Whether you’re participating in the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, or simply interested in reading books with elderly characters in their 90s and 100s, we’ve curated a diverse list of recommendations! Our list includes a mix of memoirs and novels with nonagenarian and centenarian protagonists.
What is a nonagenarian? The meaning of nonagenarian is a person between 90 and 99 years old. What is a centenarian? As you can probably guess from the context, centenarian means a person who is 100 to 109 years. Our book list even includes some supercentenarians who are 110 years old and older!
Read about the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, find monthly book lists, and download your free printable book tracker here.
Table of Contents
A Century of Living
No matter our age, we can look back and reflect on how things have changed in our lifetime. But just think of the dramatic changes experienced by those who live for nearly a century of life (or more).
One hundred years ago, in the 1920s, troops had recently returned home from WWI. The newly ratified 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in the US. Although, it still would be another 45 years before Black women were able to exercise that same right.
In the US, for the first time in history, more Americans were living in cities than on farms. Although cars were considered a luxury in the early 1920s, by the end of the decade they were a necessity.
Despite prohibition (or perhaps because of it), the Twenties were a roaring time in the US. But the decades that followed brought about the Great Depression and then World War II. The latter half of the 20th century saw the Cold War, Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War, and so much more.
Throughout a century of living, today’s nonagenarians and centenarians have seen dramatic advances in technology. From the first television broadcast in 1927 to the internet. And from the first personal computers in 1974 to the smartphones that we carry in our pockets and purses today.
If you’d like to read more about how world has changed throughout the past century, join our Decades Reading Challenge. For this challenge, we read a book set in a different decade each month, including the entirety of the 20th century.
What We Can Learn From Elderly Book Characters
In the US, the average life expectancy is around 78 years old. Globally, the average is between 72 and 73 years old. While there’s a 30% chance of reaching your 90th birthday, only 14 in 1,000 people will live to be 100 years old. That means that many of us aren’t lucky enough to have 90-something or 100-something relatives and neighbors in our lives.
Thankfully, through the wonderful characters in the elderly protagonist books that we’ve listed below, we can all have the opportunity to learn a bit about life at 90 and 100+. Many of these stories involve an elderly main character forming relationships with someone from a younger generation. In these books, the senior protagonist shares their life story and imparts the wisdom that comes with old age. Another common theme among these novels with elderly characters in their 90s and 100s is a willingness to still learn and try new things at this late stage of life.
In selecting titles for our list of books with nonagenarian and centenarian main characters, we’ve focused primarily (but not exclusively) on contemporary stories that help us understand life in your 90s and 100s today. We’ve curated a diverse list of recommended books, ranging from cozy mysteries to literary fiction, and even a few memoir and nonfiction titles. In addition to reflecting a wide range of life experiences, the main characters also vary in ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, class, background, lifestyle, and more.
As always, you are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for this month’s challenge. We hope that our list of books with elderly protagonists provides a good starting point. We’ve selected a combination of newer releases and older titles that are likely immediately available from your local library.
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At 91, Ptolemy has been largely forgotten by family, friends, and sometimes even himself as dementia sets in. His grand-nephew is the only person who keeps him grounded to the outside world. When he is killed in a drive-by shooting, Ptolemy becomes even more hermit-like.
Then, he meets Robyn, his niece’s 17-year-old lodger and the only person to take care of him at his grandnephew’s funeral. However, her kindness that day doesn’t mean she won’t challenge him. Robyn challenges Ptolemy to continue interacting with the world, which leads to a doctor with an experimental drug that will help his mind become clear again, but the treatment comes with a cost.
The Book Girls Say…This book was turned into an AppleTV series starring Samuel L. Jackson in 2022.
This non-fiction book is part family memoir and part travelog. Norma had recently lost her husband of nearly seven decades when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. The medical advice included surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But she had a different vision for her waning days. Rather than spending them in a hospital bed, Norma wants an adventure.
Together with her retired son, Tim, his wife, Ramie, and their Poodle named Ringo, Norma hits the road in a motor home, determined to see as much as possible. A once timid woman, Norma decides to say “yes” to living. State by state, she tries regional foods for the first time, goes whale watching and hot air ballooning, and mounts up for a horseback ride. With each passing mile (and thanks in part to a stop at a cannabis dispensary), Norma’s health improves, and she and her family form a tighter bond.
