Days of Awe
This novel very closely resembles the premise of Dead to Me, but with a twist. A year ago, Isabel Moore was married, adored by her ten-year-old daughter, and thought she knew everything about her best friend, Josie. But in the span of a year, Isabel’s husband moved out; her daughter grew into a moody insomniac; and Josie—impulsive, funny, secretive Josie—was killed in a car accident that’s left a mess of unanswered questions in its wake. Suddenly, the relationships that have always defined Isabel—wife, mother, best friend—are changing before her eyes.
The Queen of Hearts
What are the secrets your best friend is hiding from you? Zadie and Emma have been BFFs since their twenties when they met in med school. Now, they’re happily married, are mothers, and have successful careers as doctors. Everything is peachy until the return of a former colleague unearths a secret one of them has been harboring from the other for years. When the secret is revealed, it makes one friend question everything she thought she knew about her bestie.
As I was watching Dead to Me, I pondered just how much we could trust Judy. Is she a scammer, or is she truly a good person who did a bad thing? This book made me ask the same thing. When Nancy and her family move to Hawaii, they’re looking for a fresh start. She and her husband are barely speaking and their twin sons are acting out, but the island lifestyle seems to help heal them all. When Nancy starts taking yoga, she is drawn to the charismatic teacher, Ana. The two begin to spend all their time together, driving around the island or relaxing in Ana’s hot tub—so much so that Nancy starts neglecting her family. Nancy’s never felt so understood by someone before. But who is Ana really? And what does she want? This story of friendship and manipulation will satisfy the hole left by the end of Dead to Me.
Laura Lynne Jackson
One of the most touching moments in Season 1 of Dead to Me is when Jen’s youngest son Henry is visited by a bird every morning, whom he thinks is his dead father coming to wake him up for school. Jen is quick to dismiss this idea, but Judy isn’t sure it’s bogus. Author and psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson would agree with Judy. In Signs, she details all the ways our loved ones can send us signs after they’ve passed over to The Other Side—and birds are frequently used, along with rainbows, butterflies, and deer. This book details lots of real-life encounters with signs from loved ones who have died and we think Henry would find it comforting.
My Lovely Wife
Judy and her ex-fiancé Steve were both in the car the night they hit Ted, and both conspire to cover up their crime. This couple is no different. Millicent and her husband seem normal on the outside—they live in the suburbs, have kids…and also commit murder together. But they begin to keep small secrets from each other, then bigger ones, which threaten to tear them both down. Like breaking down the ’66 Mustang for parts (“no car, no crime!”) does for Judy and Steve, murder keeps Millicent and her man close together.
Tara Isabella Burton
Louise is a poor nobody. Lavinia is rich and has a social life to die for—pun very much intended. When Lavinia takes Louise under her wing, the two become so close they can finish each other’s sentences and share each other’s clothes. But the young women spiral into a codependent, intimate, intense and toxic friendship that is reminiscent of Judy and Jen.
Woman No. 17
When you invite a new person into your home to be around your kids, how can you know they’re normal and safe and not totally psycho? This is the trouble Lady Daniels has when she hires a new nanny to watch over her sons as she finishes her book. S is a quirky and magnetic artist who moves into the guest house and draws the whole family into her orbit, including her employer, Lady, with whom she becomes fast friends. But as S begins to go off the rails, both women cling desperately to the secrets they want to keep hidden.
The Rules Do Not Apply
My heart breaks for Judy as she recounts her struggle with multiple miscarriages and how it contributed to the downfall of her relationship with Steve (I mean also killing a guy would put a strain on any relationship, but hey, who am I to judge?). New Yorker writer Ariel Levy recounts in her moving memoir her devastating miscarriage and the crumbling of her relationship in the wake of that loss. Reading it will make you sympathetic for what Judy’s going through.
The Woman Inside
E. G. Scott
Here’s another murderous couple keeping toxic secrets from each other. Paul and Rebecca used to be caught in the throes of passion at the beginning of their marriage, but now, Rebecca is addicted to opioids and finds out that Paul is cheating. She concocts a plan to bring him down, but she may wind up destroyed as well.
No Walls and the Recurring Dream
Judy and Jen share a great Gen X moment when they talk about their mutual love of Ani DiFranco. They’d probably both love the “Both Hands” singer’s memoir about her journey from being an emancipated minor sleeping in a bus station to releasing her first album at age 18 to creating her own label, Righteous Babe Records. Ani expounds on her activism, her feminism, her songwriting, and her coming of age in this creative and inspiring narrative.
Saturday Night Widows
What if, instead of the Friends of Heaven grief support group, Jen found her way to The Saturday Night Widows? This true story details six young women, widowed too early, who band together to find a path back to life out of grief. They find friendship, support, humor, and new beginnings and teach each other that there is light even in so much darkness. Pastor Wayne could learn a thing or two from these ladies.
The Long Goodbye
Jen and Judy are both caught in the clutches of grief, experiencing it in their own ways. Meghan O’Rourke’s meditation on grief is one I’d recommend to all the characters in Dead to Me. She examines what it means to mourn today, which she experienced acutely after the death of her mother from cancer at age fifty-five and simultaneous separation from her husband.
All That You Leave Behind
Erin Lee Carr
For Henry and Charlie, the sudden death of their father is a profound loss, one that filmmaker Erin Lee Carr also explores in her memoir All That You Leave Behind. After her dad, David Carr, drops dead in the New York Times newsroom, she goes back through their years of correspondence in search of comfort and support. What is revealed is the layered relationship between a father and daughter, both journalists, both struggling with sobriety. Henry and Charlie might find it bolstering.
Looking for books like Dead to Me? Me too. I binged Netflix’s latest “dramedy” Dead to Me in one day, that’s how irresistible and relatable I found the show. The original series centers on Jen Harding, who, in the aftermath of her husband’s death from a hit-and-run accident, meets Judy Hale, a woman with a hidden agenda, at a grief support group. Jen, a real estate agent, is obsessed with trying to find out who the driver of the car that killed her husband is while also struggling as a newly single mom to her two boys. She and Judy fall into a fast friendship, Judy moves into Jen’s guesthouse…but what does Jen really know about the secrets Judy is hiding? And how does Steve, Jen’s new real estate client and Judy’s ex-fiancé, factor into the whole thing?
After we find out something shocking at the end of episode one, viewers are hooked, trying to figure out if Jen will discover what Judy is hiding. As I watched Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, and James Marsden grieve and mourn and lie and plot, I kept thinking about books I’d read that the show reminded me of. I thought about books that contain relationships between best friends, novels where secrets are kept hidden, thrillers where a couple commits crimes together, memoirs that touch on miscarriage and grief and loss, and even a nonfiction book about signs our loved ones send us when they cross over to the other side. Below are some great books like Dead to Me for you to read when you’re done bingeing the Netflix original series. All of them are perfect reads to pick up as you wait for the next season (fingers crossed there will be a season 2, right?), but beware, show spoilers abound in the book recaps, so read at your own risk!
Featured image: IMDb