When Life Gives You Lemons, Come Back from the Dead

Everyone loves a comeback story: injured athletes returning to the field, beloved television shows rebooted, disgraced celebrities forgiven with shiny trophies. Comebacks are life-affirming, inspirational—a psychic fist-bump to rally lesser mortals over their hurdles when life gets tough. 

The following list can be mined for motivational support when life gets really tough: ten novels celebrating characters’ victories over the biggest mortal obstacle of them all—death. Whether through scientific reanimation or spiritual reincarnation, whether as zombies or vampires or ghosts or some miscellaneous undead creature, these role models didn’t let a little death keep ‘em down! They stood up, brushed off the bugs and dirt, and lived happily ever after. Because once you’ve triumphed over death, what else could possibly go wrong? What else, I ask you?


by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

An eight-part graphic novel series set in rural, snow-covered Wausau, Wisconsin—a town whose recently deceased population all come back to life one day. Not as ravenous monsters, but as the same friends, lovers, sisters, and husbands they were before they died. But what does it mean? It means the citizens of Wausau don’t need to bother looking both ways before crossing the street anymore, but will there be any unforeseen, unwelcome consequences? Pshaw.

Suffer the Children

by Craig DiLouie

For all the parents out there—a philosophical horror novel that asks, how far would you go to save your child? Premise: every prepubescent child in the world suddenly drops dead. A few days later, they come back to life, but without ingesting human blood every few hours, they will die again—for good. The human body contains a finite amount of blood, some of which is needed to—you know—run the body, so how are all of these children going to stay alive? Snack time’s gonna get rough.

Poor Things

by Alasdair Gray

It’s (Alasdair) Gray’s Anatomy! A loopy and postmodern Frankenstein/Pygmallion mashup that proves you can bring ‘em back to life and polish ‘em up, but that don’t make ‘em yours. Even a Victorian corpse bride with a baby’s brain will manage to summon her inner feminist and get the last word. 

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

by Stuart Turton

Groundhog Day with murrrrderrr! Life After Life with body swapping! Quantum Leap for pessimists! An intricate whodunnit puzzlebox novel in which a woman is re-murdered every day, while our would-be hero is forced to inhabit the bodies of eight different witnesses—cycling through one a day, and losing chunks of his own identity in the process, until he can identify her killer. If he fails, it’s rinse and repeat. Indefinitely. 

Unbury Carol

by Josh Malerman

This may be cheating, as Carol does not overcome death itselfso much as a chronic deathlike condition which leaves her resembling a corpse, while actually being paralyzed-but-aware and terribly vulnerable to accidental burial. Or to deliberate burial by anyone standing to benefit from her death. But even coming back from near-death is nothing to scoff at, nor is a Sleeping Beauty western with gunslingers, magic and so much arson. 

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones

by Micah Dean Hicks

An allegory for this economically anxious age with both literal and figurative ghosts. Swine Hill is a moribund factory town where the dead outnumber the living. It’s bad enough that residents are haunted by spirits with the ability to possess human bodies, but when one of them mad-scientists a batch of pig people to run the slaughterhouse, taking the few available jobs away from human people, tensions escalate into violence. 

The n-Body Problem

by Tony Burgess

What do you do when the world’s zombie problem gets out of hand? Catapult ‘em into space, of course! If you think this sounds like a hilarious zom-com, you do not know Tony Burgess. As Canada’s reigning king of body horror, Burgess leaves no corpse unturned and no open wound unpoked, subjecting the reader to extremely graphic descriptions of bodily humiliation—disease, defilement, dehumanization. And that’s just what happens to the zombies. For the living, he’s got much worse in mind. 

The Migration

by Helen Marshall

Near-future speculative sci-fi with a pandemic hook, as the emergence of an autoimmune disorder affecting teens and young adults coincides with erratic storms and rising ocean levels. Those whom the disease kills, however, don’t quite stay dead, metamorphosing into something entirely new that is less Evil Dead than Evolving Dead. Life, uh, finds a way. 

The Incarnations

by Susan Barker

A story of love, betrayal, obsession, and some light stalking. Two souls meet up again and again across hundreds of years of China’s history, entangled in relationships that are romantic—or at least sexual—in a variety of gender combinations and power dynamics that always end very badly. But maybe this time it’ll be different.


by J. Kent Messum

One of the best things about being filthy rich is that death needn’t be the end. Here, one’s consciousness can be downloaded, allowing for an afterlife in the virtual world of their choosing. When the itch for mortal pleasures must be scratched, a ‘husk’ can be procured—a body-for-rent available for all the sex, drugs and mischief wasted on the living. And when the husks get their bodies back, well, some damage is to be expected. 

Karen Brissette

Karen Brissette, booknerd for hire, is the #1 reviewer on Goodreads and also writes about books for NoveList and L.A. Review of Books. She is the same-but-different Karen Brissette blogging her way through Paul Tremblay’s novel A Head Full of Ghosts, but her real blog is: www.bloggycomelately.com. Although she played the sax for ten years, she is terrible at tooting her own horn.

Main artwork: "Resurrection of Jairus's Daughter," artist unknown, via Wikimedia Commons.