Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota

Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge or simply found your way to our website researching books set in Alaska, the Northern Plains, or the Northern Rockies, you’ve come to the right place!

Books Set in the Northern States

Below, you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Check our comprehensive index of books set in every state for books covering the other Rocky Mountain and Northern Plains states.

What Kind of Books are Included On This List?

Our curated recommendations strike a good balance between historical fiction, contemporary novels, and non-fiction books about the northern states. We’ve grouped the books by state and indicated each time setting. You’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.

History of Alaska

Alaska has a rich history shaped by indigenous peoples and natural resources. For over 10,000 years, Native groups like the Tlingit, Haida, and Eskimo inhabited this land, and each developed distinct cultures and subsistence lifestyles. In the 18th century, Russian explorers claimed this land, and it became an outpost for the fur trade. The region became known as Russian America. But by the mid-19th century, with fur resources dwindling, Russia decided to sell the territory. The US purchased Alaska in 1867, a decision that was initially met with great skepticism but ultimately proved extremely valuable when gold and oil were later discovered in the region. 

More than 90 years passed between the Alaska Purchase and 1959, when Alaska became the 49th state admitted to the US. This was partly due to its geographic distance and sparse population, as well as concerns from Indigenous Alaskans about how statehood would impact their rights and way of life.

Most of us know that Alaska is the largest state in the US, but because of its distance from the contiguous states, it can be hard to envision exactly how its scale compares. Alaska is one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48, and is larger than Texas, California, and Montana combined. Its vast geography ranges from temperate rainforests in the southeast to barren, frozen tundras in the north. The mountain ranges throughout the state boast North America’s highest peak (Denali at 20,310 feet) and some of the continent’s largest glaciers. Additionally, Alaska’s tidal shoreline measures over 46,600 miles, which is longer than the combined shorelines of all the continental states.

Despite its large size, Alaska has a relatively small population, with just 731,000 residents as of the 2020 census. A significant portion of Alaska’s population lives in just a few urban areas. The largest city of Anchorage, which serves as the state’s primary economic and transportation hub, is home to more than 40% of the state’s population. Other major cities include: Fairbanks, located in the interior of the state and a prime location for viewing the Northern Lights; Juneau, the state’s capital, is only accessible by boat or plane; and Sitka, which maintains a unique blend of Tlingit and Russian cultures.

Depending on the year, the number of tourists who visit Alaska via cruise ship can be more than double the entire population of the state. Cruising to this far northern state provides breathtaking views of the glaciers, fjords, and wildlife. On the other hand, cruises limit your ability to visit interior sights like Denali National Park. Visitors wishing to see more of Alaska can consider traveling via the Alaskan Railroad or renting a car to venture further on their own.

Books Set in Alaska

In addition to the Alaska books below, we have an additional list of Books Set in Alaska available now.

Jimmy Bluefeather Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This adventure tale transports you to Southeast Alaska and into the life of Keb Wisting. He’s part Norwegian, part Tlingit native, and the last living canoe carver in his village. Grandson James is close to a career in the NBA when a logging accident ruins his prospects as a basketball player. So instead, a depressed James helps his grandpa finish his last canoe.

With the canoe finished, Keb, James, a few friends, and a crazy dog named Steve set off on the canoe journey of a lifetime. Paddling deep into wild Alaska, their story blends adventure, love, and reconciliation. You’ll also enjoy meeting the endearing small-town characters they encounter along the way.

The Book Girls Say…

Jimmy Bluefeather won the National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature in 2015.

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Books With Characters in Their 90s and 100s

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Greta James had musical talent from childhood, but her parents had different visions of where that talent would lead. While her mother was her biggest fan, her dad could only see the likely pitfalls of a music career.

She has spent years trying to prove him wrong and reached the point of appearing on magazine covers and playing sold-out shows. However, with the pressure of a sophomore album and the shock of her mother’s recent death, Greta has an on-stage meltdown that goes viral.

