I could write a lot about growing up in Alabama and living here now. It’s a place I love, but it’s also a place that comes with some ugly history and a sometimes still ugly present. Books set in the South have a special urgency to them, I think. They are stories that stick with us because they are often stories of people who have persevered, like John Lewis in March or Helen Keller in her autobiography.
Alabama is a place with so much beauty and so many rich stories, so I hope this list of books set in Alabama will help you find just that: how the complicated history of Alabama has also resulted and beautiful and hopeful stories.
Fiction Set in Alabama
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Of course you can’t have a list of books set in Alabama without To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic novel by Harper Lee about a young girl named Scout growing up in Alabama, getting into mischief, and trying to understand race and justice through the eyes of her beloved father, Atticus. For fans of coming-of-age tales and classic novels.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
This 2020 release by Yaa Gyasi is half set in Huntsville, Alabama (where Gyasi grew up), and is about the daughter of in immigrant family from Ghana trying to understand the intersection of science and faith as she deals with the aftermath of her brother’s death. Absolutely beautiful writing. For lovers of literary fiction.
The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins
Alabama native Rachel Hawkins is known for her young adult and middle grade novels. But with The Wife Upstairs (slated for January 2021) she’s venturing into adult territory in this retelling of Jane Eyre set in Birmingham, Alabama. For fans for classic-retellings and Southern gothic novels.
The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
A modern classic that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, The Keepers of the House tells the story of the Howland family, who has lived on the same land for seven generations. But when a secret about the relationship between Abigail Howland’s grandfather and their Black housekeeper comes to light, it throws the family and community into turmoil. For fans of literary and historical fiction.
Eveningland by Michael Knight
This slim book of short stories will immerse you into the city of Mobile, Alabama. From Mardi Gras to hurricanes, Knight draws a picture of Alabama’s Gulf Coast that will stick with you. For fans of literary fiction and short stories.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
A small town story about a woman named Evelyn, who is struggling through mid-life, and an older woman named Mrs. Threadgoode who is sharing the wisdom of her life story. This Southern novel has been beloved for decades and has to be included on any list of books set in Alabama. For fans of women’s fiction.
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
When her first novel, Gods in Alabama, came out, Joshilyn Jackson became a well-known name in Southern fiction. The Almost Sisters is her latest novel, about a woman named Leia who returns to Alabama with her own baggage to clean out her grandmother’s house only to discover something that will change everything she’s ever known about her family. For fans of Southern women’s fiction.
Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
In 1931, nine Black teenagers were arrested and accused of raping two white women on a train. They became known as The Scottsboro Boys and the trial was full of controversy. This is a fictionalized account of that trial, examining race, class, power, and privilege. For fans of historical fiction.
My Last Days as Roy Rogers by Pat Cunningham Devoto
In 1950s Alabama, 10-year-old Tab is ready for a summer of adventure despite the fact that pools and movie theaters are closed in attempts to control the polio epidemic. This is a Southern coming of age story, with a spunky heroine readers will love. For lovers historical fiction and coming-of-age tales.
Non-Fiction Set in Alabama
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis
Helen Ellis left Alabama to live in NYC years ago, but she’s kept her Southern roots and this hilarious book of essays shows us just what that means. She shows us how her Southern manners fit in with the city crowd, but we also get some essays about her Alabama childhood (seriously read the one about her birthday party — my mouth was wide open in disbelief the whole time). For fans of humor essays.
This true crime book delves into the case of Rev. Willie Maxwell, accused of murdering five family members for insurance money in Alexander City, Alabama in the 1970s. But it also delves into Harper Lee’s investigation, and the crime novel she never wrote. For fans of true crime that’s not too scary.
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
Helen Keller grew up in Tuscumbia, Alabama, where, deaf and blind, she lived in darkness until tutor Anne Sullivan helped her begin to understand communication and the world around her. This led Keller to become a well-known speaker, author, and advocate. This is her autobiography — her own perspective on the story we all know. For fans of memoirs and autobiographies.
