Recently I published a post outlining some things I really wish were found in YA lit more often. One of the items on my list was more books set in countries other than the USA or England, as these two settings seem to dominate the market. This got me thinking: what YA books out there ARE set in other countries? Well, it took some time to track them down but here are 20 of them. While I haven’t read many of the books listed, I’ve certainly found a lot to add to my TBR. Now, I present to you, a trip around the world courtesy of YA novels. Be prepared for plenty of live abroad situations, many estranged overseas relatives and a LOT of romance.
Note: I apologise in advance for the gaps in this list, particularly where it comes to South America and Africa. I had trouble finding YA books set in these locations. If you know of any that you’d like me to add, send them my way!
Scotland: Her Royal Highness – Rachel Hawkins
We’re starting out in the land of kilts, rolling green hills and fabulous castles. I’ve actually visited Scotland and it’s an absolutely beautiful place so, note to self, find more books set there. This YA contemporary follows Millie, an American teen who moves to a prestigious boarding school in the Scottish Highlands after a bad break up. To her surprise, she ends up roommates with Flora, not only a princess in personality, but the princess of Scotland. Prepare yourself for an fluffy, sapphic, enemies to lovers romance with a stop off at friendship along the way in a stunning UK setting.
Spain: The Fountains of Silence – Ruta Sepetys
After less rain and more sunshine? Perhaps some tapas? Well, Spain is the answer. The Fountains of Silence is set in 1950s Madrid during the dictatorship of General Franco in which tourists were encouraged to visit the country to help improve its financial problems. Eighteen year old photographer Daniel arrives with his family, hoping to learn more about and connect with the place of his mother’s birth. Here, he meets hotel maid Ana who slowly begins to educate him on the buried secrets of the country at great risk to herself and her family. The story follows several characters as they make their way through a dark and painful period of history.
The Netherlands, Austria, Italy, & Czech Republic: Wanderlost – Jen Malone
Ever wanted to do a multi-country trip through Europe? Then this will be right up your alley. After her sister Elizabeth gets into some trouble, Aubree agrees to help her out by taking over Elizabeth’s summer job leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe. The problem is, Aubree knows very little about European countries and it doesn’t take long before things start to go completely pear shaped. Then, to make matters worse, the tour picks up an unexpected guest: the company director’s son, Sam. Aubree can’t help falling for Sam but how can she possibly be herself when she’s supposed to be pretending to be her sister? And what would happen if he ever found out?
Greece: Love & olives – Jenna Evans
Greece has been on my holiday dream list for years now. There’s just something about its wonderfully rich history and the beauty of its islands. At some point I’ll get there, but until then perhaps Love & Olives can help pass the time. Now, this is actually an upcoming 2020 release but eh, who cares. The book introduces us to Evie, a Greek myths enthusiast. Upon receiving a postcard from her estranged father, she hops on a plane to Santorini to assist with his National Geographic Documentary about theories of Atlantis. As the shoot goes on, Evie has to deal not only with the emotions associated with seeing her father again for the first time in years but also his charismatic protege, Theo.
Romania: Hunting Prince Dracula – Kerri Maniscalco
We’re slowly making our way over to the east of Europe, and our next destination is Romania. It’s home to Dracula, stuffed cabbage leaves and preserved medieval towns. Woo! While the first book in this series is set in London, the sequel sees the two leads, Audrey Rose and Thomas, journeying to one of Europe’s best forensic science schools, which also happens to be a castle. Cause when in Romania, right? Then, as you’d expect, corpses start turning up, and not just the ones scheduled for dissection. Rumours soon spread that Vlad the Impaler himself has returned and is out for blood. So it’s up to our plucky duo to solve the mystery.
Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
Like Greece, Russia is one of those countries that I’ve wanted to visit for some time but it’s also one I’d prefer to do with a friend. Anyone up for a trip with me? Incorporating Russian folklore, TBATN is about a girl named Vasilisa who lives with her family in a small, northern village. Vasilisa is special in that she can see and converse with the creatures/spirits that live on their land. But after her father re-marries and a new priest enters the community, attitudes towards these beings and Vasilisa’s abilities change, leaving her an outcast and old superstitious practices abandoned. Soon things in the village begin to go very wrong such as failing crops and sinister things emerging from the forest. Now it’s up to Vasilisa to use her gifts to save the people she loves most.
