It is week two of the Spring Reading Challenge, which means it is time for reading a book set in your state. I won’t be long winded, because this will be a long post, but here are my suggestions for books set in all of the 50 states. If you are from outside the states, feel free to pick a book from a state you would like to visit (or have visited!), or just pick your favorite!
Sorry, Alabama, you can’t escape the classics. I would be foolish to not mention To Kill a Mockingbird. The story of a young girl who’s father risks everything to defend a black man who has been convicted of an awful crime in the South, it is a story that everyone should enjoy.
The Great Alone really brings together everything about Alaska. When former prisoner of war Ernt moves his family to Alaska, at first his wife and daughter are excited for the adventure. But then winter settles, and they learn the mental and physical strain of living in such a wild and beautiful land.
Taylor Greer just wants to avoid getting pregnant and move on to better things. Then she inherits a three year old Native American girl named Turtle. She eventually settles in Tucson and tries to make herself a life with her new addition. Humorous and heartwarming, The Bean Trees will stay with you.
If you don’t know about the incredible woman Maya Angelou, please climb out from under your rock and get acquainted. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is Angelou’s personal memoir of the trials and triumphs she experienced in her life.
California, if you thought you were going to get sunshine and good vibes, sorry. The Year of Magical Thinking is basically Joan Didion taking you through the year after her husband passed away. One of the most important and poignant reads on grief.
When Stephen King writes a book outside his stomping ground (I’m looking at you Maine), you get to read it. Enter, The Shining. So buckle up Colorado, because there is a homicidal maniac on the loose at the Overlook Hotel.
The day before her daughters wedding, June Reid’s life is seemingly ruined when her daughter, her daughter’s fiancee, her ex-husband, and her current boyfriend are all killed. June flees across the country, and in her wake, readers get to experience a beautiful community that weaves together in the face of tragedy. Did You Ever Have A Family is a grief-stricken masterpiece.
The Book of Unknown Americans is not what you expect to come out of Delaware, which is why I like it so much. 15 year old Maribel sustains a significant injury, which means her family needs to leave their life in Mexico that they love to come to the United States. Soon after their arrival, the damaged but beautiful Maribel attracts the attention of Mayor Toro, and so begins a wonderful love story.
A few sentences are not enough to wrap up Their Eyes Were Watching God, but Florida, you are blessed to have such a powerful book set in your state.
If you want to watch Janie Crawford, an attractive and powerful black woman, overcome insane obstacles and continually realize her own strength, pick up this iconic read.
Once again, Georgia. So lucky to have this set in your state. The Color Purple makes me cry every time. Two sisters, one a child wife living in Georgia, the other a missionary in Africa, encourage and trust each other across the distance and the trials they face.
Like the Little Miss Sunshine of Hawaii- The Descendants looks at what happens when a formerly affluent Hawaiian family comes crashing down. Joanie, the mother, is about to be taken off life support from a boating accident. Scottie, ten years old and feisty as all get out, and Alex, a 17-year old ex-drug addict, make up the children of the family. Matt, the father, has to juggle all of this, oh, and the man his wife was apparently having an affair with.
Idaho, you can’t get away from potatoes, they’re in your blood; All Over Creation in fact. However, Yumi makes potatoes more interesting because she hasn’t been to Idaho since she ran away at the age 15…which was 25 years ago. But she has some dying parents and some friend drama, so she has to return to the land of potatoes and Spudnick, a camping car biofueled by McDonald’s french fry oil.
A classic, Dandelion Wine is a wonderful story of the summer of ’28. Feel-good, country vibes, it is a great experience to read about the life of 12 year old Douglas Spaulding and the person he sees as a god-12 year old John Huff.
John Green is one of my favorite authors, and The Fault in Our Stars is one of my favorites of his books. While it is a teen love story, Green adds in depth with the fact that when Hazel meets Augustus at the Cancer Kid Support Group, she is terminal. Hazel knows shes dying, has accepted she’s dying, but then Augustus comes along.
Another wonderful book (which is a movie if you haven’t heard), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape tells you everything that is, well, eating Gilbert Grape. His morbidly obese mother, suicide, his sister who still mourns Elvis, his other sister who is obsessed with makeup, boys, and Jesus, and finally, the 18th birthday of his youngest brother, a birthday he was never supposed to see.
I’ve talked about In Cold Blood before, but I had to add it here because it really talks about some of the history of crime and capital punishment in Kansas and was wildly fascinating. So if you’re from Kansas, learn about one of the most famous crimes of your area: the murder of all four members of the Clutter family.
What do you get when you cross a 24 year old crack dealer, an 80 year old sex crazed partier, an 8 year old on the cusp of world domination, a middle-aged, effeminate, patriotic Iraqi, and a sexy, Satanist teenager…who hates teenagers? A rock band of course. The Anomalies.
The true story of Solomon Northup, an affluent African American man with a great life and beautiful family who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep south, 12 Years a Slave will change you. Graphic and heartbreaking, those of you from Louisiana, and those of you from anywhere else, pick up this book.
