The Most Iconic Book Set in Every State
Literature is often a source of state pride, with a vast array of novels set in and around each of the great 50 states. With this list, you can tour the entire country—without ever leaving home.
Alabama: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
Set in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel is a staple in middle and high school reading lists across the country. Even though it was published more than 50 years ago, the novel’s themes of race, justice, morality and compassion are as relevant as ever.
Alaska: ‘Into the Wild’
This is Jon Krakauer’s harrowing tale of Chris McCandless, who hitchhikes to Alaska and then into the woods—alone—north of Mt. McKinley. This young man, who came from a wealthy family, had donated a large sum of money and abandoned his earthly possessions prior to his pilgrimage. Four months later, a moose hunter found his body in the woods. In this nonfiction tale, Krakauer explores themes of survivorship and materialisms, and searches for answers as to why McCandless yearned to start a new life.
Arizona: ‘Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West’
Cormac McCarthy’s epic novel tells the story of a young runaway—aptly named “the kid”—who encounters a gang of outlaws that massacres Native Americans for bounty along the U.S.-Mexican border. This is a grim, violent novel, but one that taps into the mythology and history of the “Wild West.”
Arkansas: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’
This autobiography of American writer and poet Maya Angelou delves into gritty themes like racism and overcoming adversity as well as timeless topics like self-identity, love, and sexuality. Written in 1969, the book hearkens back to Angelou’s childhood, starting when she was three years old, and ends after she gives birth as a teen. As the book progresses, readers bear witness to Angelou’s transformation from an a victim of racial and social prejudice to a strong, independent woman.
California: ‘East of Eden’
Like other John Steinbeck novels, East of Eden is set in the Salinas Valley in northern California. In this novel, Steinbeck tells the story of two brothers, Adam and Charles Trask, and their tumultuous, competitive relationship. Widely considered Steinbeck’s magnum opus, East of Eden reimagines the book of Genesis, complete with themes of jealousy, betrayal, and innocence lost.
Colorado: ‘The Shining’
The Shining was Stephen King’s first bestseller, and it’s easy to see why. This 1977 novel tells the story of the Torrance family, including Jack, Wendy, and their five-year-old son, Danny, and their fateful stay at a haunted hotel in Colorado. Following in the footsteps of horror masters like Edgar Allan Poe, The Shining blends supernatural and psychological terror into one, spine-tingling plot. Read more these scariest books of all time.
Connecticut: ‘The Stepford Wives’
The cultural term “Stepford wife,” used to describe an overly obedient, subservient wife, has its origin in this 1972 satirical novel by Ira Levin. The novel tells the story of Joanna and Walter Eberhart, who move with their two children to the Connecticut suburbs. Joanna, a photographer, soon becomes suspicious of the flawless, idyllic women in their neighborhood. When she investigates, she learns that these picture-perfect women are not women at all; rather, they’re androids, created by the husbands in the neighborhood as replacements for their aging, defiant human spouses.
Delaware: ‘Fight Club’
This 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk spawned both a cult-classic movie and the infamous quote: “The first rule of Fight Club is: You don’t talk about Fight Club.” It tells the story of an anonymous narrator who is battling insomnia when he meets another young man, Tyler Durden. The two start a bare-knuckle “fight club” as a form of psychotherapy, which leads to an awakening—as well as acts of civil disobedience and violence—in the narrator’s life.
Florida: ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
This 1937 novel by Zora Neale Hurston tells the story of Janie Crawford’s transformation from a quiet, disadvantaged teenage African-American girl into a woman who is in charge of her own destiny. While the novel was not well received when it was first published, today it is regarded as a critical piece of African-American literature, particularly because of its themes of race, gender, love, jealous and fate versus free will.
Georgia: ‘Gone with the Wind’
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s sweeping 1936 epic about the Civil War, remains one of most famous novels in all of American literature. Set in both Clayton County and Atlanta, Georgia, it introduces feisty teenager Scarlett O’Hara, who is secretly in love with her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes. The quintessential Georgian novel, the book follows a family who watches its dreams turn to dust through a series of tragedies. Gone with the Wind is also one of these movies you should watch to ogle the clothes.
