Whether you come from the California coastline or the snowy forests of Maine, reading a book set in your home state can make you feel a warm nostalgia for that beloved place.
After scouring the internet and surveying our colleagues on their picks, we rounded up the most famous book set in every state in America.
If you want to see every book in an organised chart, scroll to the end to see our map.
Melissa Stanger contributed reporting on a previous version of this post.
ALABAMA: “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
When a local attorney is asked to defend an African American man accused of rape, he has to decide between doing what’s right and doing what society expects of him, launching his children right in the middle of the conflict.
This Pulitzer Prize winner is set in Maycomb, a community divided by racism and inspired by Lee’s hometown of Monroeville.
ALASKA: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer
A young man from a family of money donates all of his savings to charity and abandons his possessions before hitchhiking into the Alaskan wilderness to reinvent himself.
This true story survival-drama was made into a movie of the same name in 2007, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch, shedding light on McCandless’ idealism of a life unburdened by material possessions, as well as the harsh realities of the Alaskan wild.
ARIZONA: “The Bean Trees” by Barbara Kingsolver
Taylor is well on her way to escaping small-town life. But shortly into her journey to Tucson, where she hopes to start over, a stranger leaves her with a Native American toddler with a traumatic past.
Kingsolver’s story of finding salvation in a barren situation is appropriately set in the Arizona backdrop, and is packed with real places and events.
ARKANSAS: “A Painted House” by John Grisham
Luke Chandler lives on a cotton farm with his parents and grandparents, and suddenly finds himself keeping the deadly secrets of the harvest workers. The legal-thriller follows the seven-year-old as he grows up and loses his innocence in the 1950s.
The narrator’s upbringing in rural Arkansas inspired this coming-of-age tale.
CALIFORNIA: “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s 1970 novel established her as a master fiction writer in addition to an already-acclaimed nonfiction one. Set in Nevada, New York, and, most importantly, Hollywood, it’s “an indictment of Hollywood culture” in the 1960s and utterly gripping in its intensity. Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, also adapted the book into a movie in 1972.
COLORADO: “The Shining” by Stephen King
A recovering alcoholic writer accepts the position as winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, which sits in the Colorado Rockies. He moves in with his family, including his five-year-old son Danny, who has psychic abilities and begins to witness aspects of the hotel’s horrific past.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which inspired the fictional Overlook, offers a Ghost Adventure Package for guests.
CONNECTICUT: “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
Considered the original anti-suburban novel, “Revolutionary Road” follows a young, bright couple marooned in Connecticut and trying to escape pressure to conform in the 1950s. Their failed attempts to be different lead to self-destructive affairs and a psychotic breakdown.
In 2008, the book was adapted into a movie of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
DELAWARE: “The Saint of Lost Things” by Christopher Castellani
Seven years after settling in Wilmington, an Italian couple is still in pursuit of the American Dream. Maddalena sews at the factory but desperately wants to be a mother, while her husband’s nighttime escapades threaten to unravel all their hard work.
Castellani wove bits of his own family history into the book, like the fact that his Italian father, who emigrated to Wilmington after World War II, dreamed of opening a restaurant in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighbourhood like Maddalena’s husband did.
FLORIDA: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
A classic work of African-American literature, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is about Janie Crawford, a woman living in the town of Eaton, Florida. Hurston was one of the most prominent writers of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s, publishing the novel in 1937. But she slipped into obscurity in the later years of her life and “Eyes” went out of print until Alice Walker championed her in the 1970s. Now, the book is taught in classrooms around the country.
GEORGIA: “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell
Mitchell’s 1936 classic love story, set in the South during the Civil War and its aftermath, introduced the world to Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. O’Hara, the young spoiled daughter of a plantation owner, and her rogue star-crossed lover are torn apart and reunited through the tragedies and comedies of the human existence.
Mitchell spent nine years writing her manuscript, and the ensuing, unwanted fame led her to vow she would never write again.
HAWAII: “Hawaii” by James Michener
Michener sought to show how Hawaii harmonizes different cultures and races, as a template that would benefit the rest of the country. However, he and his wife, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, faced harsh discrimination while living there.
IDAHO: “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson
Little to do with housekeeping, Robinson’s poetic story follows two orphaned girls who are cared for by eccentric female relatives in the fictional town of Fingerbone.
Robinson describes the town as “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather.” This, and many other details in “Housekeeping,” conjure images of her own Idaho hometown of Sandpoint.
