This article is a part of a series on State Reads. Please leave a comment if there are any omissions or errors, particularly when the books themselves have a strong local connection.
The purpose of this series is to celebrate the similarities and differences found in different regions of the United States. We also hope it might be helpful for secondary teachers and librarians…or anyone…interested in building a local connection with readers.
A summary of the criteria we use for selection is at the bottom of the post.
Reading New Jersey
Each installment of this series comes with its own set of challenges. The challenge with this post is often figuring out, exactly, what happens in New Jersey. We sort out books that are set in the state from books written by authors from the state, because there is a difference, and sometimes I had to go to 2 or 3 sources to try to figure out whether some books were set in New Jersey or not!
I suppose New Jersey suffers a bit from “little brother” syndrome with New York.
That’s a shame, because, as I’ve learned from this post, New Jersey has a lot of nice places. Perhaps it is the quintessential “America” that we fantasize about…and is that such a bad thing?
And if you find that thought a little boring, look at all the amazing people who CAME from New Jersey. It must be a very cool place to hang out and have a drink.
Don’t let the stereotypes stop you…read on.
Books by New Jerseyans set in New Jersey
Roth is from Newark, where The Plot Against America is also set.
Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
Frank B. Gilbreth Jr.
Brother and sister team Carey and Gilbreth grew up in Montclair, where this fictionalized account of their childhood is set.
Scroll down for a book by their mother, Lillian Moller Gilbreth.
Perrotta was born in Newark.
Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Parlin.
The heroine of Janet Evanovich’s mystery novels, Stephanie Plum, lives in Trenton. Evanovich was born in South River.
Harlan Coben was born in Jersey City and writes thrillers often set in the suburbs of New Jersey. Two Netflix series have been based on his books.
Mary Higgins Clark
Clark lived in Washington Township and other places in New Jersey. Several of her novels, including The Cradle Will Fall (1980, Saddle River), While My Pretty One Sleeps (1987, Ridgewood), All Around the Town (1992, Ridgewood), Let Me Call You Sweetheart (1995, Ho-Ho-Kus, Hackensack, Old Tappan, Englewood Cliffs and Oradell) and My Gal Sunday” (1996, Bernardsville) were set in New Jersey.
Carol Higgins Clark
Carol Higgins Clark is the daughter of Mary Higgins Clark and grew up in Washington Township. While she sets her books in many different locales, Mobbed is set on the Jersey Shore.
Mary Jane Clark
Clark lives in Hillesdale. She is a former daughter-in-law of Mary Higgins Clark and sister-in-law of Carol Higgins Clark.
McPhee was born in Princeton.
Johnson is a native of Hammonton, and yes, this book is the basis for the HBO series.
Bruce Springsteen is a singer/songwriter, of course, but he has also written a memoir about growing up in Freehold.
Gilbert has lived in Frenchtown, the setting of Committed.
Lillian Moller Gilbreth
Gilbreth lived in Montclair for many years.
For more about Elizabeth Gilbert from The Lois Level, read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love”: Women who did it first and better
Amiri Baraka (né Everett LeRoi Jones)
Jones was born in Newark and led a varied career that included work as an activist and poet.
Margaret Thomas Buchholz
Buchholz grew upon an island off the Jersey shore.
John T. Cunningham
Cunningham was born in Newark. He was known as the “Historian of New Jersey”.
Mappen lived in New Jersey for all of his adult life and served in many capacities as a promoter of New Jersey history.
Joseph Bilby is from Newark.
A Selection of books written for Teens and Older Children
Judy Blume is from Elizabeth. Many of her books, for children, teens, and adults, are set in New Jersey.
Plum-Ucci is from Atlantic City.
McCafferty is from Berkeley Township.
Other Books by New Jerseyans
James Fenmore Cooper
Cooper was born in Burlington.
Crane was born in Newark.
Parker was born in Long Branch. Ironically, Fran Lebowitz, below, is frequently cited as being similar to Parker.
Paul Auster was born in Newark.
Mailer was born in Long Branch.
George R.R. Martin
George R. R. Martin is from Bayonne.
Joyce Carol Oates
Oates was a professor at Princeton for many years.
Peter Benchley lived in Princeton.
Sharon K. Penman
Penman grew up in New Jersey.
Shange was born in Trenton.
Mark di Ionno
di Ionno was a longtime sports columnist with New Jersey’s Star-Ledger.
Dermansky lives in Montclair.
Albom was born in Passeic.
Lebowitz grew up in Morristown.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Lindbergh was from Englewood. She became famous as the wife of Charles Lindbergh, but she was famous as a writer in her own right.
William Carlos Williams
William was born and died in Rutherford.
Ginsberg was born in Newark.
Dale Russakoff lives in Newark.
Steve Adubato Jr.
Adubato is from Newark.
A Selection of books written for Teens and Older Children
Walter Dean Myers
Myers is known for writing about Harlem, where he grew up, but he is a long time resident of Jersey City. Monster is the basis for the film All Rise.
Paula Danziger lived in Nutley and later, Metuchen. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit might be set in New Jersey although the state is never clearly stated.
Ann Rinaldi worked for several newspapers in New Jersey.
Gutman grew up in Newark. He is well known for his My Weird School series for young readers.
Lubar is from Morristown. In addition to being a prolific and popular young adult author, he also is a game developer, including Frogger for Game Boy.
Bowe is from Southern New Jersey.
Other Books Set in New Jersey
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald is not known to be a resident of New Jersey except for the years he attended Princeton, but he did write his first novel about that experience.
A Selection of books written for teens and Older Children
How we picked these books:
Please comment at the bottom or on Facebook with suggestions. The idea is to make each state’s page as complete as possible but focused enough so that the page gives the reader an overall sense of place.
In the case where the author has written several books set in the state, the most famous or recently published one will be selected. Multiple books will be shown only if there is a reason to do so (e.g. significant topics, different genres, etc.).
The author may be listed in more than one category, usually because the author’s most famous book is not set in the state. The famous book is listed to help readers recognize the author, but additional, less well known books, will be listed for those who want to read more about the state.
The intended audience for the The Lois Level is adult general readers, so books considered primarily for academic use will not be listed. For the same reason, authors who are completely out of print will usually not be included.
Children’s books are limited to those that have adult appeal. Normally picture books are not included.
Recent and significant biographies of state notables are included with priority given to those written by state natives/residents or to individuals whose major contributions were state related.
Wikipedia and author web pages are the primary sources for author information. If the author has several connections, usually the earliest one (birth, childhood) is used.
About the Cover Photo