Most of us read novels because we want to hear interesting stories about the lives of people who are relatable, but not exactly like us. The life story is a backbone of fiction, but it鈥檚 all too easy for yet another one of these novels to get trapped in the same sort of style. Not so for the three books in this week鈥檚 book club: Each one of them takes on the life story, but adds its own particular twist to the proceedings. Read on for letters, graphics, and a totally new take on an old tale.

1. Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel ($16): Fogel, of the New Yorker鈥檚 鈥淪houts and Murmurs鈥 column, writes this epistolary work (a book comprised only of letters or documents) to take us through the life of Julie Feller, as seen through years-long correspondence with her family. All we know about Julie is developed through this series of notes. There are letters to Julie at summer camp, a list of increasingly bizarre 鈥渉ouse rules鈥 from her aunt, and an apology note from her mother for barging in on her doing something, uh, private (yes, the book goes straight to acute embarrassment very quickly), slipped under her door. There are even chat conversations with Julie鈥檚 hyper sister, conducted, naturally, in text-speak.

The book is filled with evocative titles and jokes, such as 鈥淵our Mom Wanted to Run Her First Yelp Review by You,鈥 鈥淵our Dad Is Less Than Thrilled About Your Childhood Dream鈥 and 鈥淵our Sister Said Something Racist to Your Dad鈥檚 New Girlfriend.鈥 We get to know Julie through the way her family writes to and about her: her mom鈥檚 painfully well-meaning attempts to understand, various foibles by various relatives, her dad鈥檚 negotiations with her over Hanukkah presents and career choices. 鈥淯nfortunately, as I told your mother, I do not think this is a sound investment, for reasons having nothing to do with our religious beliefs,鈥 he writes, of the request for a video game. 鈥淭he fact of the matter is that I am well aware of current research studies in my field on the long-term effects of video games on brain chemistry. As their results are yet unproven, I would be as negligent in allowing my own daughter to be a test case for this potential mental erosion as I would in allowing her to ingest off-market SSRIs in Phase One clinical trials.鈥

It鈥檚 not just family that gets in on the action, though; even the less-animate objects in Julie鈥檚 life lovingly send missives. Julie鈥檚 IUD, her dead gerbil, and the NordicTrack left to languish all get in on the fun. (鈥淔orgive me if I sound bleak,鈥 the NordicTrack writes. 鈥淎s a Scandinavian, I have a predisposition toward fatalism.鈥) This slim but hilarious volume gives us a great sense of Julie鈥檚 life in an unconventional and quirky way.

2. Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin ($27): Graphic designer and illustrator Shopsin鈥檚 twist to her autobiography makes use of her multifarious talents. Her tales of growing up an heir to her family鈥檚 famous Shopsin鈥檚 market and diner in 1970s Greenwich Village are not only populated with excellent gossip about the celebrities that frequented the counter (John Belushi and Kennedy, Jr., Calvin Trillin) but are illustrated via graphics, line drawings, and photographs for a real sense of time and place and a 鈥減ointillist鈥 aesthetic.

Written in choppy, often mysterious paragraphs, Shopsin鈥檚 story is one about growing up in a wild, happy, but sometimes dangerous world. Never fully nostalgic, she acknowledges the racially motivated beatings, violence, and rampant drug culture, while sketching out a world that was exciting and creative, more community than condo and more hedonism than helicopter parent. (The Shopsin kids were allowed to roam the city via subway from an age that might have today鈥檚 parents clutching their pearls.) That鈥檚 the spirit behind her outspoken father Kenny鈥檚 declaration that everyone needs an 鈥渁rbitrary stupid goal,鈥 something that isn鈥檛 important enough to control or ruin your life, but that gives you a cause and motivation. 鈥淭he carrot wasn鈥檛 that important,鈥 he says, 鈥渂ut chasing it was.鈥 Fitting, Shopsin declares, for an area of town with the same name as Greenwich, England, whose prime meridian line is as arbitrary as it gets.

Of Greenwich Village鈥檚 name, Shopsin writes, 鈥淐opying your old neighbor is an unimaginative way to name a place. I feel this, but I also come from a family that named their family store 鈥楾he Store鈥.鈥 That might not be particularly creative, but the twisty Arbitrary Stupid Goal is creatively packed with indelible characters and the charm of a New York long since changed. Full of vision and heart, it鈥檚 anything but arbitrary.

3. Hook鈥檚 Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself by John Leonard Pielmeier ($25): The story of Peter Pan is a pretty familiar one, and it鈥檚 been told in a number of ways, from a book to an animated feature to a part of a Johnny Depp movie to a musical of said movie (and then, well, there鈥檚 鈥淗ook鈥). In this version, playwright Pielmeier tells the story through the eyes of the crocodile-bitten pirate, who single-handedly (sorry) takes us through his spin on the events. Needless to say, this is a Hook who protests his innocence.

鈥淓verything you think you know about me is a lie,鈥 claims the titular Hook, who tells us that his birth name is actually James Cook, and he鈥檚 a descendant of the famed British explorer. After his father鈥檚 disappearance, a miserable time at Eton, and his mother鈥檚 passing, Cook decides to run away from it all. At 13, he鈥檚 kidnapped and forced to work as a cabin boy on a ship that goes out to sea and finds itself in temporal flux. A map leads him to the 鈥淣ever-Isles,鈥 where he meets Smee and Tiger Lily, as one would expect. What鈥檚 different is almost all of Hook鈥檚 relationships and actions: He adopts the crocodile that is initially more loving than terrifying, and even teaches Peter Pan how to fly. It鈥檚 Peter who鈥檚 cast as the problem, with short-term memory issues and a vicious, even deadly, sense of fun.

Presented as a newly discovered historical document, and chock full of Victorian references and cameos (Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, and the cast of Treasure Island all make appearances), the novel even includes JM Barrie, the 鈥渄our Scotsman鈥 himself. Hook, of course, is no fan of Barrie鈥檚, as the man has gotten it all wrong and besmirched his reputation. Of course, his admission that all his initial troubles stem from embellishing his story means that it鈥檚 up to you to decide whose version is correct. It鈥檚 a new twist on a familiar story that never does grow old.

What books make you see things in a new light? Tag us in your next inventive read @BritandCo.

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