The best adventure stories which also explore the self

The Books I Picked & Why


By Laura Hillenbrand

Book cover of Unbroken

Why this book?

This book is so edge-of-your-seat exciting that you would swear it was a well-crafted work of fiction. It’s not. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini whose plane is shot down in World War II. He is left adrift by himself, with thousands of miles of treacherous ocean to cross, just to reach enemy territory and have a chance at survival. Even then he faces captivity and abuse. The only resources he has are the resources he has within himself. He emerges unbroken! Have you ever wondered what you might have inside yourself to face extreme crisis? I have! In this book, Zamperini discovers the resources within himself to face each challenge.

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Beneath a Scarlet Sky

By Mark Sullivan

Book cover of Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Why this book?

At the beginning of this book, Pino Lella is a typical teenage boy, obsessed with girls, even though the world is falling apart. Benito Mussolini has allied with Hitler and the world is embroiled in World War II. Still, Pino’s main question about himself is, will he ever be able to attract the girl of his dreams? I related to that (Been there, done that!). In this book, Pino is forced to grow out of that mindset. The Nazi’s take over in Italy, and he ends up smuggling Jews across the border to Switzerland, as well as acting as a spy for the resistance. Even as he grows in physical strength, he finds within himself a strength of character that turns him into a hero of the Italian resistance. 

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Devolution: Book One of The Devolution Trilogy

By John Casey

Book cover of Devolution: Book One of The Devolution Trilogy

Why this book?

What I especially liked about Devolution is that some spy novels portray the protagonist as a larger-than-life superhero who knows more than everyone else and is never beset by personal uncertainty and struggle. John Casey, however, has created a character in Michael Dolan who has been wounded by a past trauma, and shows his humanity. I found myself identifying with him. I have never been able to identify with seemingly invulnerable superheroes. John Wayne or 007, I am not, now will I ever be. Still, in Devolution, Michael Dolan is a man who is committed to the truth and fighting for what is right. Confronting truths about himself helps him to do that powerfully. 

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Life of Pi

By Yann Martel

Book cover of Life of Pi

Why this book?

This book grabbed my interest and never let go. A young boy, Pi Patel, survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Talk about an adventure! But as with the other adventure stories I have chosen, his outward adventure brings about inward transformation. Even before, the young Pi had an intense spiritual interest (a young boy who dared to be both Hindu and Christian!) But with his trek across a vast ocean, he even more intensely explores himself and the nature of his spirituality. Some find the book hard to believe. But as Pi discovers, the unbelievable is at the heart of life. 

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

By Mark Twain

Book cover of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Why this book?

I had to include this classic adventure. Part of the reason is I was born in Missouri and spent many vacations exploring the region Mark Twain (Samuel Clemmons) called home. But the main reason I have included this story is Twain’s character, Huck Finn, discovers some important things about himself in this adventure. Huck lives in a racist, slave-owning culture, and at first, he accepts that without question. That is the reason why some see this as a racist book, and I can see the argument. But as he rafts down the Mississippi with Jim, the escaped slave, the two become friends who depend on each other and learn from each other. He even decides he would prefer going to hell over hurting his friend. That is a vital self-discovery.

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