ILLINOIS: “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair
The story of a Lithuanian immigrant employed in Chicago’s stockyards, where Sinclair worked undercover to research for the book, revealed the poverty, hopelessness, and unpleasant living and working conditions experienced by meatpacking laborers in the early 20th century.
The book’s graphic depictions of the slaughterhouse work caused a public uproar that contributed to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act six months after “The Jungle” was published.
INDIANA: “The Magnificent Ambersons” by Booth Tarkington
Written by a native Hoosier, the novel centres on characters struggling to preserve their status during rapid industrialisation between the Civil War and 20th century. The aristocratic Amberson family loses its prestige and wealth as “new money” tycoons take over.
Woodruff Place, Indianapolis’ earliest suburb, was the setting for Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons,” which Orson Welles later adapted as a movie.
IOWA: “A Thousand Acres” by Jane Smiley
When an Iowa farmer decides to retire, he plans to divide his thousand acres of land among his three daughters. The youngest objects, setting off a chain of events that unleashes long-suppressed emotions and secrets. It’s a modern-day “King Lear.”
Smiley’s narrator describes the farm in Zebulon County as “paid for, no encumbrances, as flat and fertile, black, friable and exposed as any piece of land on the face of the earth,” like a lot of land in Iowa.
KANSAS: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum
There’s no place like the Great Kansas Plains.
Baum’s imaginative tale of Dorothy Gale from Kansas and her Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion friends was the best-selling children’s story of the 1900 Christmas season and spawned the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”
KENTUCKY: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Uncle Tom, a long-suffering black slave, is sold by the Shelby family and begins a journey that, for 19th-century readers, depicted the realities of slavery and endorsed the power of Christian love to overcome all obstacles.
Stowe based the abolitionist novel on the first-hand stories of former enslaved peoples in Kentucky, a slave state, while she lived across the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Its powerful condemnation of slavery fuelled the human rights debate in the mid-19th century.
LOUISIANA: “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole
“A Confederacy of Dunces” is one of the funniest American novels ever published. It’s hard to describe, but it’s basically about a 30-year-old man named Ignatius J. Reilly who lives with his mother in New Orleans. Reilly is educated and philosophically opposed to having a job, but has to confront reality when his mum makes him get one.
The story behind the novel is as famous as the novel itself. It was Toole’s first published novel, published 11 years after his death, after being championed by his mother and the writer Walker Percy. It was released to instant acclaim, winning a rare posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
MAINE: “Carrie” by Stephen King
Carrie, a shy high school girl raised by an unstable, Christian fundamentalist mother, discovers she has telekinetic powers. When her classmates falsely crown her prom queen in an elaborate effort to humiliate her, she enacts her supernatural revenge.
Stephen King is Main’s biggest champion in literature, and “Carrie” takes place in the fictional town of Chamberlain.
MARYLAND: “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” by Anne Tyler
Another Baltimore-based novel by Tyler, “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” tells how three siblings remember growing up with their perfectionist mother as she lies on her deathbed. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel examines how the siblings’ recollections vary drastically.
Tyler’s characters live in Charles Village, near her long-time residence.
MASSACHUSETTS: “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
“Walden” is the product of transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s two-year retreat into the woods, an experiment in isolation, simple living, and self-reliance. By immersing himself in nature, he hoped to understand society more objectively.
Encompassing 61 acres, Walden Pond is the crown jewel of the greater Walden Woods ecosystem in Concord.
MICHIGAN: “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeffrey Eugenides
“The Virgin Suicides” is a gripping tale of five beautiful yet eccentric sisters who commit suicide all in the same year in Gross Pointe, Mich. It is written from the perspective of an anonymous group of boys who are observant, infatuated, and endlessly struggling to explain the tragedy.
Eugenides said he was inspired by the deterioration of the state’s auto industry and the “feeling of growing up in Detroit, in a city losing population, and in perpetual crisis.”
MINNESOTA: “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis
“Main Street” reveals two sides of Minnesota: the thriving metropolis of Saint Paul, where the heroine is from, and the dried-up small town she moves to after much convincing from her new husband. The young woman falls victim to the narrow-mindedness and unimaginative nature of the townspeople.
The author used his birthplace of Sauk Centre as a mould for the fictionalized Gopher Prairie setting.
MISSISSIPPI: “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner
“The Sound and the Fury” encapsulates the decline of the American South through the dysfunctional Compson family, who face financial ruin during the Roaring Twenties and lose the respect of the townspeople in Jefferson, Mississippi.
Many readers complained that the book’s stream of consciousness style was hard to follow. Faulkner’s advice was to “read it four times,” he told the Paris Review.
