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Are you heading to or returning from MA and looking for books to inspire your travels? Don’t miss these diverse books set in Massachusetts.
I grew up in New England, and I attended an all women’s college in MA: Smith. I loved cities and destinations like Northampton, Deerfield (Yankee Candle anyone?!), the Berkshires, Cape Cod for summers, Cambridge, Salem for Halloween, and of course, the cultured city of Boston. You can find some hidden gems in Springfield, too, and don’t forget about Martha’s Vineyard.
Plus, did you know that Massachusetts is literary traveler gold? The state is home to the Eric Carle Museum, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, and Norman Rockwell Museum. You can find homages to Louisa May Alcott, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. We even debated getting married at the elegant Boston Public Library.
There are also a plethora of diverse books set in Massachusetts that you don’t want to miss. So let’s set the literary tone for MA and discover some of the best books about and set in Massachusetts for adults and teens. Hopefully, this selection of fiction and nonfiction MA-based books will help you plan your bookish trip to Massachusetts or take you there via your reading chair.
Let’s get started!
Newer Books Set In Massachusetts
Contemporary Women’s Fiction
One of my favorite new 2020 books set in Massachusetts, Writers & Lovers by Lily King is a humbling story about love, creativity, and overcoming loss. I originally heard about Writers & Lovers from Jenna Bush’s Book Club series on the Today Show–and I am so thankful.
Casey Peabody is a writer trying to overcome the loss of her mother. Working as a waitress to pay the bills, Casey needs health insurance and a higher salary to pay off her college loans. Casey reminds me of Hannah Horvath in Girls. The relationships she lands in mirror Bridget Jones: One suitor is handsome and well-off while the other is a free and hurting spirit.
Indie Novel | Art Fiction
If you are looking for an indie novel set in Massachusetts, don’t miss one of my favorite lesser-known authors, Arthur D. Hittner and his latest, The Caroline Paintings. Although not strictly based in MA–you will head to Boston as well as the South–this art fiction book depicts the perfect multi-dimensional, tempting young muse.
After winning a bidding war over a storage locker filled with junk, Florida snowbird and Red Sox fan, Jerry, thinks he might have uncovered a hidden gem or two. Unsigned paintings send Jerry around the United States to uncover the mysterious artist and his rather young and stunning muse.
YA | Racism & Prejudice | Immigration
One of the new 2020 books set in Massachusetts that actually let me down is Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon. While the topics of racism and immigration are relevant and much needed, the plot is more surface-level and stereotypical without any meat or quality writing.
Liliana Cruz is positioned in a Boston school system dynamic that resembles Starr’s in The Hate You Give. Her diverse inner-city high school is underfunded and a mess. However, her father that abandoned her yet again signed her up for METCO, a desegregation program, before leaving.
This new school in Westburg is predominantly white, and as a half-Guatemalan and half-Salvadorian, Liliana stands out. She begins to change, alienating herself from old friends. Even worse, Liliana learns that her father didn’t actually abandon her. He’s been deported back to Guatemala. Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information→
TUL’s Favorite Novels Set In Massachusetts
Literary Fiction | Asian American Fiction
One of my favorite books growing up in and after college, don’t miss The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. The Ganguli family moves from Calcutta to Cambridge and the Boston suburbs in the 1960s. Ashoke is finishing his engineering degree at MIT while his new wife, Ashima, heartbreakingly pines for her family back in India.
When their first child is born, Indian custom dictates that the child is given an official name and then a second name from the great-grandmother. However, this family name never arrives via the mail. Ashoke gifts his son a nickname, Gogol, after one of his most beloved Russian writers that influenced him more than you can imagine.
Readers learn about the meaning behind who we are, home, and who we can become in both the present and through flashbacks. I’ve read The Namesake at least twice, and after writing this Massachusetts reading list, I definitely want to reread the novel. Amazon | Goodreads
Contemporary Literary Fiction
I already know that someone is totally going to grumpy annihilate/comment on my Pinterest pin for this one… The Storied Life Of A.J Fikry is technically set on Alice Island–a remote New England location–which certainly resembles Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. I am going with it. Tough cookies, Pinterest haters.
