I love when a book whisks me away to a different time and place—if only in my mind. In recent weeks I just happened to read several stories all in a row that happened to be set in Maine: the forthcoming Olive Kitteridge novel Lucy by the Sea, Adam White’s The Midcoast, and Linda Holmes’s Flying Solo. One of my favorite stories in this year’s Summer Reading Guide is Alice Elliott Dark’s Fellowship Point. And one of my favorite books of last year was Susan Conley’s Maine-set Landslide.
I hadn’t realized a Maine setting was such a pattern for me. What is it about Maine?
“Back when I lived out of state, people always used to get excited when they found out where I was from,” explains the narrator of The Midcoast. I’m not surprised. There’s something fascinating about Maine, and judging by the plethora of novels set in the easternmost of the United States, I am not the only one who gets excited.
Maine is a place where people move for the views, the cost of living, and, in some cases, the pace of life (especially if you’re judging from some of the protagonists who appear in this book list!). Titles set here—especially the coastal stories—promise to be evocative and atmospheric, with a strong sense of place. And to many of us, including me, Maine is intriguingly unlike the places where we spend our day to day lives.
I have never been to Maine, and would very much like to visit. For now I’ll have to content myself with the rich literary offerings, and I have to say, that’s not a terrible consolation prize.
This is such a fun read for anyone who has a soft spot in their heart for a solid YA novel, and it’s a must-read if you loved the movie Notting Hill. When Graham, the hugest of huge Hollywood teenage stars, mistypes an email address, his message ends up in the inbox of Ellie, a teenager girl in the small town of Henley, Maine (which is entirely fictional, though Smith originally intended to set the book in Camden). The two strike up a witty correspondence, even though (or really, because) she doesn’t know who he is. When Graham’s latest film is shot on location in her town, the relationship moves from online to real life. But the paparazzi make Graham’s life miserable, and Ellie has secrets of her own. You could transport yourself straight to Maine by enjoying this quick read in one afternoon. More info →
Sullivan began writing this book on a Maine beach, while visiting her best friend’s family home. The home in this story is a character in its own right, and is modeled upon that home Sullivan once visited. This is the story of three generations of women in the Irish Catholic Kelleher family, with every woman facing plenty of her own struggles. The beach house holds the story together. The matriarch’s husband won it long ago at gambling, and since that time the family has returned each summer to come together and air, or sometimes hide, their grievances. I can’t do better than Publishers Weekly, who described this story as “a summer spritzer that’s equal parts family drama, white wine, and Hail Marys.” More info →
This 2017 Summer Reading Guide selection is dark and a little melodramatic, but oh-so-discussable. After a scorching summer and months of no rain, the largest fires in Maine’s history swept over its coast, from Bar Harbor to Kittery. In Shreve’s claustrophobic domestic suspense we experience this real event through the eyes of Grace Holland, whose marriage is its own sort of natural disaster. Her husband came back from the war a little broken. So did her friend’s husbands, yet they don’t seem as cruel. When wildfires break out, her husband leaves to help dig a fire break, and Grace and her children flee to the ocean to escape the flames. When her husband doesn’t return, Grace thinks she’s lost him forever—and she’s far from devastated. But then he returns, and the real trouble begins. More info →
I included this book for the setting but it is no vicarious vacation. Russo’s 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning story unfolds in the eponymous mill town in south-central Maine, run-down and nearly bankrupt, and ruled with an iron fist by the wealthy Whiting family. Though the mills are closed, the businesses are boarded up, and many of the citizens have up and left, many still long for, even expect, a return to the town’s heyday—but that won’t happen without Mrs Whiting’s help, and she’s never going to give it. This is ostensibly the story of one man, Miles Roby, who long ago put his dreams to leave town on hold because his mother got sick his final year of college, and now is stuck, running the Empire Grill for Mrs Whiting, hanging on only because she’s promised to leave him the grill. When Miles stumbles upon a family secret, it prompts him to reevaluate everything, and changes the course of his (though not only his) life. But in the particular is found the universal, and this is also a poignant—and tragic—exploration of the human condition. (The ending of this book is brutal and merits a content warning.) More info →
Who doesn’t love a small town drama? Retired schoolteacher Olive is not keen about the way her small town of Crosby, Maine is changing. (Crosby is fictional; the town was so named as a tribute to Strout’s college roommate., though literary sleuths suspect the town is based on Brunswick.) Through a series of interconnected short stories, we get to know Olive’s family and some of the town’s residents as they grapple with their respective problems, including infidelity, suicide, eating disorders, domestic violence, and more. This may sound like a dismal collection but each story glimmers with care and compassion, even offering hope as prickly Olive comes to develop a better, more honest understanding of herself and those around her. This is one worthy of rereading. More info →
