50 States Reading List: Best Books Set in Every State

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What better way to celebrate July than with a 50 States Reading List! If you’re are up for an American Reading Challenge or just curious what we think are the best books set in every state, be sure to check out our epic list.

What do you do when you have some free time on your hands and want to create something big for your book blog?

You come up in an epic 50 States Reading List!

That’s right. I’ve got 50 books set in 50 states just for you. Let’s consider it the ultimate American Reading Challenge.

Our 2019 Reading Challenge asks you to read a book set in your home state. In order to make life easier, I wanted to create a list of the best book for every state.

But how do you choose the best book for every state? Do you go with the most famous book set in every state or do you aim for the most popular book in each state?

After much research, I decided to pick the books I’ve loved, the ones I hear about most often. I wanted to give this 50 States Reading List an updated look compared to other lists I’ve seen that all seem to mention the same books. I generally chose newer books over older books (but not always) and aimed to fit the list that would best describe what I want to see in a 50 States Reading List.

So dive right in. 50 Books Set in 50 States. What do you think: could you finish this ultimate American Reading Challenge?

This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you purchase anything, at no additional cost to you, we receive a small commission. For more information, read our Disclosures.

book cover Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

ALABAMA

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson

I know, you are expecting me to kick of the 50 States Reading List with the brilliant classic To Kill A Mockingbird, but since you’ve already read it, let’s take a different approach with Just Mercy. As a young idealistic lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice to defend the most desperate of clients. Over the years, he helped the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women with nowhere else to turn. One case in particular stands out: Walter McMillian, a young man on death row who insists he is innocent, and very well may be. Stevenson inspires his readers to consider how compassion is needed in order for true justice to be served.

Other Books Set in Alabama: Looking for Alaska by John Green, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

ALASKA

The Great Alone
by Kristin Hannah

Coming off The Nightingale, her wildly successful World War II novel, Kristin Hannah’s latest book explores the untamed wilds of Alaska. A recently returned Vietnam War POW, Ernt Allbright decides to move his family to the Alaskan frontier. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers and just what Ernt needs. But when the harsh Alaskan winter approaches and Ernt’s mental state begins to deteriorate, his wife and daughter must fight to survive. A captivating, stay-up-all-night novel that is definitely one of 2018’s best reads. Read more →

Other Books Set in Alaska: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

 

book cover These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

ARIZONA

These Is My Words
by Nancy E. Turner

Inspired by the author’s own family history, these are the words of Sarah Agnes Prine, a woman doing her best to follow the path life has laid out for her. Recounting her life from childhood to her marriage to Captain Jack Elliot, These Is My Words is a sweeping family saga beautifully depicting life in Arizona in the 1800s. Though the details of her everyday life are quite different, many of the struggles she faces still challenge women today.

Other Books Set in Arizona: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Hondo by Louis L’Amour

 

Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

ARKANSAS

Warriors Don’t Cry
by Melba Pattillo Beals

We’ve all seen the pictures of Elizabeth Eckford being screamed at as she tries to attend her first day of school at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But did you realize how long it took to integrate? Melba Pattillo Beals tells her memories of being part of the Little Rock Nine, of her oppressing junior year protected at times by the 101st Airborne Division and at times left alone to face the horrors laid upon by the other students. Of all the books from our 50 States Reading List, Warriors Don’t Cry will definitely make you angry at race relations in the 1950s and make you wonder about how we handle the same and similar issues today. Read more →

Other Books Set in Arkansas: I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing by Maya Angelou, A Painted House by John Grisham, True Grit by Charles Portis

 

book cover for There There by Tommy Orange

CALIFORNIA

There There
by Tommy Orange

Considered one of the best audiobooks of 2018, Tommy Orange’s debut novel tells of the lives of urban Native Americans. Centered around the Big Oakland Powwow, There There peeks into the lives of twelve characters as each is drawn by their Native American heritage to visit the Powwow. Orange delivers a striking look at many of the issues that have plagued so many Native Americans – alcoholism, addiction, suicide and abuse – as well as topics more specific to them. If you’ve never listened to a full cast audiobook, you definitely should give the audiobook in your American Reading Challenge.  Read more →

Other Books Set in California: Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

 

book cover Columbine by Dave Cullen

COLORADO

Columbine
by Dave Cullen

With meticulous in-depth research, Dave Cullen examines the mas shooting that forever changed America. In a day and age where shootings are sadly becoming the norm instead of the exception, Cullen takes you back to that fateful day in 1999. On that tragic day, Cullen was one of the first reporters on the scene and has since spent years piecing together the full story of what happened at Columbine High School.

