There are some books that you read and immediately forget about. They’re not necessarily bad books, but they’re popcorn reads: they’re quick to consume and usually aren’t very substantial. Some books, though, are more like the kernel stuck in your teeth: as much as you might want to move on, you keep coming back to it, unable to dislodge it. Okay, let’s leave behind that metaphor before it gets weirder. The point is, some books stick with you long after you turn the last page.
Just because you remember a book, though, doesn’t mean that it was a stunning work of genius. Instead, it might be because there is a plot hole that still annoys you years later. Or it could be a horror scene that still makes appearances in your nightmares. It can also be a swoonworthy romantic gesture that has given you unrealistic expectations of relationships, though, or a line so stunning that it is permanently emblazoned on your brain.
Here are some of the book scenes that live in our heads rent-free: long after we finished reading these books, they still have a permanent place in our minds, for better or worse. Don’t worry, spoilers will be marked when applicable!
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
(spoilers) The ending of Ella Enchanted still brings me to tears every time I read it, and sometimes I just imagine her rocking back and forth on that chair, trying desperately to fight her curse. The movie gets it so, so wrong that it still infuriates me. Ella breaks her curse through force of will, not a technicality or loophole! —Danika Ellis
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color Edited by Nisi Shawl
(vague spoilers) “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh is a story that I think will always stick with me for its monstrous queer revenge story against misogyny. Mayang’s scene of revenge against a misogynist is grotesque and…strangely gratifying. I want more like it ASAP. —Danika Ellis
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
The beginning of The Princess Bride, when Goldman is describing the way his teacher tried to get him interested in putting some effort into his schoolwork, and then talking about sending her an advance copy of his first book, has always stuck with me because I’ve always, always wanted a teacher like Miss Roginski — the kind of teacher who’s determined to shine up that talent they know you’ve got within you, even if you don’t yet understand how much you’ll regret letting it stay buried when you’re older. That thank you note postscript has sat in my head for over a decade now, and it’ll always make me a little jealous when I think about it. —Neymat Raboobee
Holes by Louis Sachar
I know I’m not alone when I saw that the “I can fix that” scene lives in my head rent-free. The movie version actually gets this just right. The rain comes down in buckets outside, Kate weeps at her desk, Sam is kind and understanding. MY HEART. This was probably the only romance 10-year-old me was invested in, and it remains a tragic love story I cannot shake free from. —Danika Ellis
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This is probably helped along by the fact that I’ve seen more than one of Trevor Noah’s standup performances. There’s a section in his memoir about being 5 years old and not wanting to take a trip to the outside toilet to use the bathroom, and instead just taking a dump on a piece of newspaper on the floor, not realizing that his blind great grandmother was also in the room. It’s written in such a funny way that I can’t help but laugh when I think of it, but it also makes you uncomfortable — why does a 5-year-old have to go outside to use the toilet? Why is an old blind woman who can’t walk on her own spending most of her time sitting alone next to a coal stove, with nothing to do but wait for someone to walk in and interact with her? —Neymat Raboobee
On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu
I won’t spoil anything, but that ending! The entire book, while compelling and beautifully written, is unrelentingly bleak. The main character struggles and suffers through so much that, when the ending allows the tiniest bit of hope to crack through, it is as cathartic as any more bombastic happy-ever-after. I nearly cried with relief. And that final line is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come. —Eileen Gonzalez
DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke
The entire comic is made up of rent-free moments. While most of them are dramatic (“Run.”) or tragic (John Henry’s entire arc), my favorite is towards the end, after the big bad has been defeated and Jimmy Olsen photographs the celebrations, preserving them for posterity. It’s emotional and epic and seared in my mind forever. —Eileen Gonzalez
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The scene where Howl throws the world’s biggest fit over Sophie messing with his hair spells and causing his hair to turn (slightly) the wrong color will always make me feel better about any time that I let my emotions get to me when I’m feeling picky. After all, even if I might have cried over someone “tidying” my bedroom and putting everything in slightly the wrong place, I’ve never turned into slime and oozed on the floor while subjecting an entire town to my shrieks of anguish. The movie does a beautiful job with this scene, though it does tone it down a bit — likely to save the audience’s ears. —Neymat Raboobee
Lobizona by Romina Garber
The entire book is one filled with amazing intricacies and a mix of fantasy and real-world elements. But one scene that has forever stayed in my mind is the opening scene where the main character, Manu, and her mother hide from ICE agents. Garber knows how to thread realistic heartbreak with magical elements, and this scene right at the start will stay with you for a long time. —Aurora Lydia Dominguez
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
(spoilers) There are so many scenes from this book that stay in my head. From writing about a young Korean woman starting a new life in Japan to depicting how she raises children amidst war and poverty, Min Jin Lee illustrates a family that encounters many cruel truths. Surprisingly, out of all the things that occur in the book, my mind still keeps going back to the scene where Noa and his first girlfriend, Akiko, break up. It’s a critical part of Noa’s life because it’s when he finds out who his birth father is. He feels shame and shock, but he also has a realization about Akiko. He realizes that she doesn’t really see him as a person. She only sees what she wants to see and how that makes her feel. That just hit me so hard. The way this was demonstrated in that scene was amazing. These ideas and emotions show up in other scenes of the book. I can’t think of one part, idea, or scene without thinking about other parts of the book as well. Honestly, the whole book just lives in my mind rent free at this point. —Gianessa Refermat
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I know there have been issues in the past with the author, but this is by far my favorite book from her. The scenes that live rent free are the ones where Cath reads the entirety of The Outsiders to Levi and the infamous “Read to me, sweetheart” line. My eternally young book dragon always swoons at that part. —PN Hinton
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
The infamous First Proposal scene in which Mr. Darcy confesses to Elizabeth Bennet that he “ardently admires and loves her” lives in an astonishingly forward part of my brain. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to deeply admire Lizzie’s clear repudiation of Darcy’s behavior. To be able to stand up for yourself and your family like that at not yet one-and-twenty! I definitely would have been swayed at that age by a wealthy, well-respected and attractive man who tried to neg me into an engagement, so all the points to Lizzie in this scene and may future generations take a leaf out of her book. It doesn’t hurt that the scene was set beautifully in both the 1995 and 2005 film versions (Kiera Knightley’s eyeliner aside in the latter, but I digress). —Tika Viteri
Those are the books that have stuck with us. What book scenes live in your head rent-free?