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YA Novels as Love Letters to Places

You know that place you fell in love with for its sights, sounds, smells–all of it–wrapped into one? Which place am I talking about? The one you thought of when I first asked! We all have those special places in our hearts. Whether it’s a town we grew up in, a place we’ve connected with family, or even a place we visited once and were completely enamored with, there’s just something about connecting with a certain place that stays with us, even if we have to leave it. Looking for more places to explore, or just to fall in love and travel to a new destination via the magic of reading? Check out these YA novels that are love letters to some very special places. Bon voyage!

An Echo in the City

by K. X. Song

Set during the Hong Kong protests, this story of star-crossed teenagers falling in love, takes readers into Hong Kong through multiple perspectives. For Phoenix, her parents want her to leave for the big possibilities America holds but she wants to stay home. However she’s not sure where that is until the Hong Kong protest movement unfolds and what she knows and loves is at risk of disappearing. Kai is forced to leave Shanghai after the death of his mother, and is immediately enrolled in the Hong Kong police academy. When they accidentally swap phones and Kai realizes Phoenix is part of the protest network, he decides to infiltrate the network to prove himself as a police officer. While there is a love story between the two characters, the novel itself is a love story about Hong Kong: what makes it so special and what makes the characters fiercely protective and strong in their beliefs. It’s a nuanced look at very real and recent historical events, and provides a deeper understanding into what makes Hong Kong what it is.

Lost in Taiwan

by Mark Crilley

Paul wants nothing to do with exploring new places or experiencing new things. But he’s in Taiwan for two weeks with his brother Theo. Then gets lost on his way back from an errand and is forced to explore his new environment as he finds his way back to Theo’s apartment, realizing along the way that maybe this isn’t as bad as he once thought, and there’s adventure in the unfamiliar. From the vivid illustrations that bring the city to life, to the conversations Paul has with new friends along the way, you are immediately drawn into the lively streets as Paul explores. It immediately makes you want to buy a ticket to get there and explore yourself. And that’s exactly what author Mark Crilley hopes readers take away from the story. There’s an awesome author’s note detailing Mark’s time in Taiwan, and his inspiration for this graphic novel tribute.

¡Ay, Mija!

by Christine Suggs

Another fabulous graphic novel, inspired by the experiences of the creator, ¡Ay, Mija! was inspired by a trip Christine Suggs took to Mexico to visit family. It’s Christine’s first solo trip to Mexico to visit their grandparents and tía, and they struggle to connect as they learn Spanish, while becoming very aware of the generational differences in their family. But worlds collide when Christine’s mother visits, and they’re both homesick for Texas and starting to feel at home in Mexico. While this beautifully outlines the feeling of being torn between places and struggling to find your own identity, it’s also a tribute to Mexico. The sights, the sounds, the tastes of so many delectable dishes—you’ll feel like you’re with Christine as they explore their roots.

As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

by Zoulfa Katouh

Get your tissues ready for this speculative novel set amid the Syrian Revolution. Salama Kassab was a pharmacy student when the cries for freedom broke out in Syria. She still had her parents and her big brother; she still had her home. She had a normal teenager’s life. Now she’s a volunteer at a hospital in Homs, caring for the wounded. She is desperate to leave her beloved country, to the point that she manifests a physical embodiment of her fear in the form of her imagined companion, Khawf, who haunts her every move in an effort to keep her safe. Salama eventually also crosses paths with a boy she was supposed to meet previously and becomes even more conflicted about leaving her home. Zoulfa weaves such a beautiful, heartbreaking story, that reminds readers that there is always hope even in the darkest times. It’s a love letter to Syria, and its people, and one that will stick with you long after you’re finished reading.

Gossip Girl

by Cecily von Ziegesar

Lunch on the steps of the Met, shopping on Fifth Avenue, strolls through Central Park…from tourist traps to exclusive Upper East Side hotspots, all the quintessential New York City locales are in Gossip Girl. NYC is known as the city that never sleeps and with all the drama in this addictive series, you can see why there’s no time for shuteye. Living at the Plaza, pretending you’re Audrey Hepburn outside Tiffany’s, taking trips to the Hamptons? Yes, please. You know you love it, xoxo.

The Edge of Summer

by Erica George

Head out to Cape Cod in this heartwarming and heartbreaking summer story of first loss and first love. Coriander and her best friend Ella have always dreamt of saving the whales, one part of a list of things they want to accomplish before college. But when tragedy strikes, Coriander must complete the list alone. And then in the midst of healing and starting over, she meets Mannix, a local lifeguard. Like the high tide rolling in, you’re going to be swept away. The sand, the salt air, and the New England coastal town vibes that make you want to curl up in a chair on a deck and read as you gaze out over the ocean? All here. Author Erica George grew up spending time on the Cape and you can see her love of the area reflected on the pages.  

Our Way Back to Always

by Nina Moreno

Fans of Don’t Date Rosa Santos may recall the small, quirky town of Port Coral, Florida.

It’s a love letter to Florida and its sunny days, warm nights, and the endless possibilities that summer holds. You know that feeling when you’ve spent all day laughing and running around outside, swam in the ocean or pool, been slathered in sunscreen, and then you take a shower? And you’re slightly sun-kissed and put on comfy clothes and it’s basically the best feeling ever? That’s this book. That feeling.