Other Books Set in Colorado: The Shining by Stephen King, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, Centennial by James Michener

 

book cover The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

CONNECTICUT

The Last Romantics
by Tara Conklin

When asked what inspired her famous work, The Love Poem. renowned poet Fiona Skinner tells the story of her family. After her father’s sudden death, Fiona’s mother goes into a deep depression for three years, basically leaving the young children to fend for themselves. The four Skinner siblings’ lives forever changed during this period which they refer to as “The Pause.” They emerge closer than ever, but that period of time changes each one of them, with consequences following them throughout the rest of their lives.

Other Books Set in Connecticut: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill

 

book cover The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

DELAWARE

The Book of Unknown Americans
by Cristina Henriquez

In a Delaware apartment complex live Spanish-speaking immigrants from all over Central and South America. They may not all be from the same land, but they all share the same dream of starting a new life in America. Among them are Arturo and Alma Rivera who have come seeking medical help for their daughter Maribel. A heartfelt story of the various struggles and desires of immigrants, The Book of Unknown Americans is a must-read for any American Reading Challenge in today’s political climate.

Other Books Set in Delaware: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani

 

Grab the tissues because this book will definitely make you cry. You really ought to read Marley and Me by John Grogan

FLORIDA

Marley & Me
by John Grogan

I don’t even like dogs, and I love this book enough to suggest that it is one of the books every millennial needs to read. Marley’s antics are absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard at all the havoc he wrecked upon his family. But the love that springs up between Marley and his owner despite Marley’s many flaws is so touching. And when Marley eventually dies at a ripe old age, I was just in tears thinking of the wonderful life of the “world’s worst dog.” If this is not one of those memoirs that will make you cry, there must be something wrong with you.

Other Books Set in Florida: Paper Towns by John Green, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 

 

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

GEORGIA

Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

If you love long classics, Gone with the Wind is Margaret Mitchell’s idealized look at the South at the time of the civil war provides you food for thought about how we portray our bias into historical events. Her extremely flawed heroine Scarlett O’Hara gives you much to contemplate on love and selfishness. While I adore watching the movie, I love being able to see into Scarlett’s thought process in the book. Definitely a must-read when looking for the best book for every state.

Other Books Set in Georgia: The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, Dear Martin by Nic Stone

 

book cover Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

HAWAII

Moloka’i
by Alan Brennert

As a child, Rachel Kalama dreamed of traveling around the world like her seafaring father. But when a red mark appears on her face, Rachel’s dreams are dashed. Instead of becoming a world traveler, Rachel is quarantined for leprosy on the island of Moloka’i. What she expected to be a life-ending experience turns out to be just the beginning of a life she never could have imagined. With a cover as beautiful as the state it’s set in, Moloka’i is a beautiful addition to the 50 States Reading List.

Other Books Set in Hawaii: The Winds of War by Herman Wouk, The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

Educated by Tara Westover

IDAHO

Educated
by Tara Westover

Who knew Idaho would have a great contender in the a list of 50 books set in 50 states? There is really no excuse to not read Tara Westover’s spectacular memoir. In our opinion, Educated was one of the best nonfiction books of 2018. Westover grew up in the rural mountains of Idaho with no formal education. Despite her extremist survivalist parents and violent older brother, Westover managed to make her way into college, eventually earning a PhD. Her amazing determination is inspiring while the circumstances of her childhood are incredibly sad. Definitely one of those books that will stay with you for a long time. Read more →

Other Books Set in Idaho: Coeur d’Alene Waters by Ned Hayes, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

 

book cover The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

ILLINOIS

The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson

A master of narrative nonfiction, Erik Larson turns his attention to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Larson expertly interweaves two parallel story lines. The first, that of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect and mastermind of the fair. On the other hand, at the same time in Chicago lurked the serial killer Henry H. Holmes, a pharmacist intent on building his own type of fairgrounds – a torture chamber full of every imaginable horror. By contrasting the lives of these two figures, Larson presents a startlingly juxtaposition of American history, perfect for your American Reading Challenge.