MISSOURI: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
This classic coming-of-age story set alongside the Mississippi River follows Tom Sawyer, a young boy who preoccupies himself with pulling pranks and impressing a girl-until he witnesses a murder. Tom and his companions run away to an island, but eventually return to take up treasure hunting.
Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which which inspired the setting of “Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
MONTANA: “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean
“A River Runs Through It” is the semi-autobiographical tale of everyday life in the west for two brothers who are the sons of a local pastor.
Set amidst the beautiful, wondrous landscape of Montana, the two boys, one dutiful and one rebellious, each grow up and discover themselves, turning, at times, to dark places, but always under the footfalls of their father.
NEBRASKA: “My Ántonia” by Willa Cather
The reader meets Ántonia Shimerda through a written account from the narrator, Jim Burden, a young man who moves to the fictional town of Black Hawk, Neb., to live with his grandparents.
Through Jim’s lens of love and infatuation, Ántonia is brought to life as a young Bohemian girl with many trials and triumphs. The reader grows to know her and, simultaneously, the author as well, who wrote the novel from details of her own life in Nebraska.
NEVADA: “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson
However, the two are preoccupied and saddened by what they perceive as the decline of 1960s American pop culture, and begin experimenting with drugs. Much of the book is seen through their hallucinations and twisted realities which is only fuelled by the hyperreal surroundings of Sin City.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: “The Hotel New Hampshire” by John Irving
Containing all the classic John Irving tropes – a bear, rape, body-building, and social privilege – “The Hotel New Hampshire” follows a peculiar family as they open hotels in New Hampshire, Vienna, and Maine.
The book evokes Irving’s upbringing in the back woods of New Hampshire.
NEW JERSEY: “Drown” by Junot Díaz
Based on his own experiences as a Dominican immigrant who moved to New Jersey, the 10 short stories in “Drown” perfectly tell of the struggles the New Jersey immigrant community faces, from poverty to homesickness to the language barrier.
The outlook is often grim, but told in Díaz’s riveting and intoxicating narrative we manage to see the characters’ unsentimental determination for a better life.
NEW MEXICO: “Cities of the Plain” by Cormac McCarthy
The final book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, “Cities of the Plain” is about a doomed romance in the American frontier between a man and a prostitute who runs afoul of a pimp.
The novel’s New Mexico setting makes it a classic western, on the border of the United States and Mexico and filled with the types of characters and atmospherics you’d expect there.
NEW YORK: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Great Gatsby” tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a young, lovesick millionaire, as told by his friend and next door neighbour Nick Carraway. The novel progresses as Gatsby tries to rekindle his love with Daisy Buchanan, who is also Nick’s cousin.
Through Gatsby’s shady business dealings and his extravagant wealthy lifestyle on Long Island, Fitzgerald reveals a world in New York that is both terribly beautiful and terribly corrupt.
NORTH CAROLINA: “A Walk to Remember” by Nicholas Sparks
This Sparks romance novel, made famous by its film adaptation starring Mandy Moore, shows the unlikely, blossoming love between two high school students from Beaufort: Landon Carter, a popular rebel, and Jamie Sullivan, a quiet bookworm.
While Landon tries to get closer to Jamie, she pushes him away, fearing that a secret will end things between them before it begins.
NORTH DAKOTA: “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich
A woman living on a North Dakota Indian reservation is attacked, but police have a hard time investigating the case when she is unwilling to discuss what transpired.
Her son takes matters into his own hands, recruiting his friends to find out what happened and bring justice to his family and his tribe.
OHIO: “The Broom of the System” by David Foster Wallace
In Foster Wallace’s slightly altered view of Ohio in 1990, we follow our heroine, Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, a telephone operator and secretary who manages a job with barely any purpose, a relationship with her much-older boss, and the task of finding her decrepit grandmother.
The grandmother, along with 25 other residents of the Shaker Heights Nursing Home, has managed to disappear without a trace.
OKLAHOMA: “Paradise” by Toni Morrison
“Paradise” chronicles tensions between the patriarchal, all-black town of Ruby, which was founded by the descendants of free slaves intent on isolating themselves from the outside world, and a nearby community of five women, each seeking refuge from the past.
Morrison conceived the idea for “Paradise” after researching the all-black towns in Oklahoma that formed when newly freed men left plantations under duress.
OREGON: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey
Randle McMurphy barges into an Oregon mental institution one day and decides to rally the patients against the tyranny of Nurse Ratched. McMurphy stirs more trouble as he smuggles in women, alcohol, and other contraband, leading to an all-out war between him and the institution.
