agrees to look after Bob the dog. After years of hiding in plain sight, Missy slowly comes out of her shell, makes new friends, and gains confidence in herself. But can it last? While the main character is in her 70s, read this for its honest depiction of isolation, shame, and recovery, regardless of age…and for the importance of safe emotional connections. Available in print and OverDrive audiobook.
It seems like successful business owner Loretha has always taken care of others in Terry McMillan’s It’s Not All Downhill from Here. Whether it’s her aging mother, her estranged sister, her struggling daughter, or other members of her family, Lo has provided emotional and financial assistance to others for years without being aware of the impact on herself. When her husband Carl unexpectedly passes away, Lo’s friends gather around her to offer their love and support…at a time when her own family is reeling from the loss not only of Carl, but of the Lo they’ve always depended on. Lo has some difficulty releasing that part of herself, too! But her friends Korynthia, Sadie, Lucky, and Poochie are there to help Lo find herself again. Read this for its uplifting honesty about getting older and the sometimes-murky line between supportive relationships and enabling behaviors. Available in print, audio CD, and OverDrive ebook and audiobook.
In The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney, Joel is a widower living unhappily ever after in a retirement home with all the amenities except the one he wants most: freedom from the routines that have been slowly killing him since his Lucey passed away. Then, he gets a new roommate, the flashy, outgoing, and popular retired soap opera star, Frank de Selby. The new darling of Hilltop is not only a hit with the ladies, but can charm the gents too. In short, he’s everything Joel is not. But Frank has made a career out of studying others, and he knows there is more to Joel’s crustiness than meets the eye...and Frank is determined to help Joel achieve his goal. Read this for Frank’s infectious enthusiasm, which disguises a hard-won empathy…and inspires Joel to plan an escape with his new best friend. Available in print, large type, OverDrive ebook and audiobook, and Hoopla ebook.
British television host Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club is about four unlikely companions who share a fascination with unsolved murders. They meet weekly to discuss cold cases over wine and goodies, with each member contributing something from their prior careers. Firebrand Ron wants to see justice served, psychiatrist Ibrahim likes the order that comes with closure, newcomer Joyce has a nurse’s eye for gory details, and ringleader Elizabeth still has plenty of connections from her mysterious past. When murder strikes close to their quiet retirement village home, the Club is on the case…and they’re not afraid to use their age to their advantage! In exchange for information, they bully the local DCI into bringing their protégé Donna onto the case as the mystery deepens. If you like dense mysteries that keep you guessing, read this for its numerous quirky characters and for Osman’s complex layering of personalities, twists, and reveals. Available in print, large type, and OverDrive ebook and audiobook.
Nordic noir author Helene Tursten takes a stab at short stories with this collection of darkly humorous tales in An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good. Although she may seem a little vague at times, Maud is a resourceful octogenarian, surfing the internet and planning her (mis)adventures from the comfortable chair in her spacious Gothenburg flat. One thing at which Maud is especially good is solving problems. First, it’s the celebrity artist downstairs who wants Maud’s apartment. Then, it’s the former student who has designs on Maud’s first love, followed by the abusive attorney who lives upstairs. Finally, it’s the greedy antiques dealer who would love to get his hands on Maud’s treasures, even if he has to steal them...eventually drawing the attention of Tursten’s DI Irene Huss. Read this for the irreverent humor that pokes fun at stereotypes about aging, while concurrently giving Maud the agency she would too often be denied. Available in print, OverDrive ebook, and Hoopla audiobook.
Irving Stone’s epic-yet-accessible biographical fiction of Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy, opens when the 13-year-old artist enters Ghirlandaio’s studio. So why, you may wonder, include this in a list of books about older adults? Born in the Florentine Republic in 1475, Michelangelo came of age during the High Renaissance and became one of its longest-lived producing artists. He achieved some of his greatest works after turning 60, including The Last Judgment (fresco), the Florentine Pietà (sculpture), and St Peter’s Basilica (architecture). Stone’s biographical novel hits on the highlights of Michelangelo’s career, while providing (mostly) plausible personal details based on surviving records, including Michelangelo’s original poetry. (The movie is a condensed version, focusing on the interaction between 30-something Michelangelo and Julius II, who commissioned the Sistine Chapel ceiling.) Read this for its insight into Renaissance life, the excess of secular and papal courts, and the personal terribilità that drove one of the most influential artists in modern history. Available in print andOverDrive audiobook, or check out the film adaptation on DVD.