Other Books Set in Illinois: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Divergent by Veronica Roth

 

book cover The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

INDIANA

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

Two kids with cancer who fall in love. Well that’s a recipe for tears if I’ve ever heard one. Knowing that she will die someday sooner rather than later, Hazel is afraid to let anyone get close to her. In her selfless way, she wants her death to cause as little pain as possible. Yet when she meets Augustus Waters in her Cancer Kid Support Group, her conviction begins to waver. The true beauty of this story lies in the ending lines: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” If you want an inspiring and emotional read, this book is for you. Read more →

Other Books Set in Indiana: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

 

book cover Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

IOWA

Gilead
by Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson’s novel takes the reader into the mind of Reverend John Ames, a pastor of a small congregation in Gilead, Iowa. Written in the form of his journal, Ames wants to create a record for his 7-year-old son about his family history – his own experiences and those of his father and grandfather. A beautifully written and thoughtful reflection on the philosophical and spiritual questions of life, Gilead was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Other Books Set in Iowa: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape by Peter Hedges, A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

KANSAS

In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote

Truman Capote was the founder of narrative nonfiction with his thrilling look at an unspeakable crime. On November 15, 1959, in the small farming town of Holcomb, Kansas, two men brutally murder the Clutter family in their home for no apparent reason. Through extensive interviews from the first days following the events all the way to the execution of the murderers, Capote suspensefully unfolds the whole story of exactly what happened and more intriguing of all, why it happened. Make sure you set aside a chunk of time to read this modern classic because, I promise, once you start you’ll realize this is a book you can’t put down. Read more →

Other Books Set in Kansas: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes

 

book cover The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

KENTUCKY

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
by Kim Edwards

During the middle of a blizzard in 1964, Dr. David Henry delivers his own twins: a beautiful son Paul and daughter Phoebe, born with Down Syndrome. In a snap decision, he tells his wife Norah that their daughter died during birth instead of admitting the truth. In actuality, he gives his daughter to his nurse Caroline and asks her to take it to an institution. Instead, Caroline secretly takes the beautiful baby girl to raise as her own. Thus unfolds the story of two families whose lives are forever changed by a split-second decision.

Other Books Set in Kentucky: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe, The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

LOUISIANA

An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

Selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club, An American Marriage was one of the top fiction books of 2018. At first glance, newlyweds Celestial and Roy seem like the perfect American couple. He’s a young executive, and she’s an emerging artist. However, as life comes into play and Roy is unjustly imprisoned, their marriage begins to fall apart. Discussing love, marriage, and race, this thought-provoking read is definitely one to add to your 50 states reading list. Read more →

Other Books Set in Louisiana: The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

 

book cover Carrie by Stephen King

MAINE

Carrie
by Stephen King

You can’t really talk about books set in Maine without talking about Stephen King. Deciding which Stephen King novel best fit into our 50 States Reading List wasn’t hard. That honor rightly belongs to King’s debut novel, Carrie. The shock factor is high in this original story of a high school girl developing telekinetic powers. Mistreated by her family and her classmates, Carrie is pushed to the breaking point, setting her on her famous path of revenge.

Other Books Set in Maine: It by Stephen King, The Cider House Rules by John Irving, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout

 

book cover Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

MARYLAND

Patriot Games
by Tom Clancy

While vacationing in London, Jack Ryan happens to stop a terrorist attack in action – and save the life of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Although he’s earned the gratitude of a nation, he’s also earned the enmity of an ultra-right wing of the IRA. I know there have been a number of movie and television adaptations of the books in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, but nothing can beat reading the books. Feel free to start the series with this action packed second book entry into the series; I did. 

