These 10 must-read books set in New Jersey include bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning fiction, unputdownable mystery series, and fascinating memoirs. Take a trip to the Garden State with these books that take place in New Jersey.
1. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
“Here is Philip Roth’s masterpiece—an elegy for the American century’s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth’s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father’s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede’s beautiful American luck deserts him.”
2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
“Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.”
3. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
“In this brilliant new novel—her first for adults since Summer Sisters—Judy Blume takes us back to the 1950s and introduces us to the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she herself grew up. Here she imagines and weaves together a vivid portrait of three generations of families, friends, and strangers, whose lives are profoundly changed during one winter. At the center of an extraordinary cast of characters are fifteen-year-old Miri Ammerman and her spirited single mother, Rusty. Their warm and resonant stories are set against the backdrop of a real-life tragedy that struck the town when a series of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving the community reeling. Gripping, authentic, and unforgettable, In the Unlikely Event has all the hallmarks of this renowned author’s deft narrative magic.”
Bonus: Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is set in the Jersey suburbs.
4. Family Life by Akhil Sharma
“Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.”
5. On the Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark
“Following a nasty divorce and the trauma of being stalked, criminal defense attorney Emily Graham leaves Albany to work in Manhattan. Craving roots, she buys her ancestral home, a Victorian house in the seaside resort town of Spring Lake, New Jersey. Her family sold the house in 1892, after one of Emily’s forebears, Madeline Shapley, then a young girl, disappeared.
“As the house is renovated and a pool dug, a skeleton is found and identified as Martha Lawrence, a young Spring Lake woman who vanished several years ago. Within her hand is the finger bone of another woman, with a ring—a Shapley family heirloom—still on it. Determined to find the connection between the two murders, Emily becomes a threat to a seductive killer…who chooses her as the next victim.”
6. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
“Over the past seven years, Bruce Springsteen has privately devoted himself to writing the story of his life. He describes growing up Catholic in Freehold, New Jersey, amid the poetry, danger, and darkness that fueled his imagination, leading up to the moment he refers to as ‘The Big Bang’: seeing Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He vividly recounts his relentless drive to become a musician, his early days as a bar band king in Asbury Park, and the rise of the E Street Band. With disarming candor, he also tells for the first time the story of the personal struggles that inspired his best work.”
7. Creepers by David Morrell
“On a cold October night, five people gather in a run-down motel on the New Jersey shore and begin preparations to break in to the Paragon Hotel. Built in the glory days of Asbury Park by a reclusive millionaire, the magnificent structure—which foreshadowed the beauties of art-deco architecture—is now boarded up and marked for demolition.
“The five people are ‘creepers,’ the slang term for urban explorers: city archeologists with a passion for investigating abandoned buildings and their dying secrets. On this evening, they are joined by a reporter who wants to profile them—anonymously, as this is a highly illegal activity—for a New York Times article.
“Frank Balenger isn’t looking for just a story, however. And after the group enters the rat-infested tunnel leading to the hotel, it becomes clear that he will get much more than he bargained for. Danger, terror, and death await the creepers in a place ravaged by time and redolent of evil. T
“he darkest secrets live in places you’re not supposed to be.”
8. Independence Day by Richard Ford
“Frank Bascombe, in the aftermath of his divorce and the ruin of his career, has entered an ‘Existence Period,’ selling real estate in Haddam, New Jersey, and mastering the high-wire act of normalcy. But over one Fourth of July weekend, Frank is called into sudden, bewildering engagement with life. Independence Day is a moving, peerlessly funny odyssey through America and through the layered consciousness of one of its most compelling literary incarnations, conducted by a novelist of astonishing empathy and perception.”
Bonus: Ford’s Let Me Be Frank With You also takes place in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
9. One For The Money by Janet Evanovich
“Meet Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with attitude. In Stephanie’s opinion, toxic waste, rabid drivers, armed schizophrenics, and August heat, humidity, and hydrocarbons are all part of the great adventure of living in Jersey.”
10. Younger by Pamela Redmond Satran
“Alice has always looked young for her age, even with her graying hair and her dowdy New Jersey housewife style. Make that ex-housewife: Now that her husband’s gone and her daughter is grown, Alice is in desperate need of a whole new life. So she lets her best friend Maggie, a hip New York City artist, transform her on New Year’s Eve. Soon, thanks to the wonders of hair dye and tight jeans, Alice looks really young, as one night in a Manhattan bar confirms. At midnight, she kisses a boy who was in diapers when she was in high school.”
Receive top book recommendations directly in your inbox.