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

Why am I passionate about this?

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

Book cover of A Winter's Promise

Jerri Chisholm Why did I love 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. 

By Christelle Dabos, Hildegarde Serle (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Winter's Promise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

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 Sorcerer's Stone

Jerri Chisholm Why did I love 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!

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

38 authors picked Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

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…


Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale

Jerri Chisholm Why did I love 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. 

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

31 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?

** THE SUNDAY TIMES NO. 1 BESTSELLER **
**A BBC BETWEEN COVERS BIG JUBILEE READ**

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

Jerri Chisholm Why did I love 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!

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

22 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

ONE OF TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS OF ALL TIME

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

Jerri Chisholm Why did I love 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! 

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

44 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?

OVER 12 MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
A NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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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A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


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