Hawaii: ‘The Descendants’
The Descendants, the 2007 debut novel of Kaui Hart Hemmings, tells the story of the King family, whose luck has turned for the worse: Matt King’s wife Joanie is on life support after a boating accident and their two daughters are rebelling, with the older one recovering from a drug addiction. While honoring Joanie’s living will, the Kings are forced to confront their own demons and emotions and, perhaps, grow as a family.
Idaho: ‘The Stand’
Written in 1978, The Stand is Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic 800-page masterpiece. It details the total devastation of society as a result of the accidental release of biological warfare. King released a second novel with more content and a different ending in 1990, and the novel has since spawned a made-for-TV miniseries and a comic book.
This debut young adult novel by Veronica Roth portrays a post-apocalyptic, dystopian society set in Chicago. The first of three novels in the series, Divergent tells the story of Beatrice Prior as she tries to stop a villain from overthrowing the government.
Indiana: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’
This instant classic by John Green tells the story of 16-year-old Hazel Lancaster, who has cancer. While at a support group that she’s forced to attend by her parents, she meets and falls in love with a 17-year-old boy. Together, they explore the boundaries of love and self-awareness in light of the very-present reality of death.
Iowa: ‘A Thousand Acres’
Critics have deemed this 1991 Pulitzer-prize-winning novel by Jane Smiley as a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear. It tells the story of Larry Cook, his three adult daughters, and their 1,000-acre farm in Zebulon County, Iowa. Larry announces the sale of his farm to his daughters but Ginny, the oldest, objects and is removed from the will. As emotions flare, family secrets, long hidden, are brought to light.
Kansas: ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’
In the literary world, the state of Kansas is synonymous with the Wizard of Oz. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s classic, of course, conveys the story of Dorothy and her dog Toto, as well as the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and, of course, the Wicked Witch of the West.
Based on a true story, this 1987 novel by Toni Morrison tells the story of a runaway slaved named Sethe, who killed her own baby daughter, named Beloved, to keep her away from slave catchers. Years later, the baby then begins to haunt the house in which Sethe and her children live. The supernatural turmoil, which delves into the heavy theme of redemption, as well as the psychological impact of slavery.
Louisiana: ‘Interview With The Vampire’
This 1976 novel by Anne Rice transformed vampires from the bow-tie-and-cape- wearing version of old-timey black-and-white movies to the sexy, conflicted, brooding beasts we know of today. Rice’s novel, which was adapted into a 1994 movie featuring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, tells the story of the vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac and his creator, Lestat.
This Stephen King classic, released in 1974, portrays the telekinetic powers of Carrie White, a bullied 16-year-old girl from Chamberlaine, Maine. As the torment escalates, so do Carrie’s powers. After being subjected to a horrific prank at the prom, Carrie uses her powers to enact with bloody and violent vengeance against those who bullied her.
Maryland: ‘Sisterhood of Traveling Pants’
Ann Brashares’ 2001 novel follows the story of four best friends. Together since birth, they’re about to spend their first summer apart when they find an old pair of jeans that fit each girl perfectly, even though they’re all different sizes. As each girl comes in possession of the pair of jeans, this coming-of-age novel explores the themes of friendship, love, and family.
Massachusetts: ‘Walden’ or ‘Life in the Woods’
In 1845, American author and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau abandoned all of the trappings of modern society and set out into the woods to, as he called it, “live deliberately.” For two years, two months and two days, he explored his natural environment, capturing what he’d learned and pondered upon in his journal, which was published in 1852.
This Pulitzer-prize winning novel by Jeffrey Eugenides explores a delicate and complex subject: the condition of being intersex, or having a disorder of sexual development. The novel follows protagonist Cal Stephanides, an intersex man who was born genetically male, but who was raised as a female because his outer genitalia did not properly develop. This gripping tale explores the themes of nature versus nurture, as well as fate versus free will, through the eyes of Cal and his family.
Minnesota: ‘Main Street’
An exemplary American novel, Sinclair Lewis’ 1920 novel Main Street tells the story of Carol Milford, an urban young woman who moves to the small town of Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, after college. Her attempts to bring culture and awareness to the town are met with disdain and spitefulness, contesting the myth of idyllic, small-town life.
Mississippi: ‘The Help’
Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel received critical acclaim for the candid way it portrayed the treatment of black maids by the white families for which they work. Set in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help is told from the point of view of three main narrators: maids Aibileen and Minny, as well as Skeeter, a 23-year-old college graduate who, at great risk, collaborates with the women to share their stories.
