Everyone loves a quirky town made up of peculiar but lovable characters with an ironclad sense of community. My own town doesn’t qualify: everybody’s pretty normal, and hardly anyone is hiding a dark, supernatural secret, which is a real shame. I want to live in a place where no one has aged in two hundred years because of a curse, or where the town square is actually a portal to another dimension. You know, something. But I don’t live in one of those places, so I have to get my fix from fiction. Here are five YA novels with towns ranging from the goofy and eccentric to the straight-up magical.
As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti
Have you ever wished upon a shooting star? Of course you have, you’re a human being who wants an X-Box. But in the tiny desert town of Madison, Nevada, wishes do come true: each of the locals gets one on their eighteenth birthday. Eldon, our protagonist, is on the brink of receiving his wish and finally joining the ranks of his peers who have wished themselves richer, more beautiful, more popular. The problem: he’s seen how wishing can destroy you. He’s seen people waste their wishes. He’s seen people regret their wishes for the rest of their lives. In this beautifully plotted sophomore effort saturated with thought-provoking magical realism, Sedoti explores what it means to yearn, to regret, and to live with the consequences of one’s choices.
The Last Boy and Girl in the World, by Siobhan Vivian
The town of Aberdeen (population: 1,700) is slowly sinking underwater. They’ve been fighting a losing battle against relentless flooding, but now the mayor is telling residents it’s time to pack up, evacuate, and leave the doomed town behind. This leaves seventeen-year-old Keeley Hewitt and her friends with only a few days left to spend together before their lives are completely uprooted. So what do they do? Throw parties, wreak a little havoc, and take a few chances, of course. There’s something liberating about having nothing left to lose, which is a lesson Keeley learns in this funny, fast-paced read that’s ultimately about growing up and letting go.
Hope Was Here, by Joan Bauer
If you prefer your YA novels to have small towns with lots of heart, a close-knit community, and maybe a local diner or two, then congratulations! Joan Bauer’s Hope Was Here hits everything on your checklist. When sixteen-year-old Hope moves to Mulhoney, Wisconsin, with her Aunt Addie, she doesn’t expect to love her leisurely life after living in fast-paced Brooklyn. She doesn’t expect to find so much meaning in waitressing. She certainly doesn’t expect to get swept up in a local election, helping a candidate campaigning against a corrupt incumbent. She doesn’t expect any of this, but life’s full of surprises. (And if you’re not yet sold, the descriptions of the diner’s food will make your mouth water.)
(Don’t You) Forget About Me, by Kate Karyus Quinn
This one is a little less Stars Hollow and a little more Twin Peaks. It’s packed full of twists and turns that are equal parts creepy and mesmerizing. Basically, Gardnerville is a place where no one ever gets sick, and everyone lives to be over 100. The catch? Every four years, someone is seized by supernatural, murderous impulses beyond their control. Our main character, Skylar, knows this well: four years ago, her sister, Piper, led sixteen of her classmates to their deaths. And even though all Skylar wants to do is forget, she’s haunted by memories of her sister, who’s serving time in the torturous reformatory. Despite her best efforts, Skylar is starting to remember things she has spent the past four years repressing—and she’s starting to realize there’s more to her sister’s story than meets the eye.
Wax, by Gina Damico
If you like vaguely unsettling stories about wax figures coming to life and you’re not currently reading Wax by Gina Damico, then what’s the point? Poppy is a seventeen-year-old girl who lives in Paraffin, Vermont, home to a world-renowned candle factory. She’s also semi-famous ever since her most embarrassing moment went viral. All in all, she’s pretty used to weird. But when she sneaks into the secret back room of Grosholtz Candle Factory and discovers a bunch of (incredibly lifelike) wax figures, she’s weirded out and more than a little spooked. And that’s nothing compared to how she feels when she gets home and discovers one of the wax figures in the trunk of her car—a teenage boy named Dud who’s very much alive.