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.

The books I picked & why

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Divergent

By Veronica Roth, Nicolas Delort (photographer),

Book cover of Divergent

Why 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.


The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green,

Book cover of The Fault in Our Stars

Why 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?


The Lightning Thief

By Rick Riordan,

Book cover of The Lightning Thief

Why 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.


The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin,

Book cover of The Westing Game

Why 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.


Rotters

By Daniel Kraus,

Book cover of Rotters

Why 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.


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