Other Books Set in Maryland: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates

 

book cover The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

MASSACHUSETTS

The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant

If you are looking for a gorgeous novel about family relationships and feminism, try this book club favorite for your 50 States Reading List. Born in Boston in 1900 to Jewish immigrants, Addie Baum embraces life in America in a way her parents never truly can. She wants to go to college, find true love, and live her own truth. Told from the perspective of an old woman looking back on her life, The Boston Girl gives a magnificent portrayal of Addie’s life and her search to find her place in the world.

Other Books Set in Massachusetts: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

 

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

MICHIGAN

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland
by Rebekah Crane

Why not add a little young adult fiction to your 50 States Reading List? Against her wishes, sixteen-year-old Zander Osborne is sent to Camp Padua, a Michigan summer camp for at-risk teens. Between her crazy cabinmate Cassie and the pathological liar Bek, Zander doesn’t feel like she belongs. Then there’s the charming Grover Cleveland to whom Zander feels irrestibly drawn. As unlikely friendships develop, Zander begins to learn more about what it means to truly understand herself. 

Other Books Set in Michigan: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

 

book cover Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

MINNESOTA

Ordinary Grace
by William Kent Krueger

In the sleepy town of New Bremen, Minnesota, death will forever shape one young man. In 1961, Frank Drum is having a typical teenage summer with his family: his minister father, his doubting mother, his talented older sister and his quiet younger brother. When his sister is murdered, Frank’s ordinary life is rocked by the secrets and motives of an adult world he doesn’t fully understand. A stunning addition to any American Reading Challenge.

Other Books Set in Minnesota: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

 

Perfect Beach Reads: Old Man's War by John Scalzi

MISSISSIPPI

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

I have to admit, I don’t think a book has made me laugh quite as hard as Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. A few of the scenes were just so side-splittingly funny that even thinking about them now still makes me chuckle. Which is amazing because The Help is not a humor piece. It’s a moving tale of the lives of women in the deep South in the 1960s. Between Aibileen and Minny, “the help” of the title, the women they work for, and Skeeter, a young 22-year-old writer who wants to tell their stories, you get a layered approach and character study of a tumultuous time in our history. Read more →

Other Books Set in Mississippi: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Cemetery Road by Greg Iles, A Time to Kill by John Grisham

 

book cover Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

MISSOURI

Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl took the book world by storm in 2012 with its look at a marriage gone terribly wrong. On her fifth wedding anniversary, Amy Dunne mysteriously disappears. At the top of the suspect list – her seemingly perfect husband Nick. Both husband and wife aren’t who they seem to be, so expect plenty of twists and turns (and lots of language) in this hit thriller. You might not end up loving the story or the characters, but I promise you, you’ll definitely find them memorable enough to land it among the best books for every state.

Other Books Set in Missouri: Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

 

book cover A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

MONTANA

A River Runs Through It
by Norman Maclean

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” So begins Norman Maclean’s classic based on his own childhood spent on Montana’s Big Blackfoot River. On the surface, A River Runs Through It is about fly fishing. But deeper than that, Maclean’s novella uses fishing to relate to deeper questions of life: family, religion, hope and dreams. In 1992, A River Runs Through It was adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie.

Other Books Set in Montana: This House of Sky by Ivan Doig, The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth

 

book cover My Antonia by Willa Cather

NEBRASKA

My Ántonia
by Willa Cather

Of all the books set in Nebraska, nothing quite conveys the sweeping prairie like Willa Cather’s noted work, My Ántonia. Near the end of the 19th century, 10-year-old orphan Jim Burden moves to Nebraska to live with his grandparents. There he meets Ántonia, daughter of Bohemian immigrants. The novel follows their lives as each starts to reach for the American Dream – to build a home in a new land. A beautiful classic that everyone should read, even if you aren’t trying to finish this American Reading Challenge.

Other Books Set in Nebraska: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, A Perfect Evil by Alex Kava

 

book cover The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

NEVADA

The Ox-Bow Incident
by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Any American Reading Challenge would not be the same without books about the dark portions of America’s history. Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s classic The Ox-Bow Incident perfectly epitomizes the violence of the early American West. Set in 1885, the story centers on the realities of the lawlessness of the wild west. When a well-loved local is killed by cattle thieves, the townspeople take it upon themselves to mete out justice, lynching three innocent men.