Come on Maine, did you think you were going to get anything other than King? It is a classic. It is huge. I read It in four days. Disturbing, gripping, and a true masterpiece, once again, I think everyone needs to come face to face with Pennywise at least once in their life.
If you want to see Maryland in a completely different light, read Ta-Nehisi’s account of his own boyhood in The Beautiful Struggle. Learn of his father, a strong Vietnam vet who was trying his hardest to raise his seven children in the best way possible. Read of the struggles and the triumphs of Ta-Nehisi’s family, and see your state completely differently.
Massachusetts, you also get a screwed up family. Set in an addicts half-way house/tennis academy, Infinite Jest is a comedic take on the pursuit of happiness in America. A large, large book, if you aren’t up for the read, please check out the memoir Girl Interrupted, the true story of mental health facilities in America.
I don’t know how to wrap up Middlesex, so here’s an excerpt: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license…records my first name simply as Cal.” If that doesn’t peak your interest Michigan, I don’t know what will.
One day, good girl, Mia Dennett goes to a bar to meet her “boyfriend”. He doesn’t show, so she decides to go home with a stranger, Colin. Bad move. Colin takes her to a secluded cabin, leaving her mother and detectives scrambling to find her. Is she the good girl everyone thinks she is?
Jojo and his sister Kayla live with their grandparents. Their mom is a drug addict and their dad is in prison. However, when their father is released, their mother takes them from their grandparents to go to the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Beautiful and heartbreaking, Sing Unburied, Sing confronts racism, hope, history, and family.
Another book I have mentioned before, Gone Girl is a favorite. A beautiful marriage, wonderful husband, charming wife, everything seems perfect. But then she goes missing on their five year wedding anniversary, and everyone has to start wondering who this couple really is.
Fourth of July Creek is thrilling and captivating. Pete Snow is a social worker who is trying to help Benjamin Pearl, a neglected, feral 11 year old boy. Snow meets Benjamin’s father Jeremiah, and becomes more wrapped up in their family. Then Pearl comes under investigation from the FBI, and thus ensues a manhunt that will change everyone’s life forever.
This is a love story I think everyone should read. It will remind you of your first love, and the innocence of being young. Eleanor and Park are in love. They are also in high school. They know first loves never lasts, but they are willing to try.
Burned tells of Pattyn, a young woman being raised extremely religious; which is why when her father catches her in a compromised sexual position, things go south. She is sent to Nevada to find “salvation”, but what she really finds is acceptance and a chance to escape her own demons and past.
The Smuttynose Island murders meets modern day in The Weight of Water. This book is in two parts: 1873 when two women are murdered, and a third survives to tell the tale, and present day, when Jean, a journalist, looks more into the murders and facts surrounding the day.
Oscar, a wanna-be J.R.R Tolkien and morbidly obese teenage nerd, wants to find love and success. But that is seemingly impossible, because his family is struck by the fukú, a curse that has followed them from Santo Domingo the whole way to the United States.
I had to choose Bless Me, Ultima, because it is a beautiful piece of Chicano literature. Please delve into the culture and beauty of New Mexico. Antonio Marez gets to meet Ultima, a curandera, or someone who cures with herbs and magic, when he is six. As Antonio grows and learns of his culture, there is one person who is always by his side, Ultima.
Rich, deep, and incredibly moving, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is one of the best books I have ever read. The after effects of 9/11 told by nine year old Oskar, whose dad was lost in the attack. You will laugh, cry, and have a newfound respect and understanding for those who lost their lives that day, as well as their loved ones.
Sorry for anyone who doesn’t like sadness and romance from North Carolina, but A Walk to Remember is my favorite romance novel (as well as movie). But, in case you hadn’t heard of this incredible novel, it follows young love between the town’s ruffian and the pastors daughter. I cry every time, and it never ceases to show me more about what truly loving another person means.
Reuben Land believes in miracles, and his belief is tested when his older brother flees in the face of murder charges. Reuben, his father, and his sister go on a journey through the Badlands in search for meaning. Peace Like a River is a classic story that will touch you and make you consider just how much magic is in the world.
I first read Out of My Mind when I was in fourth grade. It changed my young perception on disability forever. Those of you from Ohio, please enjoy, and those of you who have children from anywhere, consider using this book to open the conversation on disability. Out of My Mind is about the life of Melody, an eleven year old who cannot walk, talk, or write because of cerebral palsy. However, the book gives you a look into her mind, which includes a photographic memory and how intelligent she is. The book gives you a look into Melody’s life, and what it is like to be witty, intelligent, and strong, but having to stay silent and be treated like you are less-than because of a disability.
Another childhood favorite of mine, Out of the Dust tells of loss and hope, and it is told through a very unconventional style. Billie Jo has lost everything to a fire, life as she knew it, her mother, and the ability to play the piano due to badly burned hands. The Dust Bowl has hit Oklahoma, and in the darkness and despair, Billie Jo must find peace and strength within herself.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is brilliant. Randle Patrick McMurphy, our protagonist, swags into a mental hospital and changes lives forever. He stirs up a revolution against the dictator of a head nurse the hospital has. At first an act of defiance, this revolution will lead to something far more serious.