Taiwan: The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan
We’ve jumped continents and it’s time to see what Asia holds for our YA travels. First up we have the story of Leigh. After her mother’s suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan to visit her grandparents for the first time. She is convinced that her mother has been reincarnated as a red bird and is somehow trying to speak to her. This takes her on a journey in which she develops bonds with her grandparents, comes to terms with her mother’s mental illness, and learns more about her mother’s history and Taiwanese culture. In turn, she also gains a greater understanding of herself. It’s a story about grief, mental health, family and identity.
Hong Kong: Somewhere Only We Know – Maurene Goo
While Hong Kong may not be the best travel destination at present, we always have travel in the form of books. Somewhere Only We Know is a YA contemporary romance. Lucky is a huge K-Pop star currently preparing for her big American debut. When she sneaks out of her hotel room in search of some fast food, she accidentally runs into Jack, a tabloid reporter who has slipped in searching for a story. The two end up deciding to spend a day together adventuring around Hong Kong, free from the stress and rules of their normal lives. Only problem is, neither party is being honest with the other.
Japan: I Love You So Mochi – Sarah Kuhn
Japan! Another country on my to-visit list. Cherry blossoms, great food in quirky locations, gorgeous scenery, ridiculous numbers of vending machines, what’s not to like? I Love You So Mochi is, once again, a YA contemporary romance. Kimi loves fashion and spends her spare time creating outfits for herself and her friends. However, her mum sees this as nothing more than a distraction from her painting portfolio. When Kimi is invited by her grandparents to spend Spring break in Kyoto, she decides to take the chance to get away for a while. In Japan she meets Akira, a med student and part time mochi mascot. Over the course of her trip, Kimi embraces everything Japan has to offer, forges new bonds with her family, falls in love, and evaluates her future.
Pakistan: Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed
Say hello to southern Asia. This time we’re in Pakistan, the fifth most populated country in the world! Our next book follows the story of Naila, a teen from a highly conservative American-Pakistani family. After falling in love with a boy named Sarif against her family’s wishes, Naila’s parents quickly whisk her off to Pakistan to visit their relatives in the hopes of re-immersing her in their culture. However, Naila is soon shocked to discover that her parents have actually brought her there for an arranged marriage. Cut off from everything she knows and stuck in a situation she sees no way out of, Naila has no choice but to remain strong and hope that Sarif will find her before it’s too late.
Iran: Darius the Great is Not Okay – Adib Khorram
Iran – home to beautiful architecture and a welcoming population. Darius is about to take his first trip to Iran and it’s exciting but also overwhelming for a chubby, geeky guy with clinical depression, zero social life and a difficult relationship with his father. Upon arrival, Darius feels somewhat out of step with the language and culture. That is, until he meets Sohrab – a boy who just gets Darius and not only shows him what it’s like to have a best friend but to feel Persian for the first time. The trip offers Darius a chance to understand and accept himself, and to form new, close relationships with members of his family. Set among the bustling background of Yazd, this is a story about friendship, self-acceptance, depression, identity and family.
Qatar: Love from A to Z – S. K. Ali
And…we’re back to romance, this time in Doha – the place to go for huge buildings, swanky hotels, amazing shopping, and well, if you want to feel poor. Our two main characters here are Zayneb and Adam. After confronting her teacher for anti-Muslim remarks, Zayneb is suspended and her parents send her to her aunt’s in Doha. College student Adam is dealing with both the recent loss of his mother and a multiple-sclerosis diagnosis (something he’s avoided telling his father and sister about). When the two meet on the flight to Doha, an unexpectedly wonderful connection forms. This is a book which deals with some heavy topics but if you’re after an un-apologetically muslim, own voices novel, this is one to think about.
Saudi Arabia: A Girl Like That – Tanaz Bhathena
Time for YA contemporary, but told a little differently and this time set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This is a story that begins with the deaths of our lead and her love interest. Zarin is a bright student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also someone parents call ‘troublemaker’ & whose romances are endlessly gossiped about. You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. And yet, eighteen year old Porus has only ever had eyes for her. But how did Zarin and Porus end up dead, crashed on the side of a highway? When the police arrive, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.
Egypt: In a Perfect World – Trish Doller
Egypt is another country on my ‘must travel to before I die list’ and although I’m not great with hot weather, I’m determined to see those Pyramids. Once again, we’ve got ourselves a contemporary romance. In a Perfect World centers around Caroline, whose perfect summer plans are completely thrown out the window when her mother is hired to open an eye clinic in Cairo. Instead of soccer camp and a job at the amusement park, Caroline will be spending not only her summer but her final year of high school in Egypt. Despite her cultural shock, Caroline finds herself opening up to new experiences, food and culture and falling for a boy who challenges everything she thought she knew about life, love and privilege.
