20 Essential Books Set in New England

With our long history and beautiful landscape, New England is an ideal spot for storytelling. Here are 20 favorite books set in New England.

By Montana Rogers

Sep 09 2022


Books Set in New England

Photo Credit : Pixabay

Is it any wonder that authors are drawn again and again to New England? Our beautiful region offers a variety of landscapes, from rocky coastlines to mountain forests, not to mention four distinct seasons. Over the years, many books set in New England have gone on to become best-sellers and award-winners. Read on for our list of 20 unforgettable New England books.

20 Essential Books Set in New England

My Sister’s Keeper (2004) – Jodi Picoult

Picoult moved to New Hampshire at a young age, and still calls the Granite State home. Many of her novels have been set in New England. My Sister’s Keeper, her most well-known book about a girl struggling with the decision to donate a kidney to her ailing sister, takes place in a fictional Rhode Island town.

Empire Falls (2001) – Richard Russo

Empire Falls takes place in a classic blue-collar Maine town. It tells the story of Miles Roby, the manager of the local grill, and the people and places he interacts with. Russo was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Empire Falls in 2002.

Summer Sisters (1998) – Judy Blume

One of my favorites on the list of books set in New England, this novel centers on two friends (summer sisters) who struggle to find their way in the world as they grow into themselves. The majority of the story takes place over the course of several summers on Martha’s Vineyard.

Tuesdays with Morrie (1997) – Mitch Albom

How did this beloved piece of non-fiction make it onto our list of books set in New England? Tuesdays with Morrie is a memoir focused on the life and life lessons of Morrie Schwartz, a professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Practical Magic (1995) – Alice Hoffman

In a small Massachusetts town, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Or maybe not. Hoffman weaves together a tale of two sisters full of magic in this New England-based book.


The Cider House Rules (1985) – John Irving

John Irving was born and raised in New Hampshire, and has many books set in New England. His novel The Cider House Rules is set in rural Maine. It tells the story of an orphaned boy who grows up to become a (reluctant) doctor and must come to terms with what life has thrown his way.

Carrie (1974) – Stephen King

Now a classic, Carrie was the first book ever published by Maine-born horror master Stephen King, and one of many King books set in New England. The story centers around a troubled and bullied teenage girl, who memorably takes revenge against her tormenting peers. It is set in a small fictional town in Maine.

SEE MORE: Stephen King | New England’s Gifts

The Bell Jar (1963) – Sylvia Plath

In The Bell Jar, the only novel written by Boston-born Sylvia Plath, a young graduate from Smith College (located in Northampton, Massachusetts) embarks on an internship in New York City. Feeling like she doesn’t belong, she returns to her home in Boston to figure out what she wants from life, but only falls deeper into depression.

Revolutionary Road (1961) – Richard Yates

Revolutionary Road, the engrossing yet troubling debut novel by Richard Yates, exposes the lives of a Connecticut couple deep in the trenches of suburban life.

A Separate Peace (1959) – John Knowles

In A Separate Peace, Knowles tells the coming-of-age story of a boy at a New England prep school during World War II. The school is thought to be based on Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, the author’s alma mater. Of the many “required reading” books set in New England, this is one most students have read at one point or another.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) – Elizabeth George Speare

Set in 17th-century New England, this children’s novel tells the story of an orphan girl named Katherine who moves to a small Puritan town in Connecticut. Elizabeth George Speare received the Newbery Medal in 1959 for this work of historical fiction.

The Crucible (1953) – Arthur Miller

Yes, The Crucible is a play and not a book; however, it is just too New England to exclude from this list. Here, Miller tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials, giving readers a glimpse into one of the most fascinating and despicable periods of New England history.

Make Way for Ducklings (1941) – Robert McCloskey

If you’ve ever walked through the Boston Public Gardens, you’ve likely noticed the art installation of ducks by Nancy Schon. Her sculpture is based on McCloskey’s beloved children’s book, which tells the tale of a pair of ducks who raise their family in the garden’s pond. It just might be the most adored of the many children’s books set in New England.

SEE MORE: Boston’s Swan Boats | A Tradition of Family and Community

Our Town (1938) – Thornton Wilder

Another play worthy of inclusion. Thornton Wilder wrote at least part of Our Town while living at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. The play is set in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, which many believe was inspired by Peterborough, even though the coordinates given by the play’s narrator place it somewhere in Massachusetts. Our Town chronicles all the stages and nuances of small town New England life.

Pollyanna (1913) – Eleanor H. Porter

Considered one of the great classics of children’s literature, Pollyanna tells the story of an orphaned girl who moves to a small town in Vermont to live with her aunt. Before long, her infectious, optimistic personality has the whole town feeling “glad.”

Ethan Frome (1911) – EdithWharton

One of the most tragic and beautiful New England books I’ve ever read, Ethan Frome, set in a fictitious Massachusetts town, tells the story of a man (Ethan Frome) and the hardships he endured in life and love.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) – Mark Twain

Strictly speaking, this book was not written by a true Yankee (Twain moved to Connecticut in 1871) and the majority of the story takes place in Great Britain during the time of King Arthur… but the main character is an engineer from Connecticut, and “Yankee” is in the title.

SEE MORE: Mark Twain Bed | Local Treasure

Little Women (1868-1869) – Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was born in Pennsylvania, but she’s most famous for the time her family spent in Concord, Massachusetts (and she also later lived in Boston). Though the town in which Little Women takes place is never mentioned by name, the characters clearly live in a small New England town and are loosely based on Alcott’s own experiences during her years in Concord.

Walden (1854) – Henry David Thoreau

Technically, since it is not a work of fiction,Walden is not set in New England, but is there any other book that so exposes the nature and serenity of New England? I think not. Thoreau describes his observations during his two years of simple living at Walden Pond in Concord, MA.

The Scarlet Letter (1850) – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Set in Boston during the 17th century, this novel delves into the history and society of the Puritans who first settled in the region. Hester Prynne, the main character, becomes the vessel of Hawthorne’s main themes: sin and guilt.

Do you have a favorite on our list of books set in New England? Let us know!

This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated. 

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