When we think about the West, it’s hard not to picture cowboys riding off into the sunset, thanks to years of classic westerns. But our perception of the American West has changed over time. United by an abundance of wide-open spaces, long stretches of highway, and beautiful state parks, it’s a culturally diverse area with two states bordering Mexico and another two states sharing a border with Canada. The region includes crowd favorite Las Vegas and the Crown of the Continent (aka Glacier National Park). If you’ve ever wanted to kick back in the American West, let these 7 books be your tour guide.
Arizona: First Comes Love, by Katie Kacvinsky
This funny and compelling romance is set in Phoenix, where Gray and Dylan take summer classes at a community college. The two are opposites—Dylan is exuberant and quirky, while Gray is withdrawn and angry—but both are on the cusp of adulthood, and dealing with their own issues. Their relationship develops from their first meeting to their becoming friends and eventually lovers. Told through alternating viewpoints, the story slowly divulges the characters’ secrets as it explores personal tragedy and how we pick up the pieces.
Colorado: Monument 14, by Emmy Laybourne
It’s a normal day in Monument, Colorado… until suddenly it’s not. After a killer hailstorm derails two busses on the way to school, 14 students are able to make it out alive and seek shelter in a chain superstore. While a series of disasters take place all around them—including climate-charged disasters and a chemical weapons spill—the 14 students must fight for their survival as their world falls apart. With so many people trapped together, the tale turns claustrophobic as personalities clash and a new social order unfolds. Part thriller, part apocalypse now, part survival story, and all awesome.
Idaho: Running Loose, by Chris Crutcher
Louie had it made in his small Idaho town. He plays football in a place that revolves around the field, he has the love of a beautiful girlfriend, and he has the support of good friends. But Louie’s perfect senior year starts to go awry when a mishap on the football field leads him to question the sportsmanship of his team and coaches. Then Louie is faced with a personal tragedy, and his world falls apart. This emotional story follows him as he deals with love, loss, and growing up. It’s a quick read but also a powerful one.
Montana: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth
Cameron’s story is not only enjoyable to read, it’s also incredibly important and powerful. The death of her parents mean they will never learn her secret—that she’s gay. Racked with guilt and relief, Cameron moves in with her conservative grandmother and aunt in rural Montana. Soon she falls in love with a beautiful cowgirl who wants to experiment, but when the two girls are caught, it’s off to religious conversion camp for Cameron. As she struggles with her feelings of guilt, she meets other gay teens and finally begins to find herself with help from her loving friends.
Nevada: Burned, by Ellen Hopkins
Told in free verse and set in rural Nevada, this troubling tale of a girl trapped by circumstances beyond her control will give you all the feels. When Pattyn starts to question and push against the attitudes of her deeply religious and abusive family, she’s sent to live with her aunt in the wilds of rural Nevada. On her aunt’s ranch, Pattyn’s life begins to turn around… until the past catches up to her and things take a turn. The heart-breaking free verse touches on religion, sexuality, and abuse, while painting a vivid picture of the Nevada desert and the consequences of nuclear testing. Pattyn’s story may leave you feeling troubled, but a companion novel, Smoke, offers some (very small) seeds of hope.
New Mexico: Fated, by Alyson Noël
New Mexico is a particularly beautiful and haunting place, and this supernatural romance (set in a town called Enchantment, no less) lets the state shine with Native American mythology and history. Daire is plagued with visions and haunting dreams that culminate in a public meltdown. She’s sent to stay with her grandmother in Enchantment, where she learns she is a Soul Seeker, part of an ancestral line of shamans who can navigate the world between the living and the dead. Now Daire must learn to harness these mystical powers, while also trying to navigate high school. This action-packed series starter is full of compelling characters and fascinating magical elements.
Wyoming: Like Mandarin, by Kirsten Hubbard
Set in a small town in the badlands of Wyoming, this coming-of-age tale focuses on two girls who want nothing more than to escape a town obsessed with beauty pageants and cowboy dances. Bookish Grace is awkward and smart—the opposite of her idol Mandarin, a carefree, beautiful wild child whose only goal is to ditch her tiny Wyoming town. When the two form an unlikely friendship, Grace soon discovers Mandarin’s attitude hides darker and more dangerous truths. Secrets and complications threaten their friendship until Mandarin threatens to take things too far. The beautifully evoked small town provides the perfect setting to explore the girls’ growing sense of confinement.