Told through the eyes of one of the patients, Kesey reveals bits of his own background, having previously worked as an orderly in a mental health ward.
PENNSYLVANIA: “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold
“The Lovely Bones” is a dark, gripping tale about Susie Salmon, a young girl who was brutally raped and murdered in the cornfields of Norristown. It’s told from her point of view after her death.
Looking down on her family from heaven, Susie watches as they come to terms with what happened to her and try to solve a case that, to police, seems to lead nowhere.
RHODE ISLAND: “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult
Anna has always been her older sister Kate’s lifesaver. She’s undergone countless surgeries, transplants, and donations to help save her sick sister, but when doctors discover that Anna is now a match to be Kate’s bone marrow donor, Anna decides to sue for the right to control her own body.
Picoult shows the heartbreaking pull between freedom and family in this Rhode Island-set novel.
SOUTH CAROLINA: “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
Monk Kidd injects some of her own southern upbringing into this contemporary heartwarming novel.
SOUTH DAKOTA: “A Long Way From Home” by Tom Brokaw
In Brokaw’s honest narrative, we see how much his life has been shaped by growing up in South Dakota and the historic events he lived through as a child and young adult.
TENNESSEE: “A Death in the Family” by James Agee
“A Death in the Family” is, unfortunately, the only novel by the polymath writer James Agee. It’s a semiautobiographical book about the emotional reverberations in a family after a father dies in a car accident. Set in Knoxville, it lyrically captures the feelings of every character, from the inner mind of a child to the tragedy of a widow.
The novel was published posthumously, after Agee died of a heart attack at 45, and won the Pulitzer Prize. He was also an acclaimed screenwriter, critic, and journalist.
TEXAS: “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy
Made famous by the eponymous film starring Javier Bardem, “No Country for Old Men” is Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece about a drug deal-gone-wrong on the Texas-Mexico border. The event left a group of men dead and $US2 million in an abandoned truck.
Llewellyn Moss, who discovered the scene, takes the money and gets swept up in the illicit drug business.
UTAH: “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff
In this work of historical fiction, Ebershoff takes a critical look at polygamy through his side-by-side narratives.
VERMONT: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
Tartt’s debut novel was a sensation when it was released in 1992, telling the story about six classics students at a fictional Vermont college. It’s narrated by Richard Papen, one of the students, years later, telling the story of a murder that happened among them.
The story beautifully takes a classic whodunnit premise and situates it in an coming-of-age story and intellectual world of classic literature. “Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, “The Secret History” achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times in her review of the novel.
VIRGINIA: “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Patterson
Jesse Aarons wants to be the fastest runner in his rural Virginia elementary school, and almost realises his dream until a new girl shows up and outruns everyone. This leads to an unlikely friendship between Jesse and the girl, Leslie, who together invent a magic wooded kingdom they call Terabithia.
The book is loosely based on events from Patterson’s own childhood, which she also spent in the greater DC area.
WASHINGTON: “Twilight” by Stephenie Meyer
The small town of Forks was made famous as the setting for Meyer’s best-selling vampire book series.
Bella Swan moves from her mum’s house to live with her dad in Forks where she meets Edward Cullen, a quiet, handsome young man at her new high school. Edward usually keeps to himself, but he is drawn to Bella and can’t seem to stay away from her – for a shocking reason.
WASHINGTON, DC: “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown
In this story of espionage, conspiracies, and buried American secrets, “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown has done it again.
Brown’s beloved character Robert Langdon returns in his latest thriller, this time chasing down his mentor’s kidnapper in DC while trying to decode five puzzling symbols linked to the Free Masons that could be the key to rescuing his mentor.
WEST VIRGINIA: “Shiloh” by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
In Friendly, a young boy finds a puppy he names Shiloh in the hills behind his home. But Shiloh belongs to Judd, a scary town-drunk who beats the dog.
Now the boy, who’s made a friend in Shiloh, will do anything to save him.
WISCONSIN: “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The classic characters Laura, Mary, and their family struggle to make a home for themselves in Ingalls Wilder’s beloved “Little House” children’s book series.
Based in part on Ingalls Wilder’s own journey around the Midwest, young Laura and Mary, along with their parents and baby sister Carrie, learn to survive the long winter, fend for themselves, and take care of each other in this true-to-life work.
WYOMING: “The Laramie Project” by Moises Kaufman
Kaufman wrote “The Laramie Project” as a play to recount the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who became the victim of an extreme hate crime in a quiet Wyoming town.
Shepard is remembered and honored from the perspective of family and friends as Kaufman takes a lens to the stubborn intolerance in society.
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