March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
While the March books are technically YA, I’m including them here because I think EVERYONE should read them. Book One is the first in this trilogy of graphic novels, beginning with John Lewis’s growing up in Alabama and the beginnings of his political activism. Books Two and Three continue through the rest of the Civil Rights movement and helped me to understand a history I have heard so many times in a completely new way. These books are set across the South, but of course a good portion of the books are set in Alabama, with the climax being the march from Selma to Montgomery. For fans of graphic novels and history, but really everyone should read these.
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks with Jim Haskins
Rosa Parks is known for not giving up her bus seat in Birmingham, but she was active in the Civil Rights movement in so many other ways. This is her autobiography about living in the Jim Crow South and working to change it. For fans of autobiography/memoirs.
A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
A autobiographical short story about Truman Capote’s growing up in depression-era Alabama and making fruitcake with his caregiver, an older lady named Sook. This story makes for a perfect holiday read, and the version linked here also comes with “One Christmas” and “One Thanksgiving.” For fans of quiet stories.
(I think this book could also be classified as fiction, but since it is known to be autobiographical, I’m including it in the non-fiction list.)
All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg
Rick Bragg has become a beloved Southern writer, and this is the book that put him on the map. All Over but the Shoutin’ is his memoir of growing up poor in Alabama, and of his parents — an alcoholic father with a rough temper and a hero of a mother who sacrificed so much for her children. For fans of memoirs.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, an organization that helps people wrongfully trapped in the criminal justice system. This book tells the story of one of his first cases, a man wrongfully accused of murder, and how his work is transforming the idea of justice. For fans of social justice and legal non-fiction. (But really an important read for everyone.)
Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington
Where I’m from in Alabama, the name Sand Mountain is instantly synonymous with fundamentalist churches that believe in snake-handling as an act of faith. (Yes, I know. It’s bizarre.) This book is an investigative reporter’s deep dive into this practice after a pastor is accused of murdering his wife with venomous snakes. For lovers of true crime and narrative non-fiction.
Children’s Books Set in Alabama
Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus, Illustrated by Erin McGuire
Based on the true story of Harper Lee, this book recounts her childhood in Monroeville, Alabama and how she grew up to write one of the most well-known books of all time. Recommended ages 4-8 years.
In The Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
George Washington Carver is known for his agricultural innovations, including a long list of uses of peanuts. In this story, Carver visits a community struggling with their crops because of soil depletion and shows them how to plant new crops with new uses. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
This is the story of Booker T. Washington, who was born a slave and taught himself to read. After the Civil War he was able to attend school and went on to build Tuskegee University. Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
When Rosa Parks Went Fishing by Rachel Ruiz, Illustrated by Chiara Fedele
This children’s books tells the story of Rosa Parks and how her childhood led her to become such an important leader of the Civil Rights movement. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, Illustrated by Frank Morrison
This picture book tells the story of the school children who marched in Birmingham in 1963 after hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak. Recommended ages: 6-9 years.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Audrey Faye Hendricks is known as the youngest marcher to participate in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham in 1963, and this book shows her witnessing the Jim Crow South and deciding to march in a way that is easy for kids to understand. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
When John Lewis was growing up in rural Alabama he wanted to be a preacher, so he spent time preaching to his family’s chickens. An inspiring story about John Lewis’s early life. Recommended ages: 6-9 years.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Set in Alabama
The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
This middle grade modern classic tells the story of 10-year-old Kenny’s family who travel from Michigan down to Birmingham, Alabama to visit Kenny’s grandmother. But when they get there they are thrown into the chaos of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
A novel told in verse inspired by the events of Lai’s life, this book tells the story of a young girl named Hà who immigrates with her family to Alabama from Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon. For books set in Alabama, it’s somewhat rare to find a book from an Asian-American or Asian immigrant perspective, so I love having this one on the list. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
This book is the third book in a trilogy, but can be read on its own. Three sisters — Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern — go to Alabama to visit their grandmother and discover what’s been keeping their family apart for years. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks not giving up her seat on the bus, but not many people know about Claudette Colvin — the young woman who did it months before and who later became a lead plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle. This award winning book tells her story for young readers. Recommended ages: 13-17 years.
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Set in a boarding school in Alabama, this is a story about Miles who becomes enamored with a mysterious girl named Alaska. This is an award winning book, but opinions about this can be a bit divisive (and a trigger warning for depression and suicide). Recommended ages: 14 years and up.