South Africa: Deadlands – Lily Herne
Ever been to South Africa? Well, here’s your chance. The catch: zombies. Ten years after a zombie apocalypse, the dead freely roam the suburbs of Cape Town while survivors cluster on farms and in urban shantytowns. They are protected by mysterious, robed figures known as Guardians who are somehow able to control the zombies. Each year the Guardians hold a human lottery in which 5 teens are chosen to leave the enclave for an unknown purpose. Seventeen year old Lele can’t help but resent her current situation – a school run by a fanatical, Guardian devoted cult, the recent death of her grandmother, and a lack of freedom. So when she’s selected during the lottery, Lele sees it as an opportunity to get answers to some of her biggest questions.
Beliz & Guatemala: Wanderlove – Kirsten Hubbard
We’ve hit the bottom of North America and this time it’s two destinations in one. Wanderlove is a travel story centered around 18-year old Bria who accidentally signs up for a trip to the wrong Central America. On tour she runs into diving instructor Rowan and his humanitarian twin sister, Starling, and decides to ditch her group in favour of a trip more off the beaten path. As they travel through islands and villages, Bria soon realises that her and Rowan are in search of the same thing: escaping their past. However, with time, Bria learns that in order for her to move forward, first she’ll have to deal with her baggage.
Canada: The Gathering – Kelly Armstrong
Skipping over the USA, we’re heading up to Canada and this time to a paranormal/fantasy read set on Vancouver Island. Maya knows very little about her past, specifically her parents. Her only clue is a paw-print shaped birthmark on her hip. She’s never had much reason to think about it, until now. All of sudden strange things have started happening – unexplained deaths, cougars just showing up and following her around, and her friend, Daniel, getting weird ‘feelings’ about people and situations. Then there’s the hot, new guy, Rafe and his damaged sister, Annie. Seems like there’s more to town than there seems.
The Bahamas: Learning to Breathe – Janice Lynn Mather
Sun, sand, and…teenage pregnancy. Indira Ferguson has done her best to live by her Grammy’s rules – study hard, be respectful, and never let a boy take advantage of her. But it hasn’t always been easy, especially while living in her mother’s shadow. When Indy is sent to live with relatives in Nassau, trouble follows her. Now she must hide an unwanted pregnancy from her aunt, who would rather throw Indy out onto the street than see the truth. Completely broke with only a hand-me-down pregnancy book as a resource, Indy desperately looks for a safe space to call home. After stumbling upon a yoga retreat, she wonders if perhaps she’s found it. But Indy is about to discover that home is much bigger than just four walls – it’s about the people she chooses to share it with.
Australia: On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta
Welcome to my happy home in the land down under. As far as Aussie YA goes, I pretty much had to include a Melina Marchetta book. OtJR is about a girl named Taylor who was abandoned by her mother when she was young and now lives in a boarding house for troubled and neglected kids. Here, Taylor acts as a leader for the residents in their territory wars with the local townies and cadets. Her closest friend is a woman named Hannah who lives on the edge of the school grounds. However, when Hannah mysteriously disappears and Taylor sets out to find her, she comes across a journal about five friends who used to live in Jellicoe eighteen years ago. This leads her on an emotional journey to uncover what happened to her mother and why she left all those years ago.
New Zealand: Antipodes – Michele Bacon
Heading just across the channel to NZ, it’s time for some extreme sports, fabulous scenery and lots of sheep. When Erin arrives in Christchurch for her work-study abroad program, her life and reputation are a bit of a mess. She’s lost her boyfriend, been kicked off the swim team, and severely damaged her future college prospects. This trip seems like the perfect opportunity to get things back on track but Erin’s less than impressed when she’s introduced to her host family, their cold & cramped living conditions, and her itchy school uniform. Yet, the more Erin opens herself up to her new surroundings and the people around her, the more she starts to rethink her priorities and realise the kind of person she wants to be.
That concludes our journey! I hope you’ve had a wonderful trip – saw some new sights, experienced some wonderful things. Okay…maybe just found a few new books to add to the ever growing TBR pile. What are some of your favourite reads set in other countries? What countries would you most love to travel to?