17 Fantastic Books Set in New York
There is no better way to escape everyday life than by jumping into a good book. Some of our favorite reads are books that transport you into the location – so that you feel it come alive as if it was another character.
We put together a list of books that will transport you to New York. Whether it’s the city or the ocean, these books just would not be the same if they took place anywhere else. We have 17 books set in New York that we have read and loved.
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Classic Books Set in New York
Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Are you a fan of Rose’s storyline from Downton Abbey? Well, our swinging-dancing, jazz-loving, rebellious debutante would be perfectly happy inside Fitzgerald’s famed novel.
The book might take place in America, but the same ideas of the class divide and resistance to change in the most opulent of settings could be felt in England too.
Daisy and Gatsby’s story still seems so relevant today too. This tragic love story is a classic for a reason. Of all the books set in New York, this classic is a must-read.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Not all books with unreliable narrators are mysteries and thrillers. Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical work shows Esther Greenwood’s mental breakdown. While working as a summer intern in New York City, Esther is sexually assaulted and returns home to recuperate.
With her academic dreams on hold, Esther falls into a deep depression and attempts suicide, eventually sent to a psychiatric hospital to recover. With its deep insights into mental health and gender roles, Plath’s novel is a great classic book to read and another must-read from the list of books set in New York and is a perfect pick for an unreliable narrator book.
Historical Fiction Books Set in New York
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Amor Towles can do no wrong! I loved this story set in 1938 that follows a year in working girl Katey Kontent’s life in NYC. Starting and ending on NYE, we get to see the many twists and turns of Katey’s life that year.
Romances, career changes, and discovered secrets pepper the year of entering womanhood for Miss Kontent. Towles’s writing was captivating as always. His characters were expertly crafted and I felt an emotional connection to each of them.
This one will have to go on our list of the best books about NYE!
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Coralie Sardien spends her days in a Coney Island freak show called the Museum of Extraordinary Things. There, appears as the mermaid in the museum run by her father. She is one of many attractions in the show.
One night, Coralie meets Eddie Cohen who has run away from his Orthodox community. What follows is a love story during tumultuous times in New York history. This historical fiction is a must read book.
Montauk by Nicola Harrison
I was expecting a lighthearted read, but this book had more soul than I was expecting! Set in 1938 in Montauk among the glamorous world of Manhattan’s summering elite, it was full of secrets and romance. It’s sort of like a historical fiction version of an Elin Hildebrandt book with romance and personal growth as our heroine discovers true love in a sleepy beach town.
I shed a few tears at the ending – which took me completely by surprise by the way! There is a short, not-so-graphic rape scene – so if that’s a trigger for you, steer clear. Otherwise, I applaud this debut and recommend it for your beach bag!
Love Historical Fiction? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Historical Fiction carefully divided by time period.
Contemporary Fiction Books Set in New York
Push by Sapphire
Push is a look at life in the poverty-stricken streets of Harlem in the eighties. The main character is an illiterate 16-year-old pregnant with her second child by her father.
The commentary on a life of poverty and the struggles to get out of her situation are horrific but inspiring. It is incredibly difficult, but such a worthwhile read.
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
This contemporary fiction story was recommended to me so often in the past few years – and it’s an Oprah pick so I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. My library hold finally came due and I finally took the plunge. WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG?
Honestly, I love this story about immigration, Wall Street, and the American dream. At a time when election coverage is ramping up, this book seems so relevant. Jeni and Nedi’s story about their move from Cameroon and how it affects their marriage and their morals was compulsively readable. I couldn’t put it down. Don’t wait as long as I did.
Fitness Junkie by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
A great book that had me laughing out loud and wondering who in the world does these crazy diets!!
I also loved how the story found a 40-something finally embracing her own badassness and standing up for herself. This contemporary fiction is the perfect poolside read.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
This book could be an amazing movie. It is not the type of book that you “can’t put down” because it takes place on New Year’s Eve 1984 with flashbacks to the past. But, it is an incredibly interesting and very well-written book.
Lillian Boxfish takes the reader with her through a look at New York City through the ages. I really enjoyed this book.
Ultimate List of Contemporary Fiction Novels to Love in 2023
For more contemporary fiction books like these, check out our ultimate list for dozens of recommendations.
Sci-fi/ Fantasy Books Set in New York
Recursion by Blake Crouch
This 5-star read is making our best books of 2019 list for sure. When people start to become ill with False Memory Syndrome, nobody knows who will get it or how.
Barry is a cop who sees the devastating effect of FMS on the people who contract it. Helen is a scientist who studies memory. Barry and Helen come together to find answers and stop everyone’s past from becoming one distorted memory. Blake Crouch is so smart- this book really made me think. If you like sci-fi, this is an absolute must-read.
The Thousandth Floor by Katherine McGee
A YA guilty pleasure. I listened to this whenever I ran on the treadmill and it kept me pretty entertained! It’s not gonna win the Pulitzer but its good fun for any Gossip Girl fans.
The best part is it takes place about 150 years in the future. I could totally see the CW making a series out of this….and I would totally watch!
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Chava arrives in New York in 1899. She is a Golem whose master has died on the voyage. When. Rabbi recognizes her for the creature that she is, he takes her in.
Ahmed is a Jinni who is in Manhattan but is still not free. When Amed and Chava meet, they fall in love. This historical fantasy combines fables from two cultures in this magical read.
Love Fantasy Books? We do too! That’s why we created the Ultimate List of Fantasy for Adults and the Ultimate List of YA fantasy!
YA Books Set in New York
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
This Young Adult Novel is smart and well-written. I loved reading it. Yoon has done something very difficult with this book. She switches back and forth between a few different narrators and still manages to maintain the flow of the story.
This National Book Award finalist is the story of Natasha and Daniel. They meet 12 hours before Natasha and her family are being deported to Jamaica. Where will their story take them? You can’t fall in love in 12 hours, can you?
Color Me In by Natasha Diaz
I love the idea of this story and there was so much about it that I loved. The exploration of a multi-racial identity from a teenager’s point of view is unique and powerful.
Naveah grew up in NYC with a Black mom and. a Jewish dad. When they split up and she moves to Harlem, she is forced to confront who she is and her biracial identity. She must learn to find her voice and discover who she is meant to be rather than who everyone wants her to be.
Even though this story is YA I think the story could have had a little bit more- I wanted more. This YA book written by a Black, Jewish writer has a unique perspective and is a must-read.
Children’s and Tween Books Set in New York
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
This charming story is about a bi-racial family in Harlem with 5 kids who are about to lose their home because their reclusive landlord won’t renew their lease.
My entire family enjoyed this delightful tale of the siblings trying to win their landlord over so they don’t have to leave home. Don’t worry. This is one of the best feel-good books on the list.
It was full of all the antics you would expect of a big family. You can find this book on our list of 40 of The Best Books for a 10-Year-Old as well as on our list of The Best Family Audiobooks For Road Trips and Home Listening.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
I don’t think there is a boy (or girl) out there who has read this middle-grade fantasy series and not loved it. It is the only series that can compare to Harry Potter in terms of how much my son LOVES it.
This first Percy Jackson book is about our beloved Percy, who discovers he is a demi-god and must recover Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt. He travels into the underworld to locate the lightning bolt and, at the same time, try to save his mother.
His amazing adventures with Annabeth and Grover along the way create the foundation for all the books that follow in this amazing and epic series. If you love Percy Jackson, you should check out our 18 Exciting Books like Percy Jackson for Fans to Enjoy or our Epic Guide to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson Books in Order