8 Evocative Southern Novels to Enjoy with Sweet Tea

Jana Li
September 8 2022
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Southern novels, with equal parts nuanced history and sweet-tea-filled nights, have always occupied a permanent space on this avid reader’s shelf. If you’re looking to take a trip to beautiful, cozy landscapes and ready to bask in poignant moments alongside the comfort of slow living, here are eight evocative Southern novels for you to enjoy!

The Marsh Queen
by Virginia Hartman

Though Loni Murrow has built a successful professional life for herself in bustling and busy Washington, DC, her past will always be rooted in the charmingly lush swamps of the Florida wetlands—a home she must return to when she’s informed that her mother has suffered a serious injury. However, her mother’s accident is not the only pressing issue, as secrets begin to come out about the true nature of her childhood and her father’s early death. But the question looms: If Loni can uncover the truth of the past, will she be able to recover from it?

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The Marsh Queen
Virginia Hartman

For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing, this “marvelous debut” (Alice McDermott, National Book Award–winning author of The Ninth Hour) follows a Washington, DC, artist as she faces her past and the secrets held in the waters of Florida’s lush swamps and wetlands.

Loni Murrow is an accomplished bird artist at the Smithsonian who loves her job. But when she receives a call from her younger brother summoning her back home to help their obstinate mother recover after an accident, Loni’s neat, contained life in Washington, DC, is thrown into chaos, and she finds herself exactly where she does not want to be.

Going through her mother’s things, Loni uncovers scraps and snippets of a time in her life she would prefer to forget—a childhood marked by her father Boyd’s death by drowning and her mother Ruth’s persistent bad mood. When Loni comes across a single, cryptic note from a stranger—“There are some things I have to tell you about Boyd’s death”— she begins a dangerous quest to discover the truth, all the while struggling to reconnect with her mother and reconcile with her brother and his wife, who seem to thwart her at every turn. To make matters worse, she meets a man in Florida whose attractive simple charm threatens everything she’s worked toward.

Pulled between worlds—her professional accomplishments in Washington, and the small town of her childhood—Loni must decide whether to delve beneath the surface into murky half-truths and either avenge the past or bury it, once and for all.

The Marsh Queen explores what it means to be a daughter and how we protect the ones we love. Suzanne Feldman, author of Sisters of the Great War, writes that “fans of Delia Owens and Lauren Groff will find this a wonderful and absorbing read.”

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MENTIONED IN:

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Ghost on Black Mountain
by Ann Hite

Richly historic, with just a bit of uneasy magic, GHOST ON BLACK MOUNTAIN tells the story of five woman who are bonded by a murder in rural Depression-era North Carolina. Southern folklore says that those who leave the mountain never come back, but Nellie Clay decided to go anyway. Her mama warned her—even the ghosts warned her—but this Southern tale begins when Nellie is lost forever.

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Ghost on Black Mountain
Ann Hite

ONCE A PERSON LEAVES THE MOUNTAIN, THEY NEVER COME BACK, NOT REALLY. THEY’RE LOST FOREVER.

Nellie Clay married Hobbs Pritchard without even noticing he was a spell conjured into a man, a walking, talking ghost story. But her mama knew. She saw it in her tea leaves: death. Folks told Nellie to get off the mountain while she could, to go back home before it was too late. Hobbs wasn’t nothing but trouble. He’d even killed a man. No telling what else. That mountain was haunted, and soon enough, Nellie would feel it too. One way or another, Hobbs would get what was coming to him. The ghosts would see to that. . . .

Told in the stunning voices of five women whose lives are inextricably bound when a murder takes place in rural Depression-era North Carolina, Ann Hite’s unforgettable debut spans generations and conjures the best of Southern folk-lore—mystery, spirits, hoodoo, and the incomparable beauty of the Appalachian landscape.

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Boy's Life
by Robert McCammon

It’s the 1960s in Alabama and Cory Mackenson is facing the impossible task of growing up. This story of Southern boyhood follows a near-death experience for Cory’s dad and Cory’s inability to understand the grief, pain, and dual forces of good and evil that follow. With deep, murky lakes; ancient magic; and aggressive moonshiners, BOY’S LIFE captures the evocative landscape of a historic, Southern childhood.

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Boy's Life
Robert McCammon

Robert McCammon delivers “a tour de force of storytelling” (BookPage) in this award-winning masterpiece, a novel of Southern boyhood, growing up in the 1960s, that reaches far beyond that evocative landscape to touch readers universally.

Boy’s Life is a richly imagined, spellbinding portrait of the magical worldview of the young—and of innocence lost.

Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson—a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake—and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible, haunting vision of death. As Cory struggles to understand his father’s pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that surround him. From an ancient mystic who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown—for his father’s sanity and his own life hang in the balance…

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Nobody's Magic
by Destiny O. Birdsong

NOBODY’S MAGIC explores themes of grief, self-discovery, feminine strength, and magic through the stories of three Black women from Louisiana. Suzette grapples with independence and her own autonomy as she figures out what’s important to her and what can be sacrificed when it comes to venturing beyond her sheltered upbringing, much to the disapproval of her loved ones. Maple, who had fled from the judgment of her family after the unsolved murder of her uninhibited mother, discovers she may have had the clues to the puzzle all along. And, finally, Agnes encounters a suitor who believes her to have a magic within her, which spurs the discovery of her own true powers. It’s a story of family—both blood and chosen—that explores what futures of hope really mean.

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Nobody's Magic
Destiny O. Birdsong

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The View From Here
by Brian Keith Jackson

Raw and emotional, Brian Keith Jackson’s THE VIEW FROM HERE tugs on all heartstrings, as it’s told from the point of view of an unnamed child still in the womb. The mother is Anna Anderson Thomas, who is having conversations with her unborn child as she contemplates loneliness and what it means to be a family. Her rural Southern life has not served her well. as her husband remains cool and silent toward her while the responsibility of caring for her five young boys grows increasingly draining each day. Alongside these stressors, the birth of their next child—our narrator—may be the final straw in breaking the family apart.

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The View From Here
Brian Keith Jackson

For fans of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison—a haunting debut novel that lays bare the universal truths that bind all families.

Brian Keith Jackson’s acclaimed debut novel treads the same rich literary soil as the work of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison—with equally memorable results. Evoking a world of casual prejudice and commonplace poverty, Jackson tells the haunting story of Anna Anderson Thomas, whose life in the rural South has edged slowly toward loneliness. Married in her youth to her beloved J.T., she has devoted her days to raising their five boys, all while stepping softly around her husband’s vast silences. But now, with their sixth child on the way—a girl this time, she is sure—Anna faces a challenge that threatens to destroy the family she’s fought so hard to preserve.

Pulsing with raw emotional power and earthy humor, and narrated in part by the omniscient voice of Anna’s unborn child, The View from Here builds to a conclusion that both shocks and heals—and lays bare the universal truths that bind all families.

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Revival Season
by Monica West

Miriam is the fifteen-year-old daughter of one of the South’s most beloved preachers—a man who performs healing miracles and is a figurehead of good—but a sudden act of violence shakes her perception of both her father and Christianity in general. Is healing possible? Or is Miriam destined to choose between her family and faith or herself and her own beliefs? Monica West’s REVIVAL SEASON explores the nuances of what family, religion, faith, and autonomy mean to one young girl who can make a big change.

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Revival Season
Monica West

The daughter of one of the South’s most famous Baptist preachers discovers a shocking secret about her father that puts her at odds with both her faith and her family in this debut novel.

“Spellbinding…Revival Season should be read alongside Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.” —The Washington Post
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

Every summer, fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton and her family pack themselves tight in their old minivan and travel through small southern towns for revival season: the time when Miriam’s father—one of the South’s most famous preachers—holds massive healing services for people desperate to be cured of ailments and disease. But, this summer, the revival season doesn’t go as planned, and after one service in which Reverend Horton’s healing powers are tested like never before, Miriam witnesses a shocking act of violence that shakes her belief in her father—and her faith.

When the Hortons return home, Miriam’s confusion only grows as she discovers she might have the power to heal—even though her father and the church have always made it clear that such power is denied to women. Over the course of the following year, Miriam must decide between her faith, her family, and her newfound power that might be able to save others, but if discovered by her father, could destroy Miriam.

Celebrating both feminism and faith, Revival Season is a “tender and wise” (Ann Patchett) story of spiritual awakening and disillusionment in a Southern, Black, Evangelical community.

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Where the Line Bleeds
by Jesmyn Ward

Twins Joshua and Christophe have lived their whole lives on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, raised by their blind grandmother, but after the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, life hasn’t been so easy. While Joshua was able to get a job on the docks, Christophe’s world begins to spiral after his drug-selling tendencies turn into a crack addiction, all while dealing with the untimely reappearance of the twins’ parents who’ve never been able to provide great lives for the boys. Jesmyn Ward’s WHERE THE LINE BLEEDS is a story of a life-changing summer that explores the nuances of family, love, poverty, and addiction.

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Where the Line Bleeds
Jesmyn Ward

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The Myth of Perpetual Summer
by Susan Crandall

Uncertain and dysfunctional—that’s what Tallulah’s relationship with her parents has always been. As for the rest of her family, she’s responsible for raising her younger siblings, protecting their reputations, and being their emotional support, but when her personal journey takes her away from their small Mississippi town into the foreign land of Southern California, it's unclear if her family will survive the change. This coming-of-age tale set in the sixties perfectly captures the tumultuous nature of growing up.

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The Myth of Perpetual Summer
Susan Crandall

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Photo credit: iStock / -slav-

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