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 18 books set in New York that we have read and loved.
*The best books set in NYC post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you. Some books have been gifted to us. All opinions are our own.
Classic Books Set in New York
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.
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
This book set in New York City in 1956 is about Marion Brooks who decides to audition to become a Radio City Rockette. When tragedy strikes Radio City Music Hall, the city still in turmoil over the inability to catch the “big Apple Bomber.”
Soon, Marion finds herself helping the police with the search along with Peter Griggs, a young doctor who wants to use profiling to catch the criminal. I fell hard for this story, another example of a Fiona Davis book capturing my attention and holding it until the end.
She creates the best characters and weaves a historical fiction tale that feels like it could be true. I learned so much about the Rockettes and now I’m dying to see them perform.
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 and the fact that it is a book set in New York is a bonus!
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 and one of the best books set in New York I have read. Alice Hoffman writes some of the best adult fantasy novels on this list. This is definitely one of my favorite Alice Hoffman books.
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.
Books Set in Brooklyn
This graphic novel is the first in a series and I love it for so many reasons. It’s about modern-day witches in Brooklyn. It is a diverse book with female heroines and it’s amazing!
When Effie finds out that her aunts are witches, she wants to join them in practicing witchcraft, but she has a lot to learn. This is a charming one-sitting read for your favorite little witch or wizard and an adorable book set in New York.
I had no idea that a woman was so instrumental in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Emily Warren Roebling is the focus of this historical fiction novel.
I loved learning about New York at the time of the bridge building and how hard Emily fought for her right to be part of the building. It’s also humbling to understand the dangers of building in the 1860s and 70s.
Men risked their lives for the betterment of society. On the lighter side, all the scenes with P.T. Barnum made me smile. I used to work for the circus after all! This is one of the best books set in NYC and we highly recommend you read this one.
This book explores families in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn and is a more mature look at NYC. The families and their stories are interwoven in a gossip girl like way, but the similarities end there.
The struggles these families experience range from eccentric to serious, but they all feel very real and relatable. These could be your neighbors or friends and that’s what makes it so enjoyable!
Contemporary Fiction Books Set in New York
This satire had me laughing out loud numerous times. Shelly means is a stay-at-home mom who just wants to build her Hamptons dream house. Even if she can only afford a container home.
But her plans to build her dream home quickly go south, especially when her husband, a voice-over actor, loses his job. Her antics as she tries to compete with the other rich New Yorkers were thoroughly entertaining. This is one quick read that’s worth picking up.
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, thought-provoking book.
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 and is a great book club book. 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 to read this amazing African novel.
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.
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 from the Jazz age all the way to the AIDS epidemic. 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. She starts off writing copy for R.H Macy’s and becomes one of the highest-paid advertising women in the country.
Now, at 85 years old, she is still as savvy as she ever was and is determined to make the most of her time. Breaking the boundaries of what was expected of a woman was Lillian’s thing and makes this book perfect for anyone looking for books like Lessons in Chemistry.
For more contemporary fiction books like these, check out our ultimate list for dozens of recommendations.
Sci-fi/ Fantasy Books Set in New York
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.
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!
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
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 deported to Jamaica. Where will their story take them? You can’t fall in love in 12 hours, can you?
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 set in New York is written by a Black, Jewish writer who has a unique perspective and is a must-read.
Children’s and Tween Books Set in New York
This charming realistic fiction 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.
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.