12 Overlooked Novels with Southern Roots

I love living in New York, but sometimes I need a little fix of Southern comfort. Books are cheaper than airfare, and there is no shortage of nationally acclaimed literature from the South. Of course y’all have all heard of the classics—GONE WITH THE WIND, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, or BELOVEDbut the well of amazing and provocative Southern novels runs much deeper. So go pour yourself an ice cold sweet tea, sit back in your rocker, and crack open one of these lesser known novels set below the Mason Dixon line.

Bastard Out of Carolina
by Dorothy Allison

A profound portrait of family dynamics in rural South Carolina, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA follows Ruth Anne Boatwright as she navigates a family triangle that tests her loyalty and leads to a final, harrowing encounter.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart
by Ed Tarkington

After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to Spencerville, Virginia, a teenage boy and his family must reckon with the past and find out how much forgiveness their hearts can hold.

Silver Sparrow
by Tayari Jones

SILVER SPARROW is a breathtaking story about one man and his two families—one public, the other private—in a middle class neighborhood in 1980s Atlanta. The two teenage daughters of James Witherspoon meet and befriend each other, but only one of them understands their connection.

Garden Spells
by Sarah Addison Allen

The Waverley women are a curiosity in their small North Carolina town; as rumor has it, an apple tree imbued with special powers grows in their family garden. But the lives of these women are turned upside down when Sydney Waverly returns home with a young daughter after abandoning her family years ago.

Where All Light Tends to Go
by David Joy

After reuniting with his childhood sweetheart, Jacob NcNeely is desperate to escape his dead-end life and his cruel father in Cashiers, North Carolina. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to leave.

Work Like Any Other
by Virginia Reeves

A starkly beautiful and morally complicated novel set in 1920s rural Alabama, WORK LIKE ANY OTHER is the story of Roscoe T Martin, a prideful electrician sent to prison after his illegal siphoning of the state’s electrical power to use on a family farm leads to an innocent man’s death.

Queen Sugar
by Natalie Baszile

In QUEEN SUGAR, an African American woman from Louisiana unexpectedly inherits 800 acres of sugarcane land in Louisiana. But those who doubt her say that cane farming is a white man’s business and she struggles to keep up with the demands of a declining farm and a family.

The Little Friend
by Donna Tartt

On Mother’s Day in Alexandria, Mississippi, a young boy is found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. But when his sister sets out to solve the murder 12 years later, she runs up against the town’s rigid tolerance of race and caste.

Long Division
by Kiese Laymon

In a Post-Katrina Mississippi, a 14-year-old boy is sent to live with his grandmother after having a meltdown during a national quiz contest and becoming an overnight YouTube sensation. Before leaving, Citoyen Coldson is given a strange book about time traveling that may hold the key to the disappearance of a young girl in his grandmother’s town.

Guests on Earth
by Lee Smith

A captivating novel of art and madness, GUESTS ON EARTH seamlessly blends fact and fiction to tell the story of an orphaned 13-year-old girl who is admitted to a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina in 1936 where she is taken under the wing of legendary patient Zelda Fitzgerald.

Salvage the Bones
by Jesmyn Ward

Set in the 12 days leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s arrival in Mississippi, a family of motherless children do everything they can to protect and care for each other. SALVAGE THE BONES is a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty.

Bull Mountain
by Brian Panowich

From a long line of outlaws on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, Clayton Burroughs takes a job as sheriff to distance himself from his family reputation. But when a federal agent shows up to shut down the mountain, a hidden agenda pits brother against brother and could lead Clayton down a dark path of self-destruction.