Southern fiction provides readers with a literary escape to the lush green hills of the Appalachians, a glimpse of the Civil War through the eyes of a beloved character, or a tour of small-town America through the streets of dusty coal towns. Let’s explore our first section of southern fiction (deeper south comes next!) by reading our way through West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
Snakehunter by Chunk Kinder: This coming-of-age story explores the life of Speer Whitfield, who reflects on his upbringing in 1940s Appalachia with his large and peculiar family. At turns funny and sad, the writing is both lyrical and memorable.
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom: After she is orphaned on a ship en route from Ireland, 7-year-old Lavinia arrives at a tobacco plantation where she is set to live and work. She bonds with her adopted family, and eventually begins working in the Big House, where the mistress battles opium addiction and the master is rarely present. Lavinia struggles in straddling the two worlds, and when she must choose, truths are exposed and lives are put at risk.
Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio: Icy Sparks, the heroine of the story, has grown up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in the 1950s. Raised by her grandparents, bright and curious Icy notices that she has strange, uncontrollable behaviors that are mysterious and confusing to her and those around her. As an adult, she learns she has Tourette’s Syndrome. She tries to break through the barriers of her disorder to find acceptance in her rural community.
The Firm by John Grisham: Grisham’s 1991 page-turner legal thriller tells the story of up-and-coming lawyer Mitch McDeere and his burgeoning career with prestigious Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis. The mysterious deaths of several of the firm’s attorneys drive him to hire a private investigator to look into the matter, and when he also discovers the FBI is honed in on the firm for criminal activity, he finds himself in a precarious position that could cost him his life. If you’ve seen the movie starring Tom Cruise, the book far surpasses the story told by the film – it is a must-read.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: One of the most popular books of 2018, Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya Clark, the mysterious “Marsh Girl” who the town believes to be the primary suspect in the death of Chase Andrews. But Kya is not who the townspeople thinks she is – she is quiet, sensitive, and prefers her peaceful existence in the marsh with the creatures who live there. A coming-of-age story wrapped in a murder mystery, Owens has crafted a beautifully written novel featuring incredible descriptions of nature that about how our childhoods shape all of us.
novels by Sarah Addison Allen: Author Sarah Addison Allen writes stories about love, family, and friendship, woven together with magical realism against the backdrop of the American south. All her novels are a delight, but you might want to begin with Garden Spells, the first of two books about the Waverley family. The tale features a feisty backyard apple tree, magical culinary skills, and a sisterly bond that reemerges when Sydney returns home to Bascom, North Carolina to stay with her sister, Claire. The book will leave you longing to read more about this special family in the second book, First Frost.
the Lily Bard mysteries by Charlaine Harris: Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse vampire tales (adapted to the popular HBO series, True Blood) might want to check out the Lily Bard mysteries of Shakespeare, Arkansas. Quietly running her errands-and-cleaning business after fleeing her dark past, Lily unwittingly becomes entangled in solving a murder mystery when she must prove her innocence. Start with the first in the series, Shakespeare’s Landlord, and continue with four additional books starring Lily Bard.
Next, we continue our reading road trip into the deep south, with more great southern fiction selections from beloved authors.