Missouri: ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’
Written by Mark Twain in 1876, this classic novel—which is loosely based upon Twain’s own childhood in Missouri—tells the story of 12-year-old Tom, a mischievous boy who has a penchant for pranks and for getting into trouble. Along the way, Tom and his friend Huck encounter the supernatural, racial tension, and the limits of small-town life.
Montana: ‘A River Runs Through It and Other Stories’
Published in 1976, A River Runs Through It is a semi-autobiographical collection of stories by author Norman Maclean. The novel explores the author’s childhood in Montana where and his brother learn the art of fly-fishing from their father, for whom the art of fishing is sacred.
Nebraska: ‘Eleanor and Park’
This debut novel by Rainbow Rowell burst onto the young adult scene in 2013 and has been deemed an instant classic due to its intimate portrayal of young love. The novel, which is set in 1986, tells the story of two misfit teens from Omaha Nebraska who are united in love by their mutual peculiarities.
Nevada: ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’
This cultural juggernaut by gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson tells the story of Raoul Duke’s drug-induced pursuit of the American Dream. Inspired by Thompson’s own outrageous exploits as a journalist, the novel’s exploration of the 1960s counterculture movement secures its place as a seminal piece of post-modern literature in America.
New Hampshire: ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’
John Irving’s 1981 coming-of-age novel tells the story of the Berry family, which hails from the small town of Dairy, New Hampshire. While opening (and closing) a series of hotels, the Berrys encounter disillusion with the American dream, significant and harrowing tragedies and the loss of those they love.
New Jersey: ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’
Young adult fiction doesn’t get more iconic than Judy Blume’s 1970 novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The novel explores how the title character, sixth-grader Margaret, attempts to reconcile her mixed-religion heritage. Even though it was published more than four decades ago, the novel’s themes of family, friendship, identity and religion remain as relevant as ever.
New Mexico: ‘Brave New World’
This epic 1932 novel, written by Aldous Huxley, is largely considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. The novel, which is set in dystopian London and New Mexico, takes place in the far-distant future, where genetic modification, government-sanctioned drug-use and social stratification are commonplace. The novel explores the complex moral limits of power and science, as well as the societal numbness that occurs by removing the plight of human suffering.
New York: ‘The Great Gatsby’
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 classic novel, New York isn’t just the setting; it’s a character. Narrated by Yale graduate Nick Carraway, the novel, set in and around Long Island, explores the unsettled relationship between the mysterious, self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby and the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan while examining the class differences between the haves and have-nots.
North Carolina: ‘A Walk to Remember’
Set in Beaufort, North Carolina, this novel by Nicholas Sparks tells the story of two teenagers, Landon Carter and Jamie Sullivan, who fall in love in the 1950s. The story, which is told in retrospect from the point of view of a 57-year-old Landon, takes a heartbreaking turn when Landon learns that Jamie is dying.
North Dakota: ‘The Round House’
This 2012 novel by Louise Erdich takes place on an unnamed fictional Ojibwe Indian reservation in North Dakota. It tells the story of a 13-year-old Native American boy who seeks revenge after the brutal rape of his mother, after conflict over where the crime occurred—was it on federal land, or on land under the jurisdiction of the tribe?—makes it difficult for the white rapist to be brought to justice.
Ohio: ‘Winesburg, Ohio: A Group of Tales of Small-Town Ohio Life’
Published in 1919, this collection of short stories by American author Sherwood Anderson chronicles life in the small fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio, which was based on the author’s hometown of Clyde, Ohio. Through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, the novel explores the isolation and loneliness that can accompany life in a small town.
Oklahoma: ‘The Outsiders’
First published in 1967, S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders remains a staple in English classrooms across the country. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the novel tells the story of social-class conflict between two rival gangs: the Greasers and the Socs (short for Socials). The novel spawned a popular movie adaptation, which was release in 1983.
Oregon: ‘Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail’
In her 2012 bestselling autobiography, author Cheryl Strayed tells the story of her search for salvation by hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Lost after the death of her mother and dissolution of her marriage, she decided to hike—alone, and with no training—1,000 miles along the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon. These are the most quotable books ever written.
