When I started making this list of books set in Massachusetts I already knew about several favorites I wanted to include (*coughthenamesakecough*). But when I started researching even more books to include in this list I was honestly blown away by how many books I had forgotten about or new ones I learned about.
Massachusetts has a DEEP literary history. I mean, hello Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott. And there is so much more that makes up the literature out of this state: books set in Salem about witches (both historical and modern day), books set in Boston (of course), and books set in Cape Cod. There are so many places to explore in Massachusetts through books, so let’s get going!
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Novels Set in Massachusetts
Writers & Lovers by Lily King
This novel set in Cambridge, Massachusetts follows aspiring author Casey Peabody, who has recently lost her mother and is currently waiting tables at a fancy restaurant while she tries to squeeze writing into the corners of her life and her grief. This was one my favorite books I read in 2020, and it’s for fans of contemporary and literary fiction and great endings. (Also — fun fact! I picked this up after Anne Bogel recommended it to me in Episode 222 of What Should I Read Next!)
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Another one of my favorite books, The Namesake follows the Ganguli family, who has recently immigrated to Cambridge from Calcutta. As they try to adapt to life in America, their son, Gogol, is also grappling with the meaning of his name and his connection to his family. For fans of literary fiction and immigrant stories.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
In The Boston Girl, narrator Addie Baum is recalls her life growing up in Boston as a young Jewish girl. Born in 1900, her life is full of all the ups and down of young womanhood as well as a changing society, where she hopes to find her place. For fans of historical fiction.
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken
This quirky but epic family saga is a bit hard to describe, but let’s try. Bertha Truitt appears mysteriously in the town of Salford, Massachusetts and goes on to start a family and open a candlepin bowling alley. No one knows where she came from, but soon every in town knows who she is. Even after she dies though, the largeness of her persona and the mysteries of her past will having lasting impacts on both the town she lived in and the generations of her family that come after her. For fans of epic family sagas and literary fiction.
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Set on a fictional island in New England that is likely modeled after Nantucket, Seating Arrangements is a novel that takes place over a single weekend. Winn Van Meter is getting ready for his daughter’s wedding with a houseful of guests. But he’s also making some bad decisions (especially concerning a particular bridesmaid) while contemplating his past, his future, his children, and his marriage. For fans of quiet literary fiction.
We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Okay, here’s what you need to know about this book: field hockey, witches, 1980s nostalgia. I mean, that should be enough to persuade you, right? Set in Danvers, Massachusetts, the girls field hockey team is determined to make it to the finals, and they might use some witchy powers to do so. For fans of contemporary fiction and novels about strong girls and strong friendships.
Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian
In 1662 Boston, Mary Deerfield is desperate to escape an abusive marriage. But women who are determined to find freedom are also viewed with suspicion in Puritan New England, because that means they must be a witch, right? This book is for fans of historical fiction and suspense.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This beloved novel centers around two sisters from the Owens family, a family who has always been blamed for everything bad that happens in town. Gillian and Sally do their best to escape this kind of existence, but they can’t leave for forever. A modern-day witch story, this for fans of contemporary novels.
Run by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett’s Run is set in Boston and takes place over the course of 24 hours in a snowstorm, where former mayor Bernard Doyle is determined to protect his children after an accident. Patchett’s themes of family and connection show up here, including how our family can include people we don’t even know. For fans of literary fiction.
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
This thriller set in Boston centers around three friends whose bond was broken by a childhood tragedy. Twenty-five years later, the daughter of one of these friends is murdered, and the three are thrown into tragedy together again, but all with different perspectives on it. This is for fans of mysteries and thrillers (and I’m sure comes with a good amount of content warnings, so do your research).
Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand
This book set in Massachusetts tells the story of a family in the midst of change while the world is changing around them. The Levin family always spends summer at their grandmother’s house in Nantucket, but this summer finds them elsewhere —immersed in everything from Civil Rights to Vietnam — while the youngest daughter feels left behind. For fans of historical fiction and women’s fiction.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Books set in Massachusetts HAVE to include Little Women, of course. You probably know the story of this classic: four sisters (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) living in Concord, Massachusetts during the Civil War, growing up, finding love, becoming who they were meant to be, and always staying connected to their family. This is a beloved classic for good reason.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Really more of a novella, this classic from Edith Wharton tells the story of a man who, in the Massachusetts mid-winter, becomes obsessed with his uptight wife’s visiting cousin and the promise of a happier future. For fans of classics and bleak stories.
For more books set around the USA, check out these books set in Tennessee!
Non-Fiction About Massachusetts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
You can’t have a list of books set in Massachusetts without including Henry David Thoreau’s classic work, Walden. Here he reflects on nature, solitude, and enlightenment after moving to his cabin on Walden Pond and living apart from society. For fans of philosophical essays.