The Book Girls Say… Ramie created a Facebook page called “Driving Miss Norma” to document the family’s journey. As their following grew, strangers all around the country began recommending places to stop and things to do, which helped to guide their 32-state journey. This book is described as an uplifting, inspirational, and moving story!
This adventure tale transports you to Southeast Alaska and into the life of Keb Wisting. He’s part Norwegian, part Tlingit native, and the last living canoe carver in his village. Grandson James is close to a career in the NBA when a logging accident ruins his prospects as a basketball player. So instead, a depressed James helps his grandpa finish his last canoe.
With the canoe finished, Keb, James, a few friends, and a crazy dog named Steve set off on the canoe journey of a lifetime. Paddling deep into wild Alaska, their story blends adventure, love, and reconciliation. You’ll also enjoy meeting the endearing small-town characters they encounter along the way.
Throughout Doris's life, she's documented the people she encounters in the same address book. Now, at 96 and living alone in Sweden, she begins looking back through the address book, especially at all those who she has crossed out one by one as they died. In her bittersweet trip down memory lane, she reflects back on those who entered her life for various reasons and seasons, each making a mark on who she would become.
Doris sets out to document her life, from working as a maid in Sweden, to modeling in Paris before escaping WWII, to searching for lost love in Manhattan. By documenting her personal and family past, she hopes to help her only living relative, a grandniece named Jenny, who lives in the US.
The Book Girls Say… Some of our readers chose this book for their Western Europe read in the Book Voyage Reading Challenge, and 94% said they would recommend the book to a friend.
Retire nature writer Hattie is not thrilled when a fall just before her 90th birthday lands her in Woodlands Nursing Home. Despite the pleasant name, her “room with a view” overlooks a parking lot instead of a forest. On top of the lousy view, Hattie struggles with her loss of independence and dreams of escape.
Fellow “inmate” Walter also plans to break free as soon as he gets control of his mobility scooter. He’s outgoing and thinks he’s a comedian, so he is not Hattie’s first choice for a new friend. But when Hattie and Walter discover the clandestine club, “The Night Owls,” run by Sister Bronwyn and her dog Queenie, they must join forces and slowly, unexpectedly, become friends.
Cecily Finn is still sharp-minded and sharp-tongued during her 97th year. She’s at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies, which is filled with women who each have a remarkable past. New volunteer Kate is less than half Cecily’s age at 40, and her life has just fallen apart.
She’s directed to Cecily’s room, as she doesn’t get any other visitors, but Cecily quickly tires of Kate’s choices in life and love. So she assigns Kate a book - Food for Thought - a 1950s cookbook full of advice and recipes for the “easily dismayed.” As Kate cooks through the book, she returns to Cecily again and again to discuss food and life.
The Book Girls Say…While this is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the author’s grandmother and an actual cookbook. The whole book is crammed with food talk, food prep, and food eating, so if you love food novels, this is the pick for you! On the other hand, if you hate cooking or foodies, consider skipping it.
Cecily Finn takes quite a while to warm up to, so if you dislike reading unlikeable characters, this one will be a struggle. However, others immediately love her snark, so if that’s your style, it should be a winner!
The real Queen Elizabeth was 96 years old when she recently passed away. We knew her as the fiesty and sharp monarch who led the UK for seventy years, but in this fictionalized story of her life, she’s also an amateur detective.
Set in the summer of 2016, Her Majesty has a full schedule that includes meeting with the new prime minister and keeping an eye on the impacts of the upcoming presidential election in the States.
When a staff member is found dead inside Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s private secretary alerts her to a string of disturbing letters. In between her other responsibilities, Elizabeth must solve the mystery of a missing painting and uncover how it is connected to the death.
The Book Girls Say… This is the second cozy mystery in the Her Majesty the Queen Investigates series, but it reads as a standalone and is much more highly rated than the first book, so we recommend starting here. If you enjoy this book, you’re in luck because the next installment in the series - Murder Most Royal - is set to be published on November 10, 2022, and it’s set at Christmas time.
Set in post-war (1947) England, the book tells the story of a woman named Marvellous Ways who lives alone along a Cornish Creek. Despite her age, she still feels young at heart. She senses she’s waiting for something and often looks down the creek with the telescope, anticipating an arrival.
One day, she finds an injured soldier, Francis Drake, who has come to England to fulfill the last wish of a fellow soldier. As she cares for his injuries, Marvellous shares her life story and takes time to listen to him as well.