Although not my absolute favorite book of all time, THERE IS A BOOKSTORE and the story is endearing AF. A.J. Fikry’s life is a tad sad and messy. His wife died, his bookstore is failing, and someone has stolen his prized Poe poems. What do we do when we are hurting? We tend to isolate people and ourselves, and Fikry does not like change. He’s kind of a Scrooge.
Contemporary Novels Set In Massachusetts
Contemporary Literary Fiction | Satire
In the fictional college town of Wellington, set outside of Boston, Massachusetts, Zadie Smith introduces us to a British/American and interracial family living in the U.S. in her literary novel, On Beauty.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005 and winner of the 2006 Orange Prize for fiction, the Belsey family finds themselves at odds with Kipps. The liberal atheist Belseys clash with the ultra-conservatives Kipps.
Historical Literary Fiction
Growing up in Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-1600s, Bethia Mayfield is stuck amongst the strict English Puritans. Her father is a minster hoping to convert the locals. When Bethia meets Caleb, the son of a chieftain, they become friends against their greatest differences. Caleb goes on to become the first Native American graduate of Harvard College, balancing beliefs and cultures.
Even More Great Books Featuring Massachusetts
Classic Books Set In Massachusetts
Classic | Nature
Head to Walden Pond outside of Concord, Massachusetts in Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A piece of land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1845, Thoreau built a cabin on the banks of the pond.
Many of our famous–and sometimes cliché–quotes come from Thoreau’s time at Walden, where he ‘religiously’ journaled everything that he observed, including the most minutiae of nature.
Coming Of Age | Women’s Fiction
Another book set in Concord, Massachusetts, we all know Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. A classic coming-of-age story, follow along with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, four very different March sisters as they grow into young women.
American Classic | Drama & Plays
One of the best classic books set in Salem, Massachusetts, don’t skip over Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, especially if you are interested in the Salem Witch Trials.
Similar to The Scarlet Letter, The Crucible takes place in 1692 during strict Puritan times. Along with illicit love affairs, extreme religious suppression, and prejudice, the townspeople scapegoat witchcraft for all of their own wrongdoings. Condemning ‘witches’ to save themselves, the town falls under public scrutiny.
More Classic Books Set In Massachusetts:
Don’t miss our Books About The Salem Witch Trials reading list, filled with some of the best witchy books set in Massachusetts.
YA Massachusetts Reading List
Young Adult | Historical Mystery | Mental Health
Conversion is a modern-day Salem Witch Trials YA novel set in Danvers, Massachusetts. I read this one back in the day for my MLIS and recommend it if you enjoyed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Find a mix of mental health, Mean Girls, and Salem witches.
The girls at St. Joan’s Academy are reading Miller when strange things start happening. Tics, seizures, and hair loss plague the school. Like the Salem witch craze, rumors, accusations, and of course, mass panic ensue. Amazon | Goodreads | Book Information→
Classic American Literature | Books Read In High School
Set in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is widely read as part of public high school curriculums. While some criticize the details for being too ornate for Puritan Boston, you still get an overbearing sense of guilt-inducing and condemning Puritan society.
Hester Prynne wears a scarlet “A’ across her garb as her impish child, Pearl, bounces around the world. The townspeople imprisoned Hester for adultery, as she had a child with another man even though her husband was presumed lost at sea.
Through her kind and charitable actions, Hester attempts to redeem herself in the eyes of the unforgiving community. The Scarlet Letter begins with a narrator located in Salem, MA, and is an infamous novel set heavily in Boston, Massachusetts. Amazon | Goodreads
More YA Books Set In Massachusetts
Nonfiction Books That Take Place In Massachusetts
Educator Biographies | Love & Loss
An oldie but a goodie, Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie is a nonfiction book set in West Newton, Massachusetts in 1995. Mitch and Morrie Schwartz meet every Tuesday to discuss the meaning of life. Morrie was Mitch’s college professor from twenty years ago.
At age 12, Augusten Burroughs’ mother’s psychiatrist is raising him–sort of. He stops attending school and there are certainly no rules.
Have You Read Any Of These Books Set In & About Massachusetts?
Have you visited Massachusetts and taken a literary tour on your own? Do you have favorite Massachusetts-based novels? Or, have you read any of the above books and not enjoyed them? What other books about Massachusetts do you recommend? Let us know in the comments.