4 of 17
Life of Pi
326 pages; Mariner Books
The Premise: An Indian man named "Pi" recalls the 227 days he spent adrift on the Pacific Ocean as a boy, following a shipwreck that killed his parents. The only other survivors in the lifeboat were a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a tiger named Richard Parker—maybe.  

Why the Ending Is a Stunner: The surprise comes with a philosophical afterburn, requiring us to think about how we endure tragedy, who we become in its wake and what we choose to believe.
— Dawn Raffel