Have you ever read a book where the the sense of place is so strong that it almost feels like the setting acts as a character? The name of the town seems to personify the plot that happens within its borders? Have you ever noticed how so many of those stories are set in the South (or New York City, but that's not what we're talking about today)? It's a thing. It's Southern literature.
You may picture some of the classic Southern authors such as Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Tennessee Williams, but Southern literature – especially fiction – is as popular as ever. The beauty of the Southern novel is that most are written by Southern authors, and they bring with them the standard comfort of food, atmosphere, and language. They have lived the lifestyle and can transport readers to their own quintessential experiences – the feel of thick humidity in the air, the sounds of chirping insects and croaking bullfrogs at dusk, the smell of a home-cooked breakfast of biscuits and bacon, and the refreshing taste of sweet iced tea in the summertime.
But why is the South such a prime location for these stories and how does it invoke such a sense of home or nostalgia, even for readers who have never been? It's a gorgeous region that is American to its core and represents all walks of life. There can be mystery in the long dirt roads and old barns, tranquility in the trickling streams and swaying willows, and romance and adventure everywhere in between.
Here are four excellent Southern novels that embrace the spirit of the South with history, kindness, bravery, and a little bit of romance.
The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare by Kimberly Brock
When Eleanor Dare and the rest of the Roanoke colony disappeared in 1587, all that remained was a message carved on stone and her treasured commonplace book. It was passed down for 15 generations of daughters as they came of age, and Alice is next in line—but her mother's death broke the chain. Alice thought this meant that the past would stay in the past, but of course, it never does. Now a widow and mother, nearing the end of World War II, Alice receives ownership of her abandoned family home in Savannah, which she intends to sell untouched. The past is too much to bear. But her teen daughter has other plans as she digs through their family history buried in the house—and finds that iconic commonplace book.
Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter
Riverbend Gap, North Carolina, is a tiny mountain town full of big hearts. Avery, who became a doctor after watching her mother battle a horrible disease, now sees herself at risk for developing that same illness. She spends all her time working and caring for her neighbors so as to avoid getting her heart squashed—but Wes, a hiker on the Appalachian Trail who collapses on her doorstep, may make all that change. She nurses him back to health, and in return, he decides to help her renovate her house. Of course, their attraction for each other gets in the way and a beautiful romance blossoms as the two learn to open up.
Bless Your Heart, Rae Sutton by Susannah B. Lewis
Raeley Ann Sutton has lost her marriage and her mother, and from the latter she gained the house where she grew up. Rae, her 14-year-old daughter, and their dog move into the old house with little hope for finding joy again. The house is paid for, so there's no reason not to go. Rae's mother had a fabulous group of friends—the Third Thursday ladies, as they're known—who welcome her into the fold and bring all kinds of gossip, joy, and Jesus into her life. Bless Your Heart, Rae Sutton is a heart-warming story with a full cast of wise and witty characters who ooze Southern charm.
The Grand Design by Joy Callaway
The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia is where Dorothy Draper's life changes. In 1908 she visits on a summer trip and falls into a surprise romance with an Italian race car driver. But her family disapproves, intervenes, and ensures she remains on the socialite track and marries the man they've chosen for her. Over the course of her life, she's betrayed social norms: she divorces her husband—not the race car driver or the guy her parents picked out—and starts an interior design firm. In 1946, she returns to the Greenbrier to restore it after it served as a World War II hospital and realizes she can finally turn the life of the socialite upside-down with her unconventionality—just as she wishes she could have done forty years ago.
As the days get warmer and the evenings get longer, kick back and relax on the porch swing with one of these titles and a glass of sweet tea. Transport yourself to a Southern state of mind and keep an eye out for fireflies!