To a lot of people, Florida may just mean Disney World and beaches. But it is so much more complex than that, and this list of 30 books set in Florida reflects that.
I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time in Florida in my life. Sure, I’ve gone to Disney and the beach. But I’ve also spent a lot of time visiting family who lived in more rural areas of Florida and even lived there briefly. Florida is a complicated state with some of the same difficulties as other Southern states (i.e. racism and poverty). But it is also home to a fantastic natural world, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and a multi-cultural population. And I hope this list of Florida books takes you on a journey across the state to give you a clear picture of what Florida is all about.
Novels Set in Florida
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
You may have read Their Eyes Were Watching God in school; but if you didn’t, it’s definitely worth your time (or worth re-visiting!). This story, set in early 20th century central Florida, centers around Janie, a Black woman who marries 3 different men through her life and has very different relationships with all of them. Life has been a struggle, but she fights to find her independence despite it. For fans of accessible classics and Southern stories.
Florida by Lauren Groff
I love Lauren Groff, and these short stories set in and around and about Florida do not disappoint. From a mother running through the streets of her Florida neighborhood to two little girls stranded on an island, these stories give a quiet but powerful impression of Florida. For fans of literary fiction.
The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan
These short stories are set around Cape Canaveral, Florida with the backdrop, in several stories, of space exploration history being made. But these stories don’t focus on space; they are about every day Floridians — from grandmothers to fathers to beauty pageant contestants. For fans of literary fiction.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
If you’ve spent any time in more rural areas of Florida, you know that smaller amusement parks and roadside tourist attractions are commonplace. Here, Karen Russell sets her story in a fictional magical theme park in the Everglades where the family running the park finds themselves on the verge of disaster and it’s up to Ava, the thirteen-year-old daughter, to save them. For fans of literary fiction and magical realism.
The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel
In The Lola Quartet, we follow Gavin back to his hometown in Florida where he seeks out his high school girlfriend — although this may be more dangerous he they expected. This atmospheric novel will delve you into hot and humid Florida. For fans of mysteries.
The Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton
In this book, set in 1930s Key West, three women are searching for answers while a storm is brewing in the sea. The women’s paths intersect in unexpected while the infamous 1935 Labor Day Hurricane hits the Keys. For fans of historical fiction.
Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
These short stories, all set in Florida, focus on family relationships in everyday, yet unusual, situations. They focus especially on women — mothers and daughters and the ways they are bound together. For fans of literary fiction.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
While Florida may be known as a vacation haven, books set in Florida also have to tackle the darker side of the state. This award-winning novel by Colson Whitehead takes place as a juvenile reformatory “school” where abuses take place daily, and our main character, Elwood just tries to survive. This story is based on a real-life institution in Marianna, Florida that only just closed in 2011. For readers who can tackle difficult subjects.
Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen
You can’t have a list of books set in Florida without including Carl Hiaasen. His name is synonymous with Florida books, and here he gives us a mystery set in Miami where prominent locals are found murdered and the community worries it might scare the tourists away. For fans of mystery sprinkled with humor.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
Set in central Florida, Jessa-Lynn Morton must take over her father’s taxidermy shop after he commits suicide. But her family is falling apart and she is in love with her brother’s wife, which isn’t exactly an easy situation. This book tackles grief, love, dysfunctional family relationships and is for fans of literary fiction.
Non-Fiction Books About Florida
Sunshine State: Essays by Sarah Gerard
This book of essays about Florida covers a wide range: from religion to wildlife to homelessness. Gerard doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult aspects of life in Florida, and gives what I think is a true picture of what life is like, especially in more rural areas of Florida. For fans of in-depth essays.
Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts
Football is a huge part of the South, including Florida. Here, Diana Roberts explores college football from her seat as faculty at Florida State University, examining the intersection of football and fandom with religion, race, and academics. Roberts herself is a football fan, and so she writes out the struggle of loving a sport that also has problematic aspects. For sports fans who want to see the more nuanced picture.
Oranges by John McPhee
Here John McPhee’s thoughtful prose focuses on oranges around the world, and especially in Florida. From growing oranges to picking them to turning them into orange juice, here McPhee contemplates this common fruit, which was, and still is, a major Florida industry. This was published in 1975, but still makes for an interesting read today. For fans of thoughtful and quiet non-fiction.
Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry
For humor writer Dave Barry, Florida is home. And here he explores it in depth with his classic wit. From alligators to mermaids to psychics, Barry dives into some of the lesser-known parts of Florida and tries to prove to the reader that Florida really is the best state ever. For fans for humor writing.
