It has been a very public sort of secret that most of the Young Adult books today are set in some version of the United States, and that most of the authors of said books are, unsurprisingly, American citizens. Abiding by the old "write what you know" adage, these authors do their utmost to celebrate the high points and criticize the flaws of their culture, customs and ways.
To discover a Young Adult novel set elsewhere in the world is therefore to discover a diamond in the rough. And over the years, there have been a fair few which we have come across. So this week, in no particular order, for our Top 10 Monday we're sharing our 10 favorite novels set partially or predominantly in and around Europe, through its many historical trials and tribulations, and in its many shapes and forms today.
Other continents coming soon!
1. Harry Potter - Scotland
Kicking off this week's Top 10 is the series which has become the United Kingdom's (and the world's) staple - from sleepy, quiet suburbs in Surrey to the more well-known and more well-loved Scottish hills and panoramas, Harry Potter celebrates the very best of the UK. While it is never clearly specified where in particular Hogwarts castle is located and where the majority of the story takes place, J.K. Rowling has made it pretty clear that it is Scotland which has gotten the honor. The film adaptations only underline the fact, with many of the exterior shots of Hogwarts, its surrounding grounds and lakes having been authentically filmed in Scotland itself, chiefly the Fort William and Glencoe areas.
2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Czech Republic
Author Laini Taylor marries poetry and prose in her narrative of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Her beautiful depiction of the Czech Republic's capital is about the closest one can anyone come to experiencing Prague's unique old-world charm and new-world ideals. Told through the eyes of Karou, a young art student in one of Prague's fine arts institutions, the setting expands and goes on to include Morocco, Vatican and Paris - but it is the Czech Republic in particular which it always comes back to, and it is the Czech Republic which it has done absolute justice.
3. The Infernal Devices - England
In the year 1878, Tessa Grey makes a long and tedious journey from the East Coast of the United States to the heart of London itself, in search of her missing brother. Over the course of three books, The Infernal Devices series will depict the best of Victorian England, from the airs and graces of the upper class, to the less-than-reputable neighborhoods one must frequent when looking for ugly truths about the world - and all this with a steampunk spin. From carriage rides to sword fights, from angels to demons, Cassandra Clare never once disregards the series' unique setting and the many nuanced layers of Victorian England.
4. The Book Thief - Germany
While on the subjects of historial YA fiction, The Book Thief is easily the most faithful to its setting even as it imbues it with a hefty dose of magical realism and fantastical elements. In 1939 Nazi Germany, Liesel begins the most pivotal chapter of her life's journey by stealing a book and learning just how much power words can truly contain, and the efforts some would go to keep this power from changing a cruel world. When Liesel's family begins to harbor a Jew in the basement of their family home, the carefully-arranged house of cards threatens to crumble, and it is only through books and her faith in a better world that Liesel can withstand the trials she and her family are put to in the midst of a World War.
5. The Scorpio Races - Wales
On the fictional island by the name of Thisby, annual horse races are better known as The Scorpio Races - set apart from others by being held on demonic water horses rather than the ones most of the world is accustomed to. Welsh, Scottish and Irish mythology come to life on Thisby in this Michael L. Printz honor award-winning novel, where fantasy blends into reality, and reality into something never been done before. No stranger to Welsh legends or English history, author Maggie Stiefvater paints a stunningly realistic picture of island life off the coast of Wales - of the pulls an island can have on some, and of the push it can give others to leave it forever. "Why do you stay, Sean Kendrick," many will ask the protagonist over the course of the novel. As for the answer? Well, it's between the lines of each page of this YA jewel.
6. Between Shades of Grey - Lithuania
In the midst of WWII, a 15 year-old girl's peaceful life in Lithuania is interrupted when she is torn from her father and sent to the unforgiving planes of Siberia to a work camp along with the rest of the family. In harsh, barren landscapes, with no reprieve in sight, Lina and her family are all but forgotten - ignorant of the fate of her father, and lost to the world. But Lina dreams of her home in Lithuania, of a family reunited, and documents her experience through art, in hopes of someday recounting them all to her father in more peaceful times which are bound to come someday... if only they can hold on long enough to make it. Between Shades of Grey is by no means an easy, lighthearted read, but it is an unflichingly real portrayal of a difficult time in the world's history, all with enough hopes, dreams and faith to make it a novel one is unlikely to forget after turning the final page.
7. Anna And The French Kiss - France
For readers who favor humor and lightheartedness, Stephanie Perkin's debut Anna And The French Kiss just about says it all right there in the title. Anna Oliphant is shocked when her father decides to uproot her from her comfortable life in the United States and send her to an American school in Paris - one she has never heard of. Anna has, in fact, heard of precious little about France in general. In this humorous, clever and charming debut, Stephanie Perkins merges two seemingly different cultures and explores the effect a place can have on a person, and a person on a place, when they discover that home has more to do with who than where, but still fall in love with all the cities where they fell in love.
8. The Circle - Sweden
In the case of The Circle, it is a novel which almost recommends itself - not least because this novel with a Swedish setting was written by two Swedish authors. The worldbuilding is therefore not so much a product of research as it is of personal experiences. The plot, meanwhile, transcends human experience, as it centers around a group of classmates who find themselves grappling with the idea of having been chosen and given unique abilities to fight in an upcoming supernatural war, following an apparent suicide of one of their own. Vanessa, Linnéa, Anna-Karin, Rebecka, Ida and Minoo had reckoned on nothing more than surviving high school - but now this survival has taken on a much more literal meaning than any of them could ever have imagined.
9. The Vampire Academy - Russia
The best thing about combining Vampires and Russia (apart from combining Vampires with Russia!) is the amount of research that has evidently gone into this series prior to the publication of the first novel. Author Richelle Mead does not take the easy way out and explain discrepancies away by chocking them up to the supernatural elements of the story. Instead, she does the kind of research that extends as far as customs, religion, traditions, peculiar nicknames to unusual names and all manner of idiosyncrasies unique to various regions across Russia as we know it today. Instead, the set of characters in St. Vladimir's Academy are as inherently Russian as they are inherently Vampire, and will act like it - even as they put their very lives on the line to defend their beliefs.
10. The Lunar Chronicles - Everywhere
Like the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, The Lunar Chronicles covers more than one city on more than one continent in terms of the setting. Unlike it, however, The Lunar Chronicles devotes each of its installments to only one city/town, where most of the events take place. From Asia to Europe to Africa, and then to the moon itself (quite literally), there is no shortage of wanderlust to this series. And whether it's the Saharan desert or the futuristic landmarks of New Bejing, the setting is handled expertly, with the skill of a seasoned writer. The reader is taken on a cross-continental journey with a most unusual band of characters ever put together to fight for the same cause, and wherever it is they land, the introduction of this brand, new culture is effortless and timeless. We're justifying including the series on the list of European books, because one of the four in the series does take place predominantly in Europe. As to where in particular, and the reasons why - it is up to you to find out. for yourself.
It is perhaps important to emphasize that had we allowed ourselves to pick several novels set in virtually the same place, this list would have been a whole lot longer. These are only some of Europe's finest in terms of Young Adult literature - with a whole lot more available out there for anyone who wishes to diversify their reading experience. With Code Name Verity, the Gemma Doyle series, Ruby Red, Just One Day, Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, and a whole wide array of other European YA, our ten picks are only the tip of the iceberg. So leave us a comment below and tell us your favorite novels set outside of the USA, or find us on social media and let us know.
TOP 10 YOUNG ADULT BOOKS SET IN EUROPE
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