The Book Girls Say…This book has a slow, poetic, magical vibe that could add to, or distract from, your enjoyment of the story, depending on your reading preferences. The author also elected to write without quotation marks, so if that style is a deal-breaker for you, skip this one.
Mr. Baxter is not thrilled to end up as the newest resident of Melrose Gardens Retirement Home after a fall down the stairs. He planned to live out his twilight years at home with wine and music, not in a home with tea and the telly. This disconnect between his current and ideal circumstances makes him a challenging patient until he meets Gregory.
Greg is only 19, but has suffered his own extreme loss and is in danger of giving up on life. Baxter is determined to save Greg no matter what it takes, so he requests Greg’s help to pay tribute to his long-lost love, Thomas.
Baxter and Gregory escape Melrose and head for the war graves in Northern France on a final adventure for Mr. Baxter. He shares his life story along the way while helping Greg find beauty and kindness in the world again.
The Book Girls Say…This book was recommended by one of our readers, who described it as a book that will “break your heart and give you hope in equal measure.”
HEADS UP: This book contains topics of suicide and homophobia, including homophobic violence.
Ninety-year-old Hagar is quite curmudgeonly and not quiet about the fact that she’s never been happy and dislikes pretty much everyone she’s ever met.
After 17 years of living with her son and his wife, they suddenly announce that they will be downsizing and expect her to move into a nursing home. As you would expect, Hagar is not thrilled with this upcoming agreement.
The book is told from Hagar’s perspective as she tries to come to terms with aging, and also slips into memories of her first 90 years.
The Book Girls Say…Our Canadian readers may already be familiar with this classic, which was originally published in 1964 and became required reading in many schools.
Author Diana Athill was on the eve of her 98th birthday when she wrote this memoir. It is a follow-up to her award-winning book Somewhere Towards the End, which she wrote at the young age of 91. After five decades working as an editor, Diana Athill has a way with words. Both books share her candid and unsentimental, yet wise and often funny, take on her life and aging in general.
Each book is under 200 pages long, so either would be a quick non-fiction pick this month.
***Melissa choose this book and discovered that while Mildred/Millie is a main character, the story is told from the younger Raymond's point of view. We're leaving it on the list for now since some have already chosen in, but if you haven't selected yet, we recommend holding off until December for intergenerational books. ***
by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Mildred, 92 years old
Raymond is a shy Black teen who feels like he doesn’t fit in anywhere - not with his complicated family, and not at school. Mildred is a blind 92-year-old Holocaust survivor living alone since her caretaker disappeared. When Raymond meets Mildred in his apartment building, she introduces herself with the question: “Have you seen Luis Velez?”
Raymond begins to help Mildred with her weekly errands to the banks and the grocery store, and also hopes to help her track down Luis. As their neighborhood devolves further into bigotry and fear, they form an unlikely friendship. Raymond tries to reassure her that for every terrible act, there’s a mirror image of kindness, And Mildred helps Raymond see that even when life is difficult, there is always hope.
The Book Girls Say… This is a heartwarming, feel-good story about the power of kindness. Many readers say it’s the perfect book to enjoy between more difficult reads, or when you need a break from all the news stories about politics and division.
This book is included with Kindle Unlimited as of 10/11/22.
Described as a Swedish Forrest Gump, this centenarian novel introduces us to Allan Karlsson, who climbs out the window to escape the 100th birthday party his nursing home has planned.
Dressed in his slippers, he embarks upon a wild and hilarious journey where he encounters petty thieves, a suitcase full of money, and even an elephant named Sonya. But that is nothing compared to his larger-than-life backstory. During his long life, Allan has not only witnessed, but also played a part in, some of the 20th century’s most important events all around the globe.
The Book Girls Say… While most reviews describe this book as hilarious, keep in mind that it’s a drier, Nordic style of humor. Some say that the chapters set in the past are less engaging than those in the present, while historical fiction fans tend to enjoy the dual timeline element. You can follow more of Allan’s adventures in the sequel, The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man.
The audiobook version is currently free with Audible Plus as of 10/11/22.
Each Saturday morning, an 11-year-old boy working toward Boy Scout badges helps 104-year-old Ona. When he first begins assisting with her household tasks, she’s determined to scare him away. But despite her prickly exterior, Ona has a warm heart. Soon she’s telling him stories from her long life.
Ona has a lot of regrets, and when the boy asks to interview her for a school assignment, she begins to open up about secrets she has kept hidden for decades.