Other Books Set in Nevada: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, Mountain City by Gregory Martin, November Road by Lou Berney

book cover A Separate Peace by John Knowles

NEW HAMPSHIRE

A Separate Peace
by John Knowles

During the early days of World War II, Southern boy Gene Forrester attends an elite New Hampshire boarding school. Feeling insecure among the prep school kids, quite introverted Gene eventually becomes friends with the charming athletic Phineas. But when friendly competition goes awry, the consequences last a lifetime. A thought-provoking coming-of-age novel that quickly became an American classic.

Other Books Set in New Hampshire: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving, Our Town by Thornton Wilder, The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve

 

book cover One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

NEW JERSEY

One for the Money
by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovitch’s name perennially appears at the top of The New York Times bestselling list with her Stephanie Plum series. To find out what all the hype is about, jump right in with the first book, One for the Money. New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum decides she’s tired of nabbing small fry for little money. Instead, she is determined to catch former cop Joe Morelli, a character from her own past. This fun series that has quickly become a fan favorite seemed to be the appropriate choice for our 50 States Reading List.

Other Books Set in New Jersey: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, American Pastoral by Philip Roth

 

book cover Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

NEW MEXICO

Bomb
by Steve Sheinkin

Although written for young adults, Steve Sheinkin’s history of the development of the atomic bomb will fascinate readers of all ages. Sheinkin suspensefully describes the race to be the first to build the most destructive weapon in history. Full of espionage and science, Bomb brings history to life in a startlingly fun way. I might have stretched a bit with this one, since it’s set in multiple locations, but still it felt perfect for our 50 States Reading List.

Other Books Set in New Mexico: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit, Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

 

book cover Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

NEW YORK

Behold the Dreamers
by Imobolo Mbue

The American Dream. Many hope for it, but how many truly find it? Imbolo Mbue’s debut novel details the lives of Cameroon immigrants living in New York City: Jende Jonga, who is trying to apply for legal status under a false asylum claim; his wife Neni, struggling to finish schooling in hopes of becoming a pharmacist; and their son Leomi, trying to balance his American-ness with his Cameroon side. In the days preceding the Great Recession, Jende gets lucky enough to get a job as chauffeur to Clark Edwards, a Lehman Brothers executive. Mbue brilliantly paints a fascinating look at immigrant life – the struggles with the immigration system, the desire for a better life, the balancing of cultural differences and the financial burden that comes with being poor in America. Through her writing, Mbue asks you to ponder: What really brings happiness? and Is the American dream all its cracked up to be? 

Other Books Set in New York: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

NORTH CAROLINA

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

For years, Kya Clark has survived alone in the marshes of the North Carolina coast. Dubbed “The Marsh Girl” by the locals, she was abandoned by her family and has been raised by nature itself. Now, as she comes of age, she begins to yearn for something more than her loneliness – maybe even a connection with the locals. An exquisitely written tale that quickly became one of 2018’s bestselling books, Where the Crawdads Sing is one of last year’s must-reads that is perfect for a 50 States Reading List. Read more →

Other Books Set in North Carolina: Too many to count! Check out this post from The Uncorked Librarian for a full list of books set in North Carolina.

book cover LaRose by Louise Erdrich

NORTH DAKOTA

LaRose
by Louise Erdrich

The setting: North Dakota, summer of 1999. The tragedy: Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor’s 5-year-old son Dusty Ravich when hunting deer. The complication: According to Ojibue tribe tradition, Landreaux gives his own 5-year-old son, LaRose, to be raised by the Ravich family. Thus sets up Louis Erdrich’s powerful novel of two families striving to overcome a horrible tragedy in the far reaches of North Dakota.

Other Books Set in North Dakota: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, The Round House by Louise Erdrich

 

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

OHIO

Hillbilly Elegy
by J. D. Vance

First off, you need to understand that J. D. Vance’s memoir is actual about life in rural Kentucky as I often see erroneously stated. Actually, it’s about his family life in Southwestern Ohio and how the Hillbilly culture and ethics his grandparents brought from rural Kentucky affected the lives and choices of his grandparents, parents and even himself. Having grown up in that same region of Ohio, I can say that many of observations definitely ring true. While you might not agree with all of Vance’s conclusions, he will certainly make you ponder how culture affects us and what heritage you will pass down to your own children.

