Up lit: it’s a term you might’ve stumbled across while scrolling Bookstagram or searching Goodreads for your next amazing read. But what is it?

Up lit is a new genre term for a specific sort of novel. It stands for “uplifting fiction,” but is different from the gentle genre, which are books that don’t contain sex, swearing, or violence. 

Up lit is uplifting in the sense that it strives to find joy, empathy, or hope—but within the reality of characters facing difficult experiences. It doesn’t shy away from trauma, difficulties, or sadness, but also works toward drawing its characters to a better understanding of small moments of happiness and the way personal connections make hard times a bit easier to cope with.

Reading an up lit book is an experience of feeling many different emotions while getting to know memorable characters. They might be grumpy (like Ove in A Man Called Ove), quirky (Keiko in Convenience Store Woman), considerate (Martha in The Library of Lost and Found), or even a bit socially awkward (Eleanor in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine). They lose loved ones, struggle with mental health issues, disappoint their family members, suffer from loneliness. Their process of working through their struggles draws the reader through the story. 

Sound like a genre you’d like to read more of? Here are five up lit books to start with:

Mornings with Rosemary

By Libby Page
Adult Fiction

Rosemary, who’s lived in Brixton, England since the ending of the war, is finding that everything around her is changing, from the library (closed) to the local grocery market (now a trendy bar). She’s starting to question where she belongs. But when The Lido, the outdoor pool she swims in almost every day, is threatened with closure, she pushes back: she refuses to speak to Kate, the newspaper reporter writing about the pool until she actually swims in The Lido. Intergenerational friendship is a consistent thread in up lit, and the one that forms between Rosemary and Kate does not disappoint. 

The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle

By Jennifer Ryan
Adult Fiction

The trauma the characters in this novel are dealing with is enormous: the effects of the London Blitz on their lives. Cressida Westcott’s high-end design house was destroyed by bombs, so she returns to the family house in the British countryside where she grew up. There she forms friendships with Violet and Grace, whose lives have been impacted by the war in different ways. She teaches them how to sew, giving them a way to help the women in the community: creating wedding dresses. The devastation of war mixed with the hopefulness of brides reminds readers of the inviolable courage of the human spirit. 

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

By Kathleen Rooney
Adult Fiction

On New Years Eve 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish decides not to take a cab to the party she’s been invited to. Bundled in her elegant fur, Lillian sets out on a 10-mile walk across New York City that brings her past the places important to her own history. Based on the life of Margaret Fishback, who became America’s highest-paid advertising woman in the 1930s, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk tells the story of both the city and one woman’s determined journey through a complicated century. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea

By T. J. Klune
Adult Fiction

Up lit doesn’t always have to be set in the real world, as this delightful fantasy proves. Linus Baker, a caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, is assigned to travel to Marsyas Island, which has an orphanage with several very unusual magical children (including one who might be the Antichrist who will bring about the end of the world). Dour, straightforward, and very invested in doing his job properly, Linus is unprepared for the glimmering, peaceful beauty of the island, the stories of trauma the children have endured—or the cheerful demeanor of the orphanage’s capable and charismatic caretaker, Arthur Parnassus. Both madcap and tender, The House in the Cerulean Sea is unforgettable. 

The Humans

By Matt Haig
Adult Fiction

An extraterrestrial receives a horrific assignment: visit the planet Earth, disguised as one of its human beings, to bring back to his utopian planet a study of the violent, idiotic inhabitants. Assuming the life and body of Andrew Martin, the curmudgeonly alien is disgusted by humanity’s penchant for war, murder, poverty, not to mention their ugly bodies and weird eating habits. But as he experiences life on Earth, he discovers things like poetry and peanut butter, rock music and red wine, not to mention the myriad beauties of human relationships, he discovers that it might be the contrast between awfulness and delight that gives existence meaning.

Written by Amy S. (Programming)