I am sure that a lot of you have heard of the movie that came from The Silver Linings Playbook, but I had to put it as my states book because I love it. Narrated by Pat Peoples, our main character who believes he just spent a few months in a psychiatric unit when in fact it has been years, we find Pat being introduced to Tiffany, a grieving and odd woman. Soon a friendship of lies, love, loss, and mental illness ensues, and trust me, the book is just as catching, if not more, than the movie.
Another favorite from my younger years, and yet another book that makes me cry every time. My Sister’s Keeper looks into the morality of having a child in order to save another. Anna, our thirteen year old main character, sues her parents for the right to her own body, after an entire life of undergoing surgeries and treatments so that she can save her older sister, Kate, who has leukemia.
*Disclaimer: If you have watched the movie and think that because of that you don’t have to read the book, they are COMPLETELY different, even with different endings. The book was better. The end.
South Carolina, I hope ya’ll are saps, because The Notebook is what you get. Another favorite love story of mine, another famous movie, another story that brings me to tears, if you haven’t read it, you need to. I don’t know how to not give it away, but it is one of the deepest, most moving love stories I have ever had the joy to read.
1917: The Badlands. 14 years ago Rachel and Isaac Dupree left Chicago to become ranchers, and it had been going well. This summer is different; there is a drought, the cattle are going to start dying, and Isaac is too proud to leave. Rachel wants a better life for herself and her children, but knows the importance of keeping their land in order to be seen as equal with white men. The Personal History of Rachel Dupree looks at the hard decisions that needed to be made at the time, and how people at the time struggled between acceptance and survival.
Rudy Baylor (The Rainmaker) is a recent law student, just having passed the BAR exam, and therefore he takes any work he can get. He ends up agreeing to defend 22 year old Donny Ray who is dying of leukemia due to being denied a bone marrow transplant by his insurance. As Baylor looks into the case, he realizes he has stumbled upon one of the biggest cases of insurance scam he has ever seen. And he has to defend his client up against some of the best lawyers in the country.
16 year old Tessa is found in a field among a bunch of bones, barely alive. She is considered the only surviving “Black Eyed Susan“, the name given to the many murder victims due to the yellow wildflowers that grew above their shared grave. She testifies and a man is put on death row. Two decades later, Tessa has children, and one February she finds a fresh patch of Black Eyed Susans (a summer flower), planted outside her bedroom. She is suddenly convinced she put the wrong man in prison, and that her killer is back to get her. But can she convince law enforcement before it’s too late?
If you have never read of the horrid treatment of Japanese Americans around the 1940s, please read this book. Julie Otsuka provides five different points of view of what happens when one day you learn that you no longer belong in your home country and are punished and treated like criminals. Powerful and shameful, When the Emperor Was Divine is a majestic read.
The Secret History is unique because it is not a “who did it?” but a why and how. When five brilliant, beautiful college students kill their sixth classmate and friend, Donna Tartt takes you through the entire story: how they met, how they interacted, and how things went so terribly wrong.
Hidden Figures recently became a movie, thank goodness. This book is empowering. To women, to African American women specifically. Before man ever went to the moon, there was a group of female mathematicians known as “human computers”. Among them were African American women who had been pulled from their homes during World War II, some of the most brilliant minds of their generation. Yet they were still discriminated against and treated poorly, and this is their story.
Bernadette is known for many things: being opinionated, being a disgrace, being a gifted architect, and to her daughter, Bee; Mom. But then Bee aces her report card and claims her prize: a family trip to Antarctica. Which is a problem, because Bernadette is agoraphobic (like me!). So, Bernadette up and disappears, and leaves Bee to figure out what happened to her.
This book is another exploration into loss. Five year old Clara Bynum has drowned in the Potomac, and River, Cross My Heart gives a peek into what happens to her family in the wake of her death. An important and poignant read for anyone who has experienced loss, or has wondered how it is that we truly find ourselves.
NASA engineer Homer Hickam provides audiences with his personal memoir in Rocket Boys. He tells of growing up in a West Virginia mining town, of promise, love, maturing, and letting go. Ultimately, he tells the story of how he went from a boy from a company town that ate it’s men and boys alive to being a NASA engineer.
The Civil War has ended, but for Friendship, Wisconsin, the nightmare has just begun. An epidemic has swept through the town, suddenly and gruesomely killing its residents. A Prayer for the Dying follows the efforts of Jacob Hansen, Friendship’s sheriff, undertaker, and pastor, as he attempts to hold onto his sanity and bring peace to the chaos around him.
Brokeback Mountain is short, a mere 64 pages. However, I needed to make it Wyoming’s book because of the movie and the original story. As a reader, you get to follow Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist through years of their lives, and the ways that they continually discover that their relationship is the most important one they will ever have.