Around the World in Eight YA Novels

Small Damages

I was a pretty privileged traveler as a teen, thanks in large part to internationally located family, but there are still plenty of places left on my wanderlusting bucket list. Thankfully, there’s a whole host of fantastic, internationally set YA for those who, like me, will just have to do some of their adolescent traveling through the written word. If you haven’t already read the gorgeous Anna and the French Kissby Stephanie Perkins (Paris), Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor (Prague and Marrakech), and the Just One Day/Just One Year duo, by Gayle Forman (a whole bunch of places), I highly recommend them. But here are eight books that are a little further off the beaten path:

Wanderlove, by Kirsten Hubbard
When 18-year-old Bria ditches her South American tour group for a more natural, spontaneous trek through Belize and Guatemala with a pair of backpacking siblings, she has no idea what lies ahead. The fun of Wanderlove is experiencing the surprises and surroundings right along with her, in vivid, gorgeous, utterly consuming detail.

Sekret, by Lindsay Smith
Cold War–era Russia isn’t exactly a dream vacation destination, but Smith’s debut—about psychic teen spies in the KGB—is compelling enough to make the trip worth it. Packed with history and culture, Sekret is, for better and for terrifying, an immersive experience into Soviet time and place that will have you clamoring for the sequel. (For bonus Russia points, pick up the beautiful, Revolution-era Tsarina, by J. Nelle Patrick.)

Small Damages, by Beth Kephart
One of my favorite literary writers of YA, Kephart has beautifully re-created the Spanish countryside for this contemporary novel about a teenage girl who’s exiled from her American home in order to hide the secret of her pregnancy. She leaves no sensation unexperienced, from the feel of the earth to the scent of oranges, and it’s hard to imagine getting any closer to Seville without a passport. (Kephart’s newest, Going Over, which alternates between East and West Germany, is another excellent candidate for this list.)

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation, by Simone Elkeles
When 16-year-old Amy is forced to spend a summer in Israel with the father she barely knows, she has no idea what to expect; the experiences of communal living and mandatory army service are certainly nothing like the life she has back home in the U.S. As a reader who spent her own sixteenth summer in Israel (far more willingly), this was a particularly fun and interesting throwback, with a healthy heaping of romance—Elkeles’ specialty.

If You Could Be Mine, by Sara Farizan
This lovely story of two girls falling in love in modern Iran might break your heart, but it’s definitely worth a read for insight into the country’s LGBT culture and the variance of views on homosexuality vs. gender dysphoria. Farizan does a nice job with setting and context, providing a glimpse into the culture and politics of a country we rarely get to view from the inside.

Wish You Were Italian, by Kristin Rae
I may have spent only a few days in Italy over a college spring break, but reading this book was like reliving every single minute of them…especially the gelato-filled minutes. Main character Pippa’s excitement for the country’s culture and history is palpable, even as an initially reluctant traveler, and if I’d read this one when I was in high school, I strongly suspect I would’ve made studying abroad a priority.

The Violet Hour, by Whitney A. Miller
For those who like a little horrific gore and cultish creepiness built into their international travel, look no further. Miller’s debut begins in Tokyo and swings over to Beijing and down to Vietnam and Cambodia (the latter being the main character’s original country of origin), with a whole lot of blood, visions, plotting, and murder in between. You might be able to leave your passport behind, but maybe bring your blankie along for this one.

Stolen, by Lucy Christopher
There are so many incredible things about this contemporary story of a girl who is kidnapped from an airport and then trapped with her captor, not the least of which is the way her development of Stockholm Syndrome is displayed through second-person letter-writing. But even in a book with content that heavy, the setting of rural Australia manages to shine through as a vital element, illustrating both the beauty and terror of complete isolation.

What are your favorite books about world travel?

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