Other Books Set in Ohio: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Ohio by Stephen Markley, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

 

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

OKLAHOMA

Killers of the Flower Moon
by David Grann

Having spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list, if you haven’t read Killers of the Flower Moon, you need to add it to your 50 States Reading List. David Grann investigates the fascinating case of the Osage murders in the 1920s. After discovering oil on their land, the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma are among the richest people in the world at the time. Once the death toll surpasses 24 Osage, the newly created FBI takes up the investigation to expose an alarming conspiracy behind these notorious crimes.

Other Books Set in Oklahoma: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Outsider by Stephen King

 

Grab the tissues because this book will definitely make you cry. You really ought to read If I Stay by Gayle Forman

OREGON

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman

When books that make you cry are the same books you can’t put down, you know you are in trouble. In an moment, Mia’s world is turned upside down when her entire family is involved in a car accident. Mia’s emotions of watching her world change in an instance hit particularly hard. As Mia decides whether life is worth living if her family might not be there with her, it makes you ponder what you would do without your family. Of course, being a mother, just the thought of living without my family always brings me to tears. A great and emotional read.

Other Books Set in Oregon: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, The Shack by William P. Young, Mink River by Brian Doyle

 

book cover The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

PENNSYLVANIA

The Killer Angels
by Michael Shaara

Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel of the Battle of Gettysburg is one of the best books ever written about the American Civil War. With in depth research, Shaara covers the factual details of the four days at Gettysburg but adds in the thoughts and motivations of the main characters (which makes it a work of fiction instead of a straight history book). Through his writing, Shaara makes the battle come alive and teaches you history in a profound way. The book was adapted into the film Gettysburg in 1993.

Other Books Set in Pennsylvania: The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Lovely Bones by Stephen Chbosky, by Alice Sebold, The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

 

Grab the tissues because this book will definitely make you cry. You really ought to read My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

RHODE ISLAND

My Sister’s Keeper
by Jodi Picoult

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now. 

I’m not particularly a Jodi Picoult fan, but this is by far the best of her books. When Kate develops leukemia as a child, her parents decide to have another child – one specifically with a perfect bone marrow match for Kate. Thus, all Anna’s life, she has undergone countless procedures to help her older sister. But now Anna has had enough, and is ready to life her own life unconstrained by Kate’s illness. Reading it, you get so invested in the lives of Anna and Kate that when the big twist comes – and it’s Jodi Picoult, so there is always a big twist – you feel so deeply the pain the characters are going through. As Anna makes a literally life-or-death decision, you just feel so torn between Anna’s needs, Kate’s needs, and the love and desperation of their mother. It’s definitely a book that will make you question how you would react. Hopefully you will never have to find out.

Other Books Set in Rhode Island: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, 

 

book cover The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

SOUTH CAROLINA

The Secret Life of Bees
by Sue Monk Kidd

At age 14, Lily Owens runs away from her father and moves with her nanny to Tiburon, South Carolina. There they are both taken in by the Calendar Sisters, a charming but eccentric trio of beekeepers. As the white Lily comes of age, she learns about womanhood and the Black Madonna from these four black women she has come to consider her family. A heartwarming story set amid the racial tensions of the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees is a delightful story perfect for book club.

Other Books Set in South Carolina: The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

 

book cover By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

SOUTH DAKOTA

By the Shores of Silver Lake
by Laura Ingalls Wilder

When looking for the best book for every state, we figured North Dakota would be our hardest, but South Dakota definitely took the cake. Luckily, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous Little House series came to mind. While the series starts with her family’s life in Wisconsin and Kansas, the Ingalls family eventually settles by the shores of Silver Lake in the Dakota Territory. It’s in South Dakota that she meets her future husband, Almanzo Wilder. Portraying the intimate details of pioneer life, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories provide a fascinating look back at a time in many way so vastly different than our own.

