The best books for knock-your-socks-off escapism and worldbuilding

Jerri Chisholm Author Of Escaping Eleven
By Jerri Chisholm

Who am I?

Not only do I love dystopian books, I write them, too! And since dystopia is all about a flawed future, it requires a lot of worldbuilding. I have a long history with worldbuilding, too. As a child, I spent a lot of time in the imaginary worlds I’d conjure up in my head. Plus, I’ve always been drawn to books with rich worldbuilding, from The Golden Compass as a child, to Harry Potter as a teenager, to The Hunger Games in my twenties. The ability to escape reality while curled up on the sofa has a magical quality to it that I’ll never outgrow, and I hope to offer the same experience to my own readers. Happy reading!

I wrote...

Escaping Eleven

By Jerri Chisholm,

Book cover of Escaping Eleven

What is my book about?

Two teens must work together to fight a tyrannical government that has divided society into classes living underground, in a heart-pounding apocalyptic series perfect for fans of Divergent.

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The books I picked & why

A Winter's Promise: Book One of the Mirror Visitor Quartet

By Christelle Dabos, Hildegarde Serle (translator),

Book cover of A Winter's Promise: Book One of the Mirror Visitor Quartet

Why this book?

This is the first book in The Mirror Visitor quartet—an exceptional series.

It’s dystopian YA, and the richness of the worldbuilding is on par with The Hunger Games (although the setting is more akin to life in the Capitol of Panem, rather than the impoverished districts). It’s funny, because when I first started reading it, I wasn’t immediately sold…yet after fifty pages or so, I couldn’t put it down.

As for the worldbuilding itself—the story takes place on floating arks which formed after the world was smashed apart. Each ark has its own power—fascinating ones that don’t feel juvenile or cliché. The combination of this unusual setting with the brilliantly deployed elements of magical realism creates a world that is surreal, eerie, and totally addictive. 

A Winter's Promise: Book One of the Mirror Visitor Quartet

By Christelle Dabos, Hildegarde Serle (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Winter's Promise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Amazon Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book of 2018

One of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best YA Books of 2018

One of Publishers Weekly's Best YA Book of the Year

A National Indie Bestseller

Longlisted for Irish YA prize Great Reads Award

Lose yourself in the fantastic world of the arks and in the company of unforgettable characters in this French runaway hit, Christelle Dabos’ The Mirror Visitor quartet.

Plain-spoken, headstrong Ophelia cares little about appearances. Her ability to read the past of objects is unmatched in all of Anima and, what’s more, she possesses the ability to travel through mirrors, a skill passed…

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Why this book?

I know, I know. Harry Potter—it’s been done to death.

I’ll respond with two counterpoints. The first is that I couldn’t in good faith leave it off this list, because this book (and the entire series) is a masterclass in worldbuilding (plus, it’s practically the reason I became a writer). The second point is that too many young people are not reading this book. My own kids aren’t even interested! Not okay.

Harry Potter is escapism at its very best. I don’t think I would’ve survived my preteen and teenage years without it. Not only do these books immerse you in a world that is so rich with detail it feels legitimately real, but it’s such a wonderful and magical place that you will want to spend all your time there. So, if you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, read it!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

31 authors picked Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Galloping gargoyles ... 2022 is the silver anniversary of J.K. Rowling's magical classic Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!

The boy wizard Harry Potter has been casting a spell over young readers and their families ever since 1997. Now the first book in this unmissable series celebrates 25 years in print! The paperback edition of the tale that introduced us to Harry, Ron and Hermione has been updated and dressed in silver to mark the occasion. It's time to take the magical journey of a lifetime ...

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping…

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Why this book?

Let me be clear: I’m talking about the book—not the TV series!

This is a dystopian classic that everyone should read. In fact, all of Atwood’s books should be read. As for The Handmaid’s Tale, I read it in a literature class in university, and it has stuck with me ever since (much like other classics—hello The Great Gatsby).

The Republic of Giliead, where the story takes place, was created when the US government was overthrown, and strips women of their rights. It’s a premise that has roots in real events—the 1979 Iranian Revolution, most notably, and so the rich worldbuilding (and powerful imagery) doesn’t feel contrived—or all that dystopian.

And while it will definitely transport you away from your day-to-day life while you read it, it’s the way the haunting Republic will stay with you afterwards that makes this book a gem. 

The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked The Handmaid's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Go back to where it all began with the dystopian novel behind the award-winning TV series.

'As relevant today as it was when Atwood wrote it' Guardian

I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford -…

Book cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Why this book?

This, unlike my other picks, is a work of nonfiction. It’s a treatise on the craft of writing, actually, and one of my favorites.

I’m including it because if you’re a fan of reading books with strong elements of escapism and world-building, there’s a good chance that one day you will want to write books with strong elements of escapism and worldbuilding! And what better way than to learn from a master himself?

Not only does King offer general advice (like, don’t watch tv), he weaves a surprising amount of practical advice into this enjoyable read, too (stay away from adverbs and long paragraphs). If you think one day you’d like to write books, read this one!

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked On Writing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twentieth Anniversary Edition with Contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King


Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the…

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Why this book?

This is a beautifully written book, that brings the marshes of North Carolina to life in a way I didn’t think was possible.

Not only will it transport you to this unique wilderness, it places you in Kya’s isolated world in a profound way, too. I was skeptical going in, because of the hype, but honestly—it was breathtaking. It’s also an example of a different type of worldbuilding which is why I wanted to include it here (narrowly beating out Kate Quinn’s The Rose Code, which will whisk you to the now-infamous Bletchley Park amid WWII).

There’s nothing dystopian, fantastical, or magical about this book, and yet Owens has managed to create a world that feels unearthly and transcendent. If you’re not a fan of fantasy or dystopian, but you enjoy escapism and topnotch worldbuilding, read this one! 

Where the Crawdads Sing

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

29 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…

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