Miranda says her primary inspiration for this novel—and its setting, the idyllic (and fictional) town of Littleport, Maine—was her family’s childhood vacations to Bar Harbor. An unlikely friendship sits at the heart of this story: Sadie Loman is a summer person; her wealthy family owns most of the town’s numerous vacation homes. Avery Greer is a lifelong—and year-round—Littleport resident. Relationships between summer people and true Mainers are unusual, yet the two have always been inseparable, all summer long. But then Sadie is found dead, authorities rule it a suicide, and Avery can’t help but feel the community blames her for the loss. But then Avery finds Sadie’s phone hidden in the rental house where she was the night she died, and Avery starts chasing down clues, trying to clear her name. Come for the story and Maine setting, stay for the unexpected twist. More info →
This Jane Austen-inspired middle grade novel is full of Austen-isms and so much heart. 12-year-old Jane Brannen dreams of becoming a famous author someday, just like her idol Jane Austen. When bestselling author J. E. Fairfax comes to Whickett Harbor, Jane thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to ask her about the secret to literary success. But then a hurricane rolls through, Jane misses her chance and gets thrown together with the author’s snobby, science-geek son instead. In addition to an exceptionally annoying boy, the storm blows in bad news for Jane’s future: her mother has filed for custody and intends to bring Jane back to California with her. Jane doesn’t want to leave her beloved small town, so she sets her sights on finding the perfect match for her father and proving to her mother that Whickett Harbor is where she’s meant to be. More info →
A sweeping family saga about three generations of women and the summer home that divides and unites them. In the book’s opening pages a hurricane barrels towards the coast of Maine, but that’s not so unusual to the denizens of Haven Point, the snug community tucked into the rocky shoreline where three generations of Demarest women have found joy and suffered tragedy. Grandmother Maren has come to love the tight-knit community she married into, while her daughter and granddaughter found it to be snobbish and suffocating. The story unfolds in three timelines, set in 1944, 1970, and 2008, each closely following one generation of women, and illuminating the devastating secret that must be revealed before the hurricane makes landfall. Taking readers from the wartime corridors of Walter Reed hospital to the contemporary summer singalongs in the rec hall, this wistful debut is perfect for those who want to follow characters through their lifetimes, examine complex family relationships, or enjoy a good redemption story. More info →
The setting of this short and breathtaking novel about a woman raising teenage boys under arduous circumstances in a small, rocky Maine town is largely inspired by the fishing village near Conley’s childhood home. When her husband is confined to a Nova Scotia hospital after a terrible fishing accident, a mother is left to parent her teenage boys—”the wolves”—alone. But things have been hard for a while now: in this insular fishing community, the fish aren’t biting like they once did. Money is perpetually tight. Not long before, the family was dealt a terrible blow, and one son is still wracked by grief. And even absent an immediate crisis, parenting teenagers is grueling. I did not want to put this down, although I paused many times along the way to text my fellow parents of teenage boys. I loved the evocative setting and bracing portrayal of a family on the brink. More info →
Holmes’s warm-hearted sophomore novel is set, like her first, in the made-up harbor town of Calcasset, Maine. You could say this book was written with a vicarious visit in mind: Holmes says she wrote it in 2020 and 2021 when she was at home and “couldn’t go to any of the beautiful places I love in real life, Maine included.” If you like the sound of a woman reevaluating what she really wants on the cusp of turning 40 (with plenty of When Harry Met Sally references), a second-chance romance with a sexy librarian, an older role model who lived an amazing life on her own terms, and a love story involving a beautiful and mysterious duck decoy, this smart second-chance romance is the book for you. More info →
This slow-burning debut set in the tiny coastal town of Damariscotta is thick with atmosphere and middcoast fog. Our narrator is a Nick Carraway type, a writer and English teacher named Andrew who is not considered a true Mainer by the locals because he moved there—at the age of 3. You’re only a true Mainer, he explains, if your parents are born here. This book is the ostensible manuscript Andrew wrote about the Thatch family, particularly father Ed Thatch, to document the family’s rise and fall after it all came crashing down. Ed is a true local, having grown up in Damariscotta, an accomplished lobsterman before he graduated high school. He’s revered locally as the small town boy made good, one who achieved financial success by working harder than anyone else. But Andrew is just one of many residents who’s begun to wonder how Ed could make so much money from lobster alone, and if something suspicious might actually be going on right under their noses. Part small town portrait, part crime story, with a nonlinear structure that artfully carries the plot. More info →
A 2022 MMD Summer Reading Guide selection! Agnes Lee and Polly Wister have been friends their whole lives, growing up alongside each other in Philadelphia Quaker families and summering together in Maine. Agnes is beloved by the world as a bestselling children’s author, but not a living soul—including Polly—knows she also pens the popular and critically praised Franklin Square series. Polly knows Agnes sees her as a pushover, especially when it comes to her family, but Polly never lets on she’s wiser than her friend gives her credit for. When an enterprising (and nosy) young editor begins pestering Agnes to write a memoir, she sets in motion a chain of events that tests the women’s lifelong friendship, and threatens to expose the long-buried secrets each has so carefully kept from the other. If you want a big, rich, and immersive novel to whisk you away to the shore, this 592-pager is just the ticket. More info →
Which books set in Maine have you read and loved? Please tell us all about them in the comments section!