Surf and sand, sunshine and stars of all kinds—everyone has an idea of what we’re talking about when we talk about Los Angeles. Except for when we’re talking about murder, or the apocalypse, or witches, or whatever else the minds behind YA lit can dream up. Here are some of our favorite books with the City of Angels as their backdrop.
Everything Leads to You, by Nina LaCour
Hollywood romance goes behind the scenes in this gorgeous contemporary by one of my personal favorites. Emi’s greatest passion is production design, and when she lands not only a great internship but the use of her brother’s apartment for the summer, it promises to be the most perfect time of her life yet. Especially when she and her best friend, Charlotte, find themselves tracing a mystery from the estate sale of a Hollywood legend to Ava, a budding actress who steals Emi’s fragile heart.
Dead to Me, by Mary McCoy
One cannot discuss Los Angeles and ignore its glamorous mid-twentieth-century golden age. McCoy’s debut fabulously captures that time: it’s a noir thriller about a teen girl named Alice who finds her estranged sister, Annie, lying in a hospital bed after an attack. Thanks to a shared secret code from when they were kids, Alice follows the clues Alice left behind in order uncover who hurt her, and falls into a black hole of secrets that will never allow her to look at her family or anyone else in her city the same way again.
Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block
No one does iconic LA YA like Block, whose Weetzie Bat absolutely earns a mention here, too. But my personal favorite (especially unshocking since it contains gay, bi, and trans representation) is her reimagining of Homer’s Odyssey, set in postapocalyptic Los Angeles and starring 17-year-old Pen, who’s searching the wreckage for her loved ones and makes herself a found family during the search. Block’s trademark dreamy lyricism is in full display, and Pen and her friends’ brave, bold journey manages to make this a fun, hopeful read despite its sad circumstances.
American Girls, by Alison Umminger
Anna needs to get away from home, and there’s no better place to run for the summer than to her half sister in LA. But all is not golden sunshine on the left coast, and Anna finds herself slipping further into darkness when a research project takes her deeper into the lives of the Manson girls. Umminger’s debut is an artful homage to sisterhood and a nuanced look at teenage girldom—different kinds of emotional abuse, complicated relationships between all sorts of family members, the dark side of Hollywood and celebrity, the lack of sympathy and humanization we have for girls we deem to be stronger than us, and the all-important question of who’s worthy/capable of redemption and what it takes to get it.
Hollywood Witch Hunter, by Valerie Tejeda
Iris is the only girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops team, which means she has to work extra hard to prove her worth. That task is made even harder when an actress is killed on her watch, and a cute new hunter joins the group, which definitely has distraction potential Iris doesn’t need. But the more she learns about her fellow hunters—and the witches they target—the more the lines between good and evil blur.
Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, by Abigail McDonald
Sense and Sensibility gets the contemporary YA treatment in this retelling about sisters forced to move from San Francisco to a relative’s home in Beverly Hills after their father dies and leaves everything to their stepmother. As the girls balance new lives and new loves—and all they left behind with their old ones—they find there’s a lot of beauty in the unexpected, and a lot of heart if you know where to look.
Since You Asked…, by Maurene Goo
Yeah, I’m cheating—Goo’s debut is actually set in San Diego—but when I think of books that seriously capture a SoCal vibe and the diversity of the area, this one always comes to mind. Holly Kim may find her journalistic voice in a slightly unorthodox fashion (okay, she accidentally blasts the school via a snarky copy edit that mistakenly gets printed), but there’s no question it resonates, both within and without her brand-new column. If you’ve been loving Fresh Off the Boat or yelled “Oh my God, that’s me” at the TV during any point of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, you need this book yesterday.