The best young adult books set in midwestern cities

Who am I?

I love stories set in cities. A city creates adventure around every corner. Many urban tales default to east or west coast cities, but midwestern cities have just as much excitement—and uncertainty—as their coastal friends. Unfortunately, these diverse urban spaces are sometimes overlooked in books, movies, and television shows. So when I wrote my novel, I wanted to showcase a midwestern city that may not get as much love as some of its contemporaries. I grew up in St. Louis and have always appreciated its vibrant neighborhoods clustered beneath luxury high rises that sit next to abandoned buildings. Urban environments like that are rich with possibilities.

I wrote...

From Brick & Darkness

By J. L. Sullivan,

Book cover of From Brick & Darkness

What is my book about?

Bax always fantasized something remarkable would happen in his life. So when a decrepit man with glowing purple eyes offers him a ring intended for his estranged father, Bax accepts.

The ring speaks to Bax in a dream, tempting him with a vision of a powerful djinn. Desperate to make his fantasies a reality, Bax unleashes a creature called Ifrit, but soon learns this djinn isn't what the ring led him to believe. Feeding off the depths of his subconscious, the sinister demon fulfills what he thinks Bax wants by manipulating, threatening, and murdering. With everyone he loves in danger and a trail of crimes pointing back at him, Bax must scramble to solve the puzzle that will banish Ifrit forever.

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The books I picked & why


By Veronica Roth, Nicolas Delort (photographer),

Book cover of Divergent

Why did I love this book?

Veronica Roth’s dystopian novel takes place in a futuristic Chicago divided into five societal factions. While it is an alternate reality in Chicago, the Windy City is not a backdrop to Roth’s trilogy, but a living, vital part of the story. As Tris Prior navigates how she fits into the world, a new Chicago comes to life. The five factions meet at The Hub (Willis Tower), characters routinely hitch rides on the L, and scenes unfold at dystopic versions of Navy Pier, the Hancock Building, and The Bean. The Midwest’s biggest city is so infused throughout Divergent, that the high-action story couldn’t exist without it.

By Veronica Roth, Nicolas Delort (photographer),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Divergent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The explosive debut by No. 1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth.

DIVERGENT - a major motion picture series.

For sixteen-year-old Tris, the world changes in a heartbeat when she is forced to make a terrible choice. Turning her back on her family, Tris ventures out, alone, determined to find out where she truly belongs.

Shocked by the brutality of her new life, Tris can trust no one. And yet she is drawn to a boy who seems to both threaten and protect her. The hardest choices may yet lie ahead....

A debut novel that will leave you breathless.

Book cover of The Fault in Our Stars

Why did I love this book?

John Green’s hometown of Indianapolis is prominently center stage in his witty, heartbreaking, and inspiring novel about Hazel and Augustus, strangers who befriend each other at a support group for people battling cancer. The book weaves its way through Indianapolis making you feel like you’ve grown up there with its familiar descriptions of Holliday Park, Castleton Square Mall, and Monument Circle. All the while, Hazel—a snarky sixteen-year-old—comments that it's the 137th nicest city in America and jokes with Augustus that you’ll never see culture or “skinny adults” in the city. But what sixteen-year-old truly appreciates their hometown?

By John Green,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Fault in Our Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The beloved, #1 global bestseller by John Green, author of The Anthropocene Reviewed and Turtles All the Way Down

"John Green is one of the best writers alive." -E. Lockhart, #1 bestselling author of We Were Liars

"The greatest romance story of this decade." -Entertainment Weekly

#1 New York Times Bestseller * #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller * #1 USA Today Bestseller * #1 International Bestseller

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters…

The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Book cover of The Lightning Thief

Why did I love this book?

Percy is a New York City native, but his quest takes him on a road trip across the country to Los Angeles. I included it on my list because the bulk of his adventure happens at the places between New York and California, including a battle with the mother of monsters at the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, followed by a long plunge into the Mississippi River. The group of teen adventurers also spend time in Denver, where they meet the god Ares who starts them on a side-quest. While the book doesn’t take place in a single midwestern city, the midwestern landscape is alive and flourishing in Riordan’s first Percy Jackson novel.

By Rick Riordan,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Lightning Thief as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Lightning Thief: the First book in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series.

The first bestselling book in Rick Riordan's phenomenally successful Percy Jackson series.

Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That's when things started really going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky,…

The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why did I love this book?

The oldest book on my list, The Westing Game is a classic murder-mystery puzzle set just outside of the author’s hometown of Milwaukee. The story centers around the mysterious and eccentric Westing, who is found dead in his mansion. His will challenges sixteen locals to determine who caused his death to inherit his fortune. The contrast between the enticing Sunset Towers, where the characters stay, and the vacant and eerie Westing Estate next door provides a unique setting for this classic midwestern whodunnit.

By Ellen Raskin,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Westing Game as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Newbery Medal Winner

"A supersharp mystery...confoundingly clever, and very funny." —Booklist, starred review


A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Winner of the Newbery Medal
Winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award
An ALA Notable Book


"Great fun for those who enjoy illusion, word play, or sleight…


By Daniel Kraus,

Book cover of Rotters

Why did I love this book?

Although Rotters begins in Chicago, after a bus kills Joey’s mother, he is sent to live with his estranged father in rural Iowa, who holds a very morbid secret. While the fictional Bloughton, Iowa is by far the smallest midwestern city on my list, the vivid images Kraus uses to describe the town, its residents, and the underground world of Joey’s father have convinced me this town exists. And I don’t want to go there. Rotters is a story that is tragic, macabre, and riveting all at once.

By Daniel Kraus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rotters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It's true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey's life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.
Everything changes when Joey's mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange,…

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