Other Books Set in South Dakota: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

 

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

TENNESSEE

The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner

You probably weren’t expecting to see a young adult novel about three teenagers in their senior year of high school in rural Tennessee on the 50 States Reading List. In the story, the main character Dill struggles to find his place in life. The son of a snake handling preacher currently imprisoned for child pornography, Dill does not exactly fit in at school. Luckily he has his best friends Lydia, a vintage fashion blogger, and Travis, a gentle-hearted giant obsessed with fantasy books. Teaching about friendship, love and the struggles of growing up, The Serpent King is a touching novel that will give you all the feels. Read more →

Other Books Set in Tennessee: The Liar by Nora Roberts, Child of God by Cormac McCarthy

 

book cover Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger

TEXAS

Friday Night Lights
by H. G. Bissinger

When you think of Texas, high school football probably comes to mind. Football is serious business in the Lone Star State, and nowhere more so than Odessa. Way out in the oilfields of West Texas, the lives of the people of Odessa seem to revolve around nothing but football, for which they have been rewarded with the winning-est football team in Texas History. Bissinger’s expose on the subject shines a brilliant light on the town’s obsession – both the good of uniting its citizens and the bad of justifying anything that will help the team win on Friday night. Friday Night Lights inspired both a dramatic motion picture and a successful television series, but the book is completely true.

Other Books Set in Texas:  All the Pretty Horses by Corma McCarthy, The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines, 11/22/63 by Stephen King

 

book cover My Story by Elizabeth Smart

UTAH

My Story
by Elizabeth Smart

In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart became a household name when she was kidnapped from her Utah home in the middle of the night. For 9 months she was held captive and abused by Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. In her memoir, Smart recalls how her faith allowed her to maintain hope through her traumatic ordeal and how she was able to forge a new life afterwards.

Other Books Set in Utah: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, The Executioner’s Song by Norman Miller, The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey

 

book cover The Secret History by Donna Tartt

VERMONT

The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

A modern Greek tragedy, Donna Tartt’s debut novel details the awful fall from morality of a group of students at a private Vermont college. Classics professor Morrow only admits a handful of select students to study Ancient Greek. After determinedly breaking into this close-knit group, Richard Papen is surprised to find a world of highly flawed characters losing their grasp on morality. Secrets, lies, betrayal and eventually murder become justifiable actions as they slip further and further in their descent into evil.

Other Books Set in Vermont: Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, All the Best People by Sonja Yoerg

 

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

VIRGINIA

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

Telling of the true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians, this book became a hit movie in 2016. Segregated from their white colleagues, these fierce women used pencil and paper to calculate the physics needed to launch men to the moon. Be warned that the writing is a bit dry but the characters are fascinating.

Other Books Set in Virginia: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Wish You Well by David Baldacci, Postmortem by Patricia Cromwell

 

Perfect Beach Reads: Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

WASHINGTON

Where’d You Go, Bernadette
by Maria Semple

Sometimes you just need a clever satire, and you’ll be sure laugh at the ridiculous Bernadette, a Seattle-area mom who takes antisocial to a whole new level. When her teenage daughter Bee begs the family to go on an Antarctic cruise, the agoraphobic Bernadette agrees, only to vanish from off the face of the earth. As you delve deeper and deeper into Bernadette’s world, you have so much fun with her crazy antics. While the ending of the book isn’t the strongest, the buildup is so much fun that it makes it still worth recommending for a 50 States Reading List. Read more →

Other Books Set in Washington: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

 

book cover The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

WEST VIRGINIA

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

One of the most powerful memoirs of the last decade, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive. To quote my husband, “Sometimes someone’s train wreck of a life is fascinating.”

Other Books Set in West Virginia: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead

 

book cover Evicted by Matthew Desmond

WISCONSIN

Evicted
by Matthew Desmond

Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond tells the true stories of eight families from the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. All of these families are barely scrapping by, having had to spend almost all of their earnings on rent alone. Each is facing eviction and an unknown future. Based on years of fieldwork, Evicted takes an eye-opening look at extreme poverty and eviction in America today.

