Books That Will Make You Question Reality

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Steph Auteri

Senior Contributor

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, under the gum tree, Poets & Writers, and other publications, and she is the Essays Editor for Hippocampus Magazine. Her essay, "The Fear That Lives Next to My Heart," published in Southwest Review, was listed as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2021. She also writes bookish stuff here and at the Feminist Book Club, is the author of A Dirty Word, and is the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. When not working, she enjoys yoga, embroidery, singing, cat snuggling, and staring at the birds in her backyard feeder. You can learn more at and follow her on Insta/Threads at @stephauteri.

Technothrillers aren’t normally my cup of tea, but the premise for Terry Miles’s Rabbits was so intriguing, I couldn’t help picking it up.

Rabbits is a mysterious game in which participants seek out connections and odd anomalies in the world around them, following where they lead. But it appears that the latest iteration of the game has gone haywire, with players disappearing and some of them turning up dead. But how? And why? And could it possibly mean the end of the world? One game obsessive, who seems to be suffering from blackouts, is determined to find out.

Rabbits carries those same mindfuck vibes that can be found in films like Fight Club and The Matrix…vibes that make you question the way society is structured…that make you question the nature of reality itself. Could Mandela effect scenarios actually hint at alternate timelines? Is déjà vu more than just a passing feeling that leaves you feeling disoriented? Or is our protagonist so bent on finding meaning where there is none that he’s driven himself over the brink?

Contemplating the possibility that debates like those over the Berenstein Bears vs. the Berenstain Bears might hint at parallel universes seems like the type of thing I should have debated in college while high out of my mind. But I’m a 42-year-old mother whose greatest thrill this past week was replacing my 15-year-old laundry basket, so I’ll take mind-bending intrigue where I can get it. (I consider it a bonus that this book is actually based upon a podcast; I guess this is what I’ll be doing instead of working from now on.)


I’m a sucker for mindfucks like these. Books that make me question everything. Or even just books where the protagonists themselves can’t figure out whether or not everything they’re experiencing is all in their mind.

Here are a few more that scratch that same itch.

The Devil in Silver book cover

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle is a master of horror and speculative fiction and, at this point, I automatically read anything he writes. The Devil in Silver was the first book of his I read and it does a pretty great job of making me wonder what in hell is really going on. The story revolves around a group of inmates at a mental institution in Queens, New York, all of whom insist that there is an inhuman creature with the head of a bison and the body of an old man running rampant through the facility, killing patients. This group decides they’re going to end this creature’s reign of terror, killing it before it can kill anyone else. But can their perception of what’s happening to them be trusted? What have they really seen slinking through the hallways and sneaking into others’ rooms?

cover of Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

It’s tough to discuss too much of this novella without ruining its twist. So let me give you a quick synopsis. A group of teens decides to prank one of their friends by sneaking a mannequin into a theater. But then the unthinkable happens: the mannequin comes alive and goes on a murderous rampage. Our protagonist decides he’ll do whatever it takes to stop this mannequin-monster and save everyone he cares about. But at what cost?

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc book cover

The Grip of It by Jac Jemc

You may have noticed a trend in genre preference here. I told you thrillers weren’t my thing. Luckily, horror tends to do just as good a job of exploring the uncanny. This quick read by Jemc certainly does. I was seriously creeped out by this literary horror about a young couple haunted by their new home. But the most terrifying thing of all? As the house decays around them, we’re never really sure whether or not it’s all in their heads.

cover of Nightbitch

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Switching gears from horror to…satire?…is one of my favorite reads from last year. In this mad rush of a novel, an artist-turned-stay-at-home-mother becomes convinced she is turning into a dog. As her supposed transformation progresses, the mom — who begins to refer to herself as Nightbitch — gets philosophical, sharing her innermost thoughts about motherhood and obligation and power and an inexorable pull toward violence. I have never before empathized so strongly with a protagonist who may or may not be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The Between by Tananarive Due book cover

The Between by Tananarive Due

In this reissued horror novel (yes, we’re back on track with all the horror), a man who survives a near-drowning as a child begins to question the details of that day, particularly after racist hate mail directed at his wife places added tension on his home life and makes him start to lose his grip on reality. This supernatural suspense had me hanging on to every word, waiting with bated breath to find out what really happened when he was young. Is reality trying to reassert itself, à la those Final Destination movies? Or is that ridiculous?

cover image for paperback of We Ride Upon Sticks

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

Barry’s book is one of those titles that show up in all of my book lists, no matter the topic. But that’s because it rings so many of my bells! In this book, which has been labeled as both sports fiction and occult horror, a field hockey team turns to witchcraft in order to turn around a long-running losing streak. I spent pretty much the entire book unsure of whether the witchcraft element was real or just mere coincidence. Like the girls in the story, I wanted so badly to believe. Perhaps their faith made it so?

Cold Bodies by Magdalene Visaggio et al. - book cover

Cold Bodies by Magdalene Visaggio, Andrea Mutti, and Nate Piekos

This graphic novel is a more recent read. In it, the last survivor of a brutal massacre (your prototypical final girl) begins to lose her grip on reality as the anniversary of the killings approaches, and as another installment of a film franchise based upon the incident hits theaters. As if those weren’t enough, an impending blizzard is also triggering. So when she starts to see the (dead) killer following her around town, we don’t know if the sightings are real or just a product of PTSD. The lines between what is and isn’t real begin to blur further as the story progresses and, by the end, all you can do is sit back and say, “Wait…what just happened?”

The Department of Truth book cover

The Department of Truth by James Tynion IV, Martin Simmonds, Aditya Bidikar, and Dylan Todd

And finally, in what I’ve found to be the mindfuckiest mindfuck of them all, the comic series The Department of Truth. In this series, a government agent is recruited by a mysterious organization that appears to be monitoring all the greatest conspiracy theories throughout history, from Bigfoot to flat-Earth theory to the ’80s-era Satanic Panic. To what end? Unclear. But it appears that if enough people believe in a thing, it could actually become real. What might the ramifications of such a possibility be?

If alternate realities are also your jam, check out this post on time travel books next.