The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem by Stacy Schiff
In The Witches, Stacy Schiff dives deep in the Salem Witch Trials: their cause, the hysteria and mob mentality they created, and the way they shaped the future of Massachusetts and the country. She also poses theories about what actually happened at Salem. For fans of historical non-fiction.
Townie by Andre Dubus III
In this memoir, Andrew Dubus tells the story of growing up in a poor Massachusetts mill town. It was filled with drugs and violence, but he also had an out: his dad was a college professor nearby. In his memoir, he examines the juxtaposition of those two very different settings in his life and how they led to his future. For fans of memoirs.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger
I didn’t realize until recently that The Perfect Storm actually takes place off the coast of Massachusetts. In this true account of this extraordinary storm in 1991, Junger examines the fishing industry, the science behind the storm, as well as the Massachusetts places impacted by the storm. For fans of narrative non-fiction.
This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman
If you want to dig into the real history of Native Americans and Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving, then here’s the book for you. Silverman, a professor at George Washington University who focuses on Native American and Colonial American studies, examines the true history of that event, the tentative peace treaty that resulted, and perspective Native Americans hold of Thanksgiving. For fans of history and non-fiction.
Children’s Books About Massachusetts
Little Women: A BabyLit Storybook Retold by Mandy Archer, Illustrated by Ela Smietanka
Introduce children to the classic story of Little Women with this BabyLit book. It tells the story in an easy to understand way with friendly illustrations. Recommended ages: 3-5 years.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
This beloved and classic children’s picture book is set in the Boston Public Gardens, where Mrs. Mallard is trying to find a safe place for her ducklings. But Boston traffic proves difficult to navigate, at least until a kind policeman steps in to help. Recommended ages: 3-7 years.
Bus Route to Boston by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Take a bus trip through Boston as the author warmly remembers her bus rides with her mom and sister. Some of the places in this book are no longer open, but it’s all about childhood memories after all. Recommended ages: 5-7 years.
Paul Revere’s Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Illustrated by Ted Rand
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem gets paired with dark and realistic illustrations as Paul Revere rides to warn revolutionaries of the British approach. I feel like this is a bit of classic…but maybe just because I’m pretty sure I remember these illustrations from my own school days! Recommended ages: 5-8 years.
M Is for Mayflower by Margot Theis Raven, Illustrated by Jeannie Brett
We love these alphabet books based on different places because they can appeal to both younger and older kids. Younger kids will love the simple rhymes on each page, while older kids and adults will appreciate the additional facts in the sidebars. In this edition, explore Massachusetts history, landmarks, and famous residents. Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
Middle Grade & YA Books Set in Massachusetts
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Poor Clementine just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Kids will love this mischievous protagonists big adventures and big feelings, and this is a great book for fans of Ramona. And while these aren’t exactly Massachusetts-centric, Clementine lives in Boston so there are some books in the series that include Massachusetts attractions (particularly Clementine and the Spring Trip). Recommended ages: 6-10 years.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
A modern children’s classic, join the Penderwick sisters as they spend their summer adventuring around a Massachusetts estate, make a new friend, and try to stay out of trouble. This has been a beloved book by many readers since it was published in 2005. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembly, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials, Massachusetts Bay Colony 1691 by Lisa Rowe Fraustino
If you want a kid to fall in love with history, I think the Dear America series is such a great place to turn to. They are fictional diaries of real events, and because they are written as first-hand accounts, they have an intensity and realism that will suck kids in. Here we have an account of the Salem Witch Trials from a girl who witnesses their unfolding and finds herself a little too close to the drama. Recommended ages: 9-12 years.
Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes
This Newbery-award winning book places fictional Johnny Tremain amongst the Founding Fathers in Boston. As he works as a messenger for the Sons of Liberty, he finds himself in the midst of key events of the Revolutionary War. Great for kids who love history. Recommended ages: 10-12 years.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Crow has lived her whole life on a tiny Massachusetts island, raised by the man who rescued her from a boat when she was an infant. But when something mysterious happens, she starts to uncover her true history. Recommended ages: 10-13 years.
Conversion by Katherine Howe
This YA book takes the Salem witch phenomenon and places it in a Massachusetts high school. Here, students are suddenly succumbing to tics and convulsions. And the events in Salem Village 300 years ago, and where their school now sits, may be the key to understanding it all. Recommended ages: 12-17 years.
Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon
Liliana Cruz may go to a wealthy white school in a Massachusetts suburb, but that’s not who she is. She’s a first-generation American Latinx who is trying to figure out how to fit in with this new place. But when racial tensions intensify at her school and she discovers the truth about why her dad left again, she must decide if she will own who she is. Recommended ages: 14 and up.
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