Other Books Set in Wisconsin: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

 

book cover Open Season by C. J. Box

WYOMING

Open Season
by C. J. Box

C. J. Box is well-known for his novels of game warden Joe Pickett in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming. Open Season, the first novel of the Joe Pickett series, finds Joe investigating a body dumped in his own backyard. Though the local police have dubbed the case already solved, Joe feel there are deeper motives at play. Layering the thrill of a murder mystery against the beautiful backdrop of the modern American West, C. J. Box has become a bestselling author in the last few decades.

Other Books Set in Wyoming: My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx

What books would you put on your own 50 States Reading List?

50 States Reading List

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17 Comments

  • Reply Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza July 8, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Wow – great list! Some classics, a few newer releases and a good mix of genres. Nice!

  • Reply Kelly July 8, 2019 at 8:12 am

    What a wonderful list! As a non-American, I have been working through another 50 States Challenge, which is older, but I think I’ve read more books on your list than on that one. Haha! Definitely some great reads!

  • Reply Rachel @ Never Enough Novels July 8, 2019 at 9:58 am

    I can’t imagine the amount of time it took to put this together!! I love that you threw in other options as well as the one book you selected. I haven’t even heard of the book for PA so I’ll check it out! Between Philadelphia, Gettysburg, etc we do history well here in PA 🙂

    • Reply Rachael July 9, 2019 at 11:19 pm

      Yes, this list took forever! But I’m so pleased with the final results.

      If you like history, The Killer Angels is a great book!

  • Reply Sharon July 9, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Saw this list on instagram ❤️❤️❤️. Love your New Jersey choice. I am in Rhode Island thought you might go with Providence by Caroline Kepnes but your Jodi Picoult pick is an excellent choice too!

    • Reply Ginny Robinson July 9, 2019 at 11:09 am

      Good list! Another classic Texas book is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. And I love the Longmire books by Craig Johnson set in Wyoming.

  • Reply Gayle Weiswasser July 9, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Awesome list! So excited to see The Westing Game there for WI. How about adding Washington DC to your list? Lots of books set there. (Becoming, for one!)

    • Reply Rachael July 9, 2019 at 11:22 pm

      I almost chose Becoming for Illinois, since she grew up in Chicago! I thought about adding Washington D.C., but I was overwhelmed enough doing just the 50 states. Maybe later I’ll update it.

      • Reply Gayle Weiswasser July 9, 2019 at 11:34 pm

        Totally understandable. I’m just a proud DC native and get sad when we aren’t on state lists.

  • Reply CJ | A Well-Read Tart July 9, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    I was awake at 4:30 this morning, scrolling through this list. What a brilliant idea!! I also had no idea that some of these books were set in certain states, even though I’d read the books, lol (e.g., The Outsiders and Oklahoma?!!). Loving this reading challenge!

    • Reply Rachael July 9, 2019 at 11:23 pm

      It definitely took some research to pin down all the states. And then some books are set in multiple states, which made everything even more confusing.

  • Reply Fran July 10, 2019 at 5:53 am

    A Simple Plan by Steven Smith takes place in Ohio. One of the best books I ever read.

    • Reply Rachael July 14, 2019 at 11:30 pm

      We grew up in Ohio! We will have to check this out. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins July 10, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    This is such a broad and varied list! Just goes to show how diverse the American literary tradition really is 😍 I can see a few of my favourites here (love that In Cold Blood made the cut for Kansas!), and a few from my TBR (can’t wait for Educated). Thank you so much for pulling this together! Might make for a good reading challenge one day 🤓

    • Reply Rachael July 14, 2019 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks! You’re so sweet. It was a TON of work to put this together, but lots of fun, too. You are going to love Educated!

  • Reply Christine Bullock July 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I loved this list. I was surprised at how many of the books on the list are ones I have read. Some are in the alternate books but I think they still count. One of my all time favorite books is Gone with the Wind and I was so glad to see it on the list. Thanks for making the list so varied that I am sure I will be able to find one for each state that I will enjoy reading. There are so many that appeal to me just by reading your description.

    • Reply Rachael July 15, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks! I really wanted to do a mix of old and new. So many of the lists I’ve seen have only books written decades ago, and while there are so many classics, there are also so many new great new books to read.

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