Great Britain has always been a popular setting in all types and genres of literature. While I have read many books set there over the years, I never really thought about exactly how many books I enjoy are set in Great Britain until I started planning a trip to England and Scotland. But as I did start reflecting on some of my favorites, I realized how integral the British setting is to many great YA books across multiple genres. Whether you are an Anglophile looking for a new read, or are simply interested in reading books set there before planning your own trip, this list offers great British settings for fans of all genres.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson (2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults) – Rory Deveaux isn’t sure what to expect when she moves from the U.S. South to a boarding school in London, but it definitely isn’t getting caught up in a series of horrifying killings copying those of Jack the Ripper. When she becomes a key witness to one of the crimes, Rory gets dragged into the case and might even become his next victim if she isn’t careful. In this, the first of the Shades of London series, plot twists and laughs both come fast and furious. You won’t be able to stop with just one book; but if you start now, there is still plenty of time to catch up with the first two books before the next one comes out early next year.
The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults) – The first young adult book from Jasper Fforde, the author of the Thursday Next books, this story combines Fforde’s particular brand of off-kilter humor with a fun story of a world where magic exists but is slowly fading away. Teenage Jennifer Strange is struggling to keep a magic business afloat in this environment when it is revealed that a dragon has been found. As questions arise around who will slay this dragon, Jennifer finds her unexpected place in the world. If you enjoy this book, you might also want to try books by Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Readers Choice Nominee 2011) – Combining vintage photographs with a fantastical story of children who have unusual powers, Riggs creates a creepy and bizarre story set primarily on an island off the coast of Wales. The remote setting as well as the main character’s isolation contributes to a sense of uncertainty throughout the book, which helps to explain why this book remained on the New York Times Best Seller list for so long.
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Printz Award Winner 2005) – When Daisy is sent to London to visit her aunt and cousins, she expects an adventure, but she could never anticipate the horror of what happens. After bombs go off in London while her aunt is away, the children are left to fend for themselves as the country descends into war. While the exact time and the reasons for the war are left vague, the book feels like it could be happening in modern day England, which contributes to its power.
Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell – Set in a future where birthrates have declined to dangerous levels and robots have been developed to fill the void for couples who want to have children, this book is a fascinating and wholly original consideration of the line between robots and humans and what it means to be â€œreal.â€ It is told entirely from the point of view (and mostly through the diary) of Tania Deeley, a creative young girl who lives a life surrounded by hidden robots never knowing which of the children around her is human and which are not. Powell navigates Tania’s voice particularly well as she matures and grows over the course of the book. It is a great option for those with an interest in robots and the moral issues they could bring with them.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – While not technically considered a young adult book and with much of the action taking place in space, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy may seem like an odd choice for this list, and yet I couldn’t leave it off. A classic in both the science fiction and humor genres, this book follows Arthur Dent, a quintessential English man as his day goes from bad to worse as he discovers that first his house and then his planet are slated for destruction. This might not sound like the funniest premise, but in the hands of Douglas Adams, it is laugh-out-loud funny, which explains why it has spawned a TV show, a radio show, a movie and even a video game. If you haven’t read this one yet, do so immediately!
Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Missing a flight is rarely a good thing, but when Hadley Sullivan does just that on the way to her father’s wedding in London, she finds herself stuck in JFK airport with Oliver, a British boy who is headed home. When they arrive in London and are separated, Hadley is disappointed that she will never see him again, but might fate have more in store for them? If you’ve already read this one, check out Smith’s new book, The Geography of You and Me, which takes place partially in Scotland.
Westminster Abby by Micol Ostow – Strong-armed into a summer abroad in London by her overprotective parents who want to get her away from her (now former) boyfriend, Abby arrives with mixed feelings. But, she decides that she wants to break out of her shell. As she makes new friends, changes up her style, and flirts with another student at her school, she starts to really enjoy her time in England. But, when her ex-boyfriend shows up, Abby must decide what is most important to her.
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (Best Books for Young Adults 2006) – When Ginny’s beloved aunt passes away, she leaves a challenge for Ginny: follow the instructions in thirteen different envelopes. Designed to push Ginny out of her comfort zone and send her on international travels, the first task is to fly immediately to London. From there, she embarks on a life-changing adventure that takes her far and wide, but ultimately brings her back to London.
Gilt by Katherine Longshore – Set in the court of King Henry VIII, this book follows Kitty Tylney as her close friend Catherine Howard makes her way into King Henry VIII’s court and heart. Filled with love interests for both Catherine and Kitty, beautiful gowns, secrets, intrigue and more, this book will appeal to fans of romance and historical fiction. It is also a great book to recommend to fans of the CW’s Reign.
Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed – With a strong Downton Abbey vibe, this book and its sequel, Diamonds & Deceit, show an England populated by both rich estate owners and their servants. These books tackle both historical and modern issues, including England’s actions in their colonies, financial struggles, and issues of diversity. But, this is not to say that they are dry. On the contrary, they are also full of secrets, lies, intrigue and romance.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2013 Printz Honor book) – As this novel opens you will think that it is a simple story about female pilots and prisoners of war in England during World War II; but as you are slowly absorbed into this superbly plotted and suspenseful novel you come to realize that there is more to the story than you realized. A stunning read even for those who do not usually gravitate towards historical fiction.
She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick – This one is cheating a bit since only the very beginning of the book takes place in England, but since the main characters are British, I decided to include it. This book follows Laureth Peak and her brother Benjamin as they run away from England to track down their author father who has disappeared in New York. Given Benjamin’s age, Laureth must rely largely on her own investigative skills, despite the fact that she is blind. The puzzle at the heart of this book will keep you turning pages and Sedgwick’s descriptions bring alive both the settings and the characters.
Secret Letters by Leah Scheier – What would you do if Sherlock Holmes might be your father? For Dora, the answer is travel to London to find the sleuth and convince him to help her solve a mystery. But, when she arrives in the city to discover that the great detective has died, she must rely on her own investigative skills and those of a young man who also hopes to one day become a detective if she wants to solve her mystery.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd – How can anyone disappear from the London Eye? That is the question at the heart of this book. When Ted’s cousin Salim got on the London Eye but doesn’t get off, he sets off a panic amongst the family and also prompts Ted to use his unique way of viewing the world to partner with his sister Kat to track him down. Told entirely from the point of view of Ted, this book gives a window into the life of a person who views the world very differently and offers an engaging mystery to go with this strong voice.
Have I missed any of your favorite books set in Great Britain? Do you also find yourself reading books set in countries where you hope to travel? Let me know in the comments!
– Carli Spina, currently reading Un Lun Dun by China MiÃ©ville
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