Who doesn’t love islands?? The warm sun, sand in your toes, walking along the beach at sunset…
Okay, maybe that’s not the type of island that I’m talking about with most of these books. But still.
Recently, I haven’t been purposefully picking up books set on islands, but that’s what’s been happening anyway. Also, part of my NaNoWriMo WIP takes place on an island. Island settings can create a completely unique atmosphere and conflict by cutting characters off from the rest of the world or isolating them in some way. Most of these islands aren’t exactly the warm, tropical places you’d choose for a vacation, but they’re wonderful places to travel within the pages of a book!
To be quite honest, a more accurate title for this post would be “books set on islands involving a little bit of magic and feminist themes” because strangely enough that fits for all of these books. If that sounds interesting to you, let’s get into my recommendations!
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Every November on the island of Thisby, riders compete in the Scorpio Races on the backs of bloodthirsty capaill uisce, or water horses. Puck Connelly is the first girl to enter the competition, and she’s riding against Sean Kendrick, the reigning champion.
This book had to be first on my list of recommendations because not only is now the perfect time of year to read this, but Thisby is probably my top fictional island I’d visit if I had the chance. Despite the murder horses. While reading, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the vivid descriptions of the cliffs and sand. The sense of place is incredibly strong in this book, making me feel like Thisby is a real place that I’ve visited and need to return to someday.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe, the witch from Homer’s Odyssey, is the daughter of Titans, but when she’s caught practicing forbidden magic, she’s banished by the gods to a remote island. There she spends her immortal life and crosses paths with some of the famous figures of mythology.
Circe’s island, called Aiaia (don’t ask me to pronounce that), is probably the most idyllic of this list. Bursting with greenery and Circe’s animal familiars, it almost becomes a character with a life of its own. Despite the fact that this book takes place almost entirely on Circe’s island, a tiny and contained setting, Madeline Miller manages to make this story feel sweeping and epic, which I am incredibly impressed by.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
On an island off the coast of Maine, the students of the Raxter School for Girls have spent the last eighteen months in quarantine after being hit by the Tox. When Hetty’s friend Byatt goes missing, she is determined to find her, even if it means venturing out from the safety of her school.
This horror novel hits the creepiness nail right on the head. Even though the story itself is somewhat slow paced, the sense of dread and wrongness that seeps through every word is captivating. The island setting only adds to the horror, giving the sense that the girls are the only ones left in the world and there’s no one to save them but themselves. I get shivers just thinking about it!
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
When Jane is invited to the the island mansion of Tu Reviens by an old acquaintance, she says yes to honor the memory of her aunt. Once there, strange things start happening all around her, and when she’s offered a choice, her decision will lead her down five different possible paths.
Jane, Unlimited is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read – basically five genres rolled into one stunning book – and the island on which it takes place only adds to the sense of strange wonder. Yes, it’s perfectly believable for these unusual events to be happening, because that’s just what it’s like on isolated islands with Gothic mansions. Anyways, go read this book.
Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
Every summer, birdwatchers flock to the island of By-the-Sea to find a legendary three-hundred-year old bird who only shows up for a few weeks at a time. Georgina, born into a family of magical women, still hasn’t developed her own magic, and this summer everything on the island seems to be going wrong.
The first line of this book just captures it perfectly: “On the island of By-the-Sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.” I think atmospheric writing is a requirement for books set on islands, and Summer of Salt is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read, bringing the islands beaches and hills and unpredictable weather to life. By-the-Sea would probably be my second choice of fictional island vacations, to be honest.
Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand
The island of Sawkill Rock, somewhere off the coast of New England, is full of dark forests, horse pastures, and decades of disappearing girls. Three girls – Marion, Zoey, and Val – find their lives intertwined as they try to uncover the secrets behind stories of monsters haunting their island.
What is it with YA horror and island settings?? Not that I’m complaining – it creeps me out but manages to suck me in at the same time! Sawkill Girls has a lot in common with some of the other books on this list – creepy horses, groups of girls teaming up, feminist themes – but it makes them its own through its strong characters and chilling, vivid descriptions. This was a book that I couldn’t read before bed!
Do you enjoy reading books set on islands? What island books have you read? Which fictional island would you visit if you could?