This ominous, genre-bending novel gets real weird real fast after a blackout strands two families in a vacation home.
Good to know
Why I love it
Jenna Bush Hager
Co-host, TODAY with Hoda & Jenna
I first read Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam in the middle of the darkest days of the pandemic. The feelings of isolation, fear and uncertainty were so vivid in Alam’s writing that I worried it would be too immediate. I’m not typically drawn to books like this but I was captivated by Alam’s masterfully written characters and the detail and intimacy with which he writes about family dynamics and race.
The story begins with Amanda, a type-A working mom; her cigarette-sneaking husband, Clay; and their two teenage children, Rose and Archie; as they embark on a picturesque vacation from their busy Brooklyn-based lives. Everything is going well at the secluded property they rented in a far-flung corner of Long Island, until an elderly Black couple—the owners, as it turns out—knocks at the door in the middle of the night, seeking refuge from a blackout in the city. As the isolated strangers navigate their new relationship, mysterious happenings continue to make them question everything they think they know.
With October being the month for eerie stories, I could not imagine a better book to pick up than Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. It’s chilling and mysterious but also poignant and even funny. My only advice: Read it with the lights on.
Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older Black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.
Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?
Read a sample →
Unsettled and vaguely haunted. That’s me right now. This could be a companion to The Stand—I’m...This might that test book for me—if you didn’t like it or don’t get it, we can never be true friends
Elmont , NY
I saw this on a list of best dystopian novels; I’m glad I read it. It’s the type of book that has many layers and which I’d love to discuss but few people in my world are readers. That’s my dystopia.
Woodland Park , CO
Beautifully written— when he overwrites it’ like he’s swinging for the fences and misses but that’s rare. So much to love:the interactions; the shallowness of the characters and their depth. Amazing.
It’s a disaster book that’s less about that and more about the cerebral, human reaction to it. Like watching the decay of society’s illusion of safety & comfort in slow & fast motion from the inside.
Grosse Pointe Park, MI
Absolutely gorgeous prose. The writing was the best part about this book. I’m not sure I really “get” the ending. With covid pandemic and BLM protests, the content is very relevant to current events.
I loved this book. I don’ even know how to classify. Mystery? Thriller? Social Commentary? Terror? Disaster? Extremely thought provoking snd somehow the author created the quintessential 2020 novel. ￼
Coconut Grove, FL
The author painstakingly depicts little things that give a false sense of ‘normalcy’ before launching into an eerie story that felt all too possible in light of current events. It will stick with me.
Overwhelmingly suspenseful at times though not a lot “happens” to or in front of the characters until the very end. Eerily speaks to our times in a way that Mafr me want to start slowly stockpiling.
This was an eloquently written novel depicting human response and relations during an apocalyptic disaster. It is an unsettling suspense that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat until the last page.
Wow - if ever there were a book that personified 2020, this would be it! Completely unexpected, full of the unknown and proof that when we’re forced to slow down, we suddenly don’t know what to do.
West Orange, NJ
This book is fire! I loved every single moment of this journey. And was it ever a journey. It is billed as a literary thriller but it is so much more. It is a rollercoaster ride you don’t want to end!
Madison , WI
I loved this novel & could not put it down. What starts out as a regular family vacation full of detail & feeling turns into an extremely uneasy & unsettling story. I can’t wait for the Netflix movie.
I’ve gotten more comfortable with books that don’t answer every question but rather build characters & atmosphere that create a tension so polarizing its unclear how to react... WOW, this was wild.
One of the strangest books I read this year. I loved the writing - little drops of information you could almost miss; ramblings that made you feel the chaos. Little to the plot but that’s unimportant.
New York , NY
It’s about the journey, not the destination. Those expecting an easy explanation will be disappointed as the “answers” are scattered throughout. The writing is absolutely phenomenal and powerful.
Well, THAT was unexpected. Picked up twice & couldn’t put it down the 2nd time! Not my usual choice, but the suspense had me HOOKED. So original, unusual, thought-provoking, and blindly frightening!
Saint George, UT
One of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. Alam found ways to describe the human experience that were so complete and haunting. I, often, felt like he must know me. A true masterpiece.
LOVED the way it drops you into a story. You read and experience it exactly as you would in real life, and it's incredible. Definitely an anxiety-inducing story, so have something light for afterwards
This is a perfect 2020 book, and luckily it’s one of the best. It made me really reflect on how everything has to go no matter what is happening outside. This helped me process our lives right now.
South Boston, MA
Classic, wonderful suspense. No dizzying plotlines with 17 twists. No gratuitous violence or monsters. Just classic, human, psychological suspense. Chilling & also very relevant to the current times.