Metamorphosis: Transforming into the Unknown

By Elise Damasco

As the year wraps up, it’s often tradition to reflect on ways to change for the upcoming year. But what about transformations that are a little less…human? These books feature humans that physically transform into nonhuman entities. Some of these changes are comforting and others are horrifying. Most, though, are undeniably strange.

  • Shark Heart: A Love Story

    2023 by Habeck, Emily

    A man is diagnosed with a rare mutation that will slowly turn him into a shark in this vibrant intergenerational novel. Although his wife Wren is struggling to come to terms with Lewis’ fate, it is inevitable: Lewis will become a great white shark. This unusual but heartfelt debut explores love, marriage, grief, and family through a transformation that changes everything.

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  • Chlorine

    2023 by Song, Jade

    A biting coming-of-age novel about success, obsession, immigration, and societal pressure. Ren, a dedicated swimmer, knows she belongs in the water. No matter how much pain she suffers through, she dreams of a life of freedom. And she knows exactly how to achieve that–she must become a mermaid. As Ren shifts from child to adult, an unsettling transformation from human to monster takes place.

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  • The Astonishing Color of After

    2018 by Pan, Emily X. R.

    Fifteen-year-old Leigh Chen Sanders is sure that her mother, who died by suicide, has transformed into a bird. To cope with her grief, she travels from the U.S. to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. Rich with symbolism and elements of magical realism, this emotional account of a daughter coming to terms with major changes in her life uses the transformation from human to animal to facilitate the healing process.

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  • When Women Were Dragon

    2022 by Barnhill, Kelly Regan

    Kelly Regan Barnhill explores the taboo in this compelling alternate history. In 1955, the Mass Dragoning took place: thousands of women transformed into dragons and then flew to the sky, turning them into an unspeakable subject. But as Alex Green, a young girl whose aunt transformed into a dragon, starts to ask questions, she is forced to be silent. Mesmerizing and moving, this novel highlights anger, gender, and oppression.

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  • Our Wives under the Sea

    2022 by Armfield, Julia

    Literary fiction and horror blend together in this unsettling tale of loss and love. As much as Miri hoped to return to normal after her wife Leah’s submarine tragedy, things are not the same. Leah begins to exhibit haunting psychological and physical changes that push their marriage into unfamiliar territory. Slowly and painfully, Miri watches her wife Leah transform into...something.

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  • Nightbitch

    2021 by Yoder, Rachel

    A new mother. A frightening transformation. Funny, strange, and gruesome, this searing satire delves into the complexities of motherhood as our unnamed narrator starts noticing some strange symptoms–sharp teeth, patches of hair, a new hunger. Convinced she is turning into a dog, she tries to conceal her secret until she discovers another group of mothers.

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  • Such Sharp Teeth

    2022 by Harrison, Rachel

    After accidentally hitting an animal with her car, Rory goes to investigate. But when she leaves her car, she is violently attacked. Although Rory survives, she notices she’s starting to change into something unusual–and perhaps even monster-like. Dark yet humorous, Rachel Harrison uncovers Rory’s trauma through a supernatural transformation.

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  • Where the Lost Ones Go

    2022 by Bowman, Akemi Dawn

    The familiar theme of a human transforming into a ghost helps ease the pain of loss in this heartfelt middle grade novel. Twelve-year-old Eliot feels alone in her grief after Babung, her paternal grandmother, passes away. Determined to give Babung one final goodbye, Eliot searches for any sign that ghosts are real. But as she sets off to find Babung, Eliot becomes more involved with ghosts than she expected.

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  • The Vegetarian

    2015 by Han, Kang

    One sudden decision is met with extreme opposition in this haunting novella. Although it’s not widely accepted in her culture, Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian after having an unsettling dream. As she undergoes radical psychological and physical transformations, she experiences unfathomable instances of violence and cruelty.

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  • Severance

    2018 by Ma, Ling

    Perhaps this transformation is the most human-seeming one on this list. In this satirical, thought-provoking dystopia, Shen Fever has taken over New York, causing humans to turn into zombies. But they’re not the violent, flesh-eating zombies we usually hear about. Instead, they continue doing their same repetitive tasks, to the point where they actually might be a bit more tragic than the decaying, hungry, live corpse version of a zombie…because those are two different things, right?

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  • Garden of Earthly Bodies

    2022 by Oliver, Sally

    Here’s another haunting novel in which grief incites a physical transformation. While coping with the death of her sister, Marianne notices some strange changes to her body: she’s starting to grow thick, black hair down her spine. Her doctor tells her it’s a response to the stress she’s under, but even after Marianne signs up for the retreat her doctor recommends, things aren’t getting better.

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  • The Metamorphosis

    2014 by Kafka, Franz

    This list wouldn’t be complete without one of the most famous works about a person who transforms into something nonhuman. Although it’s a bit different from the other books on this list, Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a gigantic insect is both absurd and memorable.

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