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean
In this bestselling book of immersive non-fiction, Susan Orlean follows an “orchid thief” — a man obsessed with hunting down rare flowers and cloning them. Set largely in the Florida Everglades, this book is for fans of narrative non-fiction.
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King
In 1949 Groveland, Florida, four young Black men are accused of raping a white woman. And when the Ku Klux Klan shows up bent on revenge, they drive hundreds of Blacks into the town’s surrounding swamps. But Thurgood Marshall also shows up, an emerging leader and lawyer of the Civil Rights Movement. This Pulitzer Prize winner is for fans of history, court dramas, and true crime.
I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir by Susan Cerulean
Susan Cerulean writes about the natural world of Florida, particularly the Florida panhandle coast. Here she writes about caring for her father, who was suffering from dementia, while also working to protect birds on a small Florida island. For fans of reflective memoirs and nature writing.
Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther by Craig Pittman
Some people may not realize it, but Florida has panthers roaming in the wild — or what can be found of it. In recent years, many people thought the Florida panther was extinct, but here Pittman tells the story of their recovery and the effort to protect this big cat. For fans of narrative non-fiction and books about animals.
Looking for more books set in the South? Don’t miss our list of books set in Alabama!
Children’s Books Set in Florida
Sam the Sea Cow by Francine Jacobs, Illustrated by Laura Kelly
Follow Sam the manatee as he grows up and has adventures. This Reading Rainbow Book teaches young children about Florida’s manatees with both a charming story and facts about this beloved animal. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
S is for Sunshine: A Florida Alphabet by Carol Crane, Illustrated by Michael Glenn Monroe
Learn about what makes Florida unique through each letter of the alphabet, starting with A is for Alligator. The text includes a simple poem that younger kids will appreciate, but also includes facts in the sidebar of each page for kids and adults who want to learn more. Recommended ages: 6-8 years.
Everglades by Jean Craighead George, Illustrated by Wendell Minor
In Everglades, Jean Craighead George, a beloved children’s book author who brings nature to life, explores the Everglades. Follow a group of children learning about the natural world of the Everglades on a canoe trip, and become entranced with it yourself. Recommended ages 6-10 years.
Parrotfish and Sunken Ships: Exploring a Tropical Reef by Jim Arnosky
Explore the tropical reef of the Florida Keys — from understanding what a coral reef is to learning how many creatures live there. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
This is the Way to the Moon by Miroslav Sasek
Travel back to 1960s Cape Canaveral, Florida, when the space program was all the rage and man was about the land on the moon. Sasek, a classic author of books set around the world, explores the fascination that existed with 1960s NASA. Recommended ages: 7 and up.
Middle Grade and Young Adult Books Set in Florida
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
This book set in 1935 Key West, Florida, gives us Turtle, an 11-year-old girl who moves to live with relatives she’s never met before. But when she finds adventures, she also finds herself coming out of her shell. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
The Yearling is a classic novel set in central Florida, where a young boy adopts an orphaned fawn and loves it dearly. But the Florida wilderness and the poverty of his family is unforgiving, and readers will need to have the tissues ready. Recommended ages: 9 and up.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Set in the fictional rural Florida town of Naomi, Kate DiCamillo’s first novel is a beloved Newbery Honor Book. In this story, ten-year-old India Opal walks from her trailer park to the grocery store and ends up finding a dog who changes her life over the course of a summer. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
When Roy is the new kid in town, he’s subject to bullying from the kids at school. But he also discovers the world of unique Florida animals and some people trying to save them from encroaching civilization. Recommended ages: 10-13 years.
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond, Illustrated by T.R. Simon
This fictionalized story of Florida author Zora Neale Hurston’s childhood has her telling tall tales, until her story about a dangerous gator-man starts to maybe seem like it’s coming true. This book was endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust and includes information about Hurston’s life. Recommended ages: 10-13 years.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
When Carmen moves into Arturo’s Miami apartment complex with her poetry, Arturo is smitten. But he’s also worried about his family’s restaurant and the developers who are wanting to change the landscape of the city. Recommended ages: 10 and up.
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
A page-turning novel set in post WWII South Florida, Evie’s stepfather has just returned from the war. But he is harboring secrets; and when Peter Coleridge, a solider who had served with him, shows up, things only get more complicated. Recommended ages: 12-15 years.
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