I know I am biased, but I think there is something especially romantic and beautiful about novels set in the South! Beyond descriptions of white sand beaches and trees dripping with Spanish moss, the South has a lot of content to offer when it comes to deeper lessons on relationships, family, racism, tradition, and general life wisdom. Whether you need a good beach read or are looking to curl up inside with a good book, here are 17 Southern-based novels that you need to check out! All of these are books I personally love or come highly recommended by friends.
Plot: This well-researched work of historical fiction tells the untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy, who struggles to keep her father’s secrets while falling in love with a man of very different values.
Why you should read it: This book goes behind the scenes of one of the founding fathers of the United States and highlights the life of a women who was influential despite not being a name in most history books. The very real struggle of values versus loyalty to family is one that will undoubtedly resonate with many readers.
Location: Oriental, North Carolina
Plot: Two high school sweethearts meet again 25 years later at a funeral. As they carry out the instructions left behind by their deceased friend, they uncover memories and make new discoveries about their lives and the choices they have made.
Why you should read it: One thing you can always count on from Nicholas Sparks, in addition to sometimes-cheesy romance, is beautiful descriptions of North Carolina towns. The setting of small town Oriental in this book take you to a simpler time and place in small town USA. The love story is quite sweet, and the ending is a classic Nicholas Sparks tear jerker.
Plot: Self-proclaimed “fat girl” Willowdean starts to doubt herself once she begins dating and sets out to reinstate her self-confidence by entering a beauty pageant.
Why you should read it: This young adult novel has a message of body positivity that will resonate with women of any size who have encountered self image issues in their lives or the lives of others. The small town setting and beauty pageant focus of the novel is oh-so-Southern!
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, & Asheville, North Carolina
Plot: In this work of historical fiction, an orphaned 13-year-old girl is admitted to a mental institution and witnesses events leading up to a tragic fire that killed nine women (including Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald) in a locked ward in 1948.
Why you should read it: This well-researched book describes the then- progressive treatment methods of Highland Hospital, showcases wonderfully written characters, and also features beautiful descriptions of the North Carolina mountains.
Location: Jackson, Mississippi
Plot: African American women working in white households during the 1960s come together with a young white woman to push back against racist and sexist social norms within their community.
Why you should read it: The book shares heartbreaking but important accounts of racism while also including humor and inspiring acts of courage. The characters will steal your heart!
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Plot: Four cadets at a proud military institute experience hazing, friendship, and scandal. Ultimately, one of them does not survive.
Why you should read it: It seems that many Southern-based novels focus on the experiences of women. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but this book is a different take with its focus on young Southern men at a Charleston-based military institution.
Location: South Carolina
Plot: A woman who is estranged from her family returns to her Southern childhood home when her mother falls ill. While there, she revisits past memories, begins to understand her family’s complicated history, and confronts her own failing marriage.
Why you should read it: Dorothea Benton Frank is one of the queens of Southern novels and beautifully describes the Lowcountry of South Carolina. This is a romantic book about relationships and the self-discovery that comes with going “home.”
Location: Sylva, North Carolina
Plot: Two brothers follow very different life paths after a summer spent with a captivating young woman as teenagers.
Why you should read it: Ron Rash is known for his Southern book settings, and this book is no exception. His characters and their situations are relatable and plausible, and this book is a wonderful story about young love, the complicated relationship between two brothers, and how the choices we make impact the course of our lives.
Location: Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi)
Plot: Sorority sisters and two mothers come head to head when the sorority housekeeper is denied a promotion.
Why you should read it: This novel tackles class issues, racism, privilege, family relationships (specifically female relationships), and Southern traditions.
Location: Tybee Island, GA
Plot: A Southern belle is forced into a “low class” job after losing all of her money to a con man, until she seeks revenge.
Why you should read it: Any of Mary Kay Andrews’ books are a great choice for a summer read! All of her books take place in the South and typically include romance, betrayal, and relatable Southern women as the protagonists.
Location: South Carolina
Plot: A teenage Caucasian girl and her stand-in black mother leave their home following a racial incident and go to live with a trio of black beekeeping sisters, where they learn about beekeeping and the Black Madonna.
Why you should read it: This is a beautiful book about coming of age, divine femininity, and close female relationships.
Plot: A 13-year-old boy struggles to understand what it means to be a man as he observes the very different male role models in his life (along with his struggling mother) and learns lessons from the ghost of another 13-year-old boy.
Why you should read it: In a genre dominated by white women, it is refreshing to find a Southern-based novel written by a woman of color. This book paints an intimate portrait of one family’s struggles with relationships, addiction, and race while also engaging the the sociocultural climate of past and present Mississippi.
Location: Beaufort, South Carolina
Plot: A widowed young woman visits her deceased husband’s family home and discovers the secrets of her husband’s past while also navigating her own family relationships.
Why you should read it: There is a whimsical, gone-back-in-time feel to the location and characters in this book that is oh-so-Southern. The themes of familial legacy and healing are timeless.
Location: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina
Plot: Three half sisters come to stay with their grandmother at the beach and discover surprising truths, face difficult memories, and find familial healing.
Why you should read it: This is the ultimate feel-good beach read that involves a beautiful summer home on the sea, a dolphin who helps a young woman find healing, and mended family relationships.
Plot: In this legal thriller, the black father of a 10-year-old girl retaliates against the two young men who raped her, igniting racial tensions throughout the predominantly white community.
Why you should read it: Illustrates the complicated ways in which justice has been handled within segregated and racist communities in the South.
Plot: A 6-year-old girl observes as her father is appointed to represent a black man accused of raping a white woman in a sleepy Southern town, resulting in racial tensions within their community.
Why you should read it: This is a beloved Southern classic with themes of high integrity and ethics within the legal profession, the sordid racist past of the American South, and the destruction of innocence.
Location: North Carolina coast
Plot: A young woman from a broken home survives alone as a child and then teenager in the wild marshlands of the North Carolina coast and is accused of a small-town murder.
Why you should read it: The descriptions of the North Carolina marsh and beaches in this book are so beautiful and vivid, I could literally smell and taste the salty air while reading. There also comes a point in the plot of the book when you cannot put it down for need to find out the outcome!
Have you read any of these books, friends? Are there any you think should be added to this list?
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