She very reluctantly agrees to join her dad on an Alaskan cruise because she hopes it will give her an escape from media coverage and the pressure of her struggling career. Their relationship is as icy as the Alaskan waters. But together aboard the ship, they will finally come to terms with the baggage of their past so that they can face the future.

The Book Girls Say…

This book had much more depth and emotion than we expected going in. While there is an element of romance in the book, this is really the story of a father and daughter dealing with grief and being forced to confront the challenges that drove them apart.

We assume that when we get a chance to visit Alaska, it will be via a cruise much like the characters in this book. While we always love learning about life from the point of view of locals, in this case, we thought it would be an interesting option to learn about the way so many visitors experience Alaska each year.

The Smell of Other People's Houses Book Cover

Book Summary

This book alternates narration between four teens in 1970s Alaska. The author manages to develop each of the characters in a deep way, while keeping the overall book on the shorter side.

From abusive families to teen pregnancy, Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank have individual choices to make as they learn that sometimes family isn’t what you are born into, but what you choose.

The Book Girls Say…

We received an email from a reader endorsing this book that said, “Just finished what I consider to be one of the best books I have ever read.  It’s a MUST for the [Alaska] list! It’s a quick read. You won’t be sorry. It’s an absolutely beautiful story with rich language and vivid imagery!”

Simple WIld Book Cover

Book Summary

When 26-year-old city girl Calla learns that her estranged father is dying, she heads back to the remote frontier town her mother left behind when Calla was only two. Despite her father’s clear faults, she cares for him enough to endure the wildlife, odd daylight hours, and even the outhouse.

Adjusting to life in the small village is a struggle, but the worst part might be Jonah, the brooding pilot keeping her father’s charter company going. He’s convinced that pampered Calla will never make it in Alaska and is ready to fly her right back to Toronto. While Jonah could be right, Calla is still ready to prove him wrong.

The Book Girls Say…

This highly-rated book is the first in the Simple Wild series and was a Goodreads Nominee for Best Romance in 2018. The plot of the third book in the series, Running Wild, includes the Iditarod Sled Dog Race for even more Alaska vibes.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/19/2023
The Great Alone Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

When Ernt returns home from Vietnam after being held as a POW, he is not the same person he was before he left. When he impulsively decides to move his family to Alaska to live off the grid, his wife and 13-year-old daughter Leni are hopeful that it will be the fresh start the family needs for a better future.

But when the harsh reality of an Alaskan winter without proper preparation begins to set in, Leni and her mother realize there is no one to save them but themselves.

The Book Girls Say…

We both loved this book despite it being a bit of a tear-jerker. It’s devasting to read one account of how a soldier’s return from Vietnam affected those around him. We know this fiction is very much based on reality for too many families. In addition to the interpersonal dynamics within the family, the book provides a great look into the physical and mental toughness required to survive in rural Alaska. 

Heads Up: This book includes descriptions of domestic abuse.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

In The Snow Child, you’ll be transported to remote 1920s Alaska. Jack and Mabel are nearing 50 when they decide to move to Alaska. As newcomers to the harsh environment, it is a struggle for them. Between the intense physical labor required and the even more extreme loneliness, they’re not sure they’ve made the right decision with the move.

Then, during the first snowfall of the year, they decide to have some fun and build a child out of snow. In the morning, the snow child is gone, but they see a young girl running through the trees with the items they had used to dress the snow child. Is she real, or are they hallucinating and dreaming of the child they’ve always wanted?

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa thought the fairytale-like qualities of this book were phenomenal in both the writing and the storytelling. The book also fully transports you to the isolation of an Alaskan homestead, making the harshness of the environment and the preparation required to survive very clear.

History of Idaho

The region now known as Idaho was originally inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Nez Perce, Shoshone, and Coeur d’Alene. The 1805 expedition of Lewis and Clark traversed the state, opening the doors for fur traders and trappers. The Oregon Trail, used by pioneers migrating west in the 19th century, passed through southern Idaho, marking a period of significant migration and settlement.

The discovery of gold and silver in the 