The best books that capture the magic of small towns

Isabel Strychacz Author Of Starling
By Isabel Strychacz

Who am I?

I grew up in a small town myself and have always loved books that create characters from the setting. I want to feel immersed and captivated by the place, as well as the people and stories within the pages. The setting of an eerie small town is one of my favorites, because of the feeling that anything magical or mysterious could happen there. My book Starling takes place in a strange small town where odd things are everyday occurrences. There are many books that use small towns as setting for a speculative story, but these are some of my favorites!

I wrote...


By Isabel Strychacz,

Book cover of Starling

What is my book about?

Strange things have always happened in the small town of Darling... Yet Delta Wilding and her sister Bee are familiar with the peculiar. Raised by an eccentric father always on the hunt for the spectacular, they’re used to odd occurrences. But when a mysterious boy falls from the stars into the woods behind their house, nothing can prepare them for the extraordinary turn their lives are about to take. Extraordinary and dangerous.

Starling Rust is not from this world and his presence brings attention. Delta and her sister must go to incredible lengths to protect their mystical visitor—especially as Delta’s growing feelings for the boy from the stars could prove the greatest risk of all.

The books I picked & why

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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

By April Genevieve Tucholke,

Book cover of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Why this book?

This book has all the leanings of modern gothic: an old, semi-abandoned house, siblings left to their own devices, and a small town where strange things start happening with the arrival of a very strange, captivating boy—who may or may not be the devil himself. I love the prose and the romance, and it’s just eerie enough to get under your skin. The feeling of small-town isolation is real in this book!

The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

By Maggie Stiefvater,

Book cover of The Raven Boys: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

Why this book?

The Raven Boys was a huge inspiration for me and my writing—I love how setting is always used as a character, whether that’s the rural town of Henrietta or the magical, unknowable forest of Cabeswater. It’s about a group of unlikely friends come together on the hunt for a legendary dead king with the power to grant a wish, and is written in a way that feels that something strange is always about to happen (and it usually does). The friend group vibes in this book are top-tier, too!

The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World

By Amy Reed,

Book cover of The Boy and Girl Who Broke the World

Why this book?

This book is weird—in the very best way possible. When I finished reading it, I cried—I loved it that much! It’s one of the most unique stories, following two teenage loners in a small town split by differences and old grievances. But when the town itself turns into an impossible, semi-apocalyptic mess, they’re thrust together to make things right. The setting is so unique, and there is so much heart in this surrealist gem of a book.

The Love That Split the World

By Emily Henry,

Book cover of The Love That Split the World

Why this book?

This book is small town Americana at its best—and at its strangest, and most magical. It reflects on the bittersweet moments after high school in a rural Kentucky town. When our main character starts seeing strange things that aren’t really there (or are they?) and she meets a mysterious boy, her entire future may change forever. It’s like a surrealist Friday Night Lights, full of heart and destiny and the paths not taken.

The Wicked Deep

By Shea Ernshaw,

Book cover of The Wicked Deep

Why this book?

The sense of place is so strong in this book! Not only does it take place in an isolated town by the sea, it’s a cursed town as well. When a mysterious boy arrives, the reclusive townspeople begin to turn against each other as tensions rise. The book is full of eerie atmosphere, and you’ll really feel as if you’re swept off to the windswept town full of history, lore, and curses.

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