One weekend, the boy fails to show up, leaving Ona feeling hurt and abandoned. But when the boy’s father shows up on her doorstep determined to finish his son’s good deed, Ona discovers that sometimes sharing a loss is the only we can find ourselves again.
The Book Girls Say… While Publisher’s Weekly called this book “devastating,” most readers say that, despite its sad elements, the book is uplifting, rather than depressing. It’s described as an inspiring story of redemption, hope, and finding one’s purpose. Reviewers specifically praise the character development throughout the novel.
One-hundred-year-old Murray McBride is the last man standing - having survived his family and friends. He’s looking for a reason to live when he meets Jason, a 10-year-old with a terminal heart defect. Jason has a list of five things he wants to do before he dies, and Murray is determined to help him.
The two navigate the perilous streets of Chicago in a ‘67 Chevy as they race against the clock that’s ticking for both of them. Along the way, Murray remembers what it’s like to be young, and Jason fights for the opportunity to grow old.
The Book Girls Say… Told with simple prose, this short (234 pages) novel is described as poignant, emotional, and heartfelt! If you enjoy this story, you’ll also want to pick up the sequel, The Final Wish of Mr. Murray McBride.
Both books are included with Kindle Unlimited as of 10/11/22.
At the age of 115, Wilber is the oldest man in the United States. Although his body is failing him piece by piece, his brain and eyes are remarkably bright and clear. In his final days, Wilbur develops mental powers, including reading minds and moving objects with his mind.
At first Wilbur doesn’t know what to do with these new skills, but soon he starts using them to benefit those around him - a diverse cast of interesting characters.
The Book Girls Say… With elements of magical realism, bordering on fantasy, the style of this novel has been described as a mix between Stephen King and JD Salinger. That unexpected pairing has us adding this book to our TBR. The author is also a screenwriter, and reviewers comment that this story reads like a fast-paced movie that will hold your attention from beginning to end. This is a book that will stick with you!
Heads Up: Some reviewers comment on the foul language in this book, so if that bothers you, you might want to select a different title.
This book is included with Kindle Unlimited as of 10/11/22.
If you ask May Rosevere the secret to reaching the age of 110, she’ll attribute her longevity to a slice of buttered toast each morning, a glass (or two) of sherry each evening, and the Cornish sea breeze. But there’s another secret that May never shared with anyone - not even her late husband, Charles.
When a woman in town organizes an “Adopt a Granny” program, May winds up “adopted” by her much younger, 85-year-old neighbor, Julia. Though the two don’t initially get along, they share tea together and agree to a second meeting. As they slowly become friends, they embark on a project together to unravel a family mystery.
The Book Girls Say… This is not a heavily-plot-driven novel, but if you enjoy quaint, seaside settings and a dash of magical realism, then this book is worth your consideration. Some readers complain that some characters and topics in the book don’t have enough development or resolution, but overall this novel receives high ratings. And the prequel to 59 Memory Lane, titled The Cottage of Curiosities, gets even better reviews.
For most of her adult life, Roseanne has been a patient at the Roscommon Mental Hospital in rural Ireland. As her 100th birthday draws near, she learns that the hospital is set to close. Week by week, as she discusses this upheaval with her psychiatrist, Dr. Grene, their relationship becomes more intense and complicated.
Told through Roseanne and Dr. Grene’s respective journal entries, and refracted through the haze of memory and retelling. What Roseanne’s writings tell us conflicts with what Dr. Grene uncovers in old documents, presenting two different versions of the truth. As the hospital closure draws near, Dr. Grene must decide what to believe. He also must ultimately determine Roseanne’s fate in her old age.
In this Booker Prize-nominated novel, Rosanne’s story emerges as an alternative, secret history of Ireland. She’s lived a life of terrible mistreatment, but yet one still marked by love, passion, and hope.
This book is technically a sequel to Sarah Delaney’s first memoir, Having Our Say, which was written alongside her sister about their first century of life together. On my Own at 107 reflects on Sarah’s time at age 107, which was the first year she had lived without her sister, who passed away at age 104.
While the book talks about the natural grief of losing someone you’ve lived with for 104 years, reviewers also call it heartwarming and inspirational. It’s a short read, so perfect if you’re pressed for time. But if you’re able, consider picking up Having Our Say first to learn about the sisters' first 100 years before moving on to On My Own at 107.