Pennsylvania: ‘The Lovely Bones’
Set in Norristown, Pennsylvania, this harrowing 2002 novel by Alice Sebold tells the story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon, who is raped and murdered by a stranger on her way home from school. The story, which has since been adapted into a major motion picture, is unique in that it is narrated by Susie from Heaven, following her death.
Rhode Island: ‘She’s Come Undone’
This 2002 Wally Lamb novel is a coming-of-age tale about Dolores Price, a self-conscious, miserable, and overweight adolescent who learns to overcome a series of obstacle to find her true identity. Set in the 1950s and 1960s, the novel follows Dolores from early childhood until womanhood and confronts weighty issues like women’s rights, guilt and shame, and sexuality.
South Carolina: ‘Bastard Out of Carolina’
Published in 1992, this semi-autobiographical debut novel by author Dorothy Allison is set in the author’s hometown of Greenville, South Carolina in the 1950s. It details the complex relationship between narrator Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright and her mother’s husband, who, after a series of family tragedies, begins sexually assaulting her.
South Dakota: ‘Little Town on the Prairie’
Set in De Smet, South Dakota, Little Town on the Prairie is the 7th book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiographical Little House series, which, of course, generated the popular television show. Published in 1941, this novel tells the story of a 15-year-old Laura’s attempts to work outside the home while attending school and eventually earning her teaching certificate.
Tennessee: ‘The Client’
Set mostly in Memphis, Tennessee, The Client is American thriller writer John Grisham’s fourth novel. Published in 1993, it tells the story of an 11-year-old, street-wise boy named Mark Sway who, while sneaking a cigarette with his brother, encounters a suicidal lawyer who tells them a fiery secret: the whereabouts of the body of a missing person who has been killed by a mafia hit man—who’s also the lawyer’s client.
Texas: ‘No Country for Old Men’
This 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy takes place along the Mexican-U.S. border in 1980. It follows the catastrophic chain of events that occur after a curious hunter stops to investigate an abandoned pickup truck that is surrounded by violently wounded dead bodies. In the back of the pickup truck, he finds $2 million and heroin—and takes it.
Utah: ‘Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’
Another masterpiece by journalist Jon Krakauer, this 2003 book investigates the practices of Mormon Fundamentalists who live in isolated communities in Salt Lake City, Utah. Through extensive research, Krakauer tells the story of two brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who, as members as the School of Prophets sect, claim they were instructed by God to kill a woman and her baby. These are the surprising books every teen should read before they graduate high school.
Published in 1913 and set in Beldingsville, Vermont, Pollyanna is a children’s class novel by Eleanor Porter. The novel, whose title is now synonymous with a person who has an overly optimistic outlook, tells the story of Pollyanna, a young girl who learns to find the good in every situation—an outlook that is tested when she suffers a debilitating injury.
Virginia: ‘Flowers in the Attic’
This extremely popular novel by V.C. Andrews, which was published in 1979, tells the story of four children who are kept in the attic of their grandmother’s mansion for years after their father’s death, all so that their mother can claim an inheritance. After three years of torment, they begin to plot their escape and seek revenge on their mother.
Stephanie Meyer’s four-part series introduces adoring fans to the ordinary-turned-extraordinary life of Isabella Swan, who moves to the real life small town of Forks, Washington and meets her brooding vampire love interest, Edward Cullen. First published in 2005, Twilight spawned a series of movies and created a worldwide phenomenon.
West Virginia: ‘Freedom’
This 2010 novel by Jonathan Franzen has been widely regarded as a modern masterpiece of American fiction. On the surface, it appears to be a simple tale of love and marriage in modern America; dig deeper and unravel complex themes related to freedom, confinement, love, sex, loyalty, and what it means to be successful.
Wisconsin: ‘The Deep End of the Ocean’
Jacquelyn Mitchard’s 1996 debut novel tells the story of an ordinary, everyday American family ripped apart when their youngest son is kidnapped and then, nine years later, is returned. This harrowing tale, which was turned into a movie in 1999, explicitly explores mother Beth Cappadora’s grief and pain as she tries to hold her family together and parent her two other children while holding out hope for her son’s return.
Wyoming: ‘The Laramie Project’
The Laramie Project is a 2000 documentary-style play written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the kidnapping and brutal murder of openly gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. Through interviews with more than 200 Laramie residents, the playwrights chronicle life in the town in the year after the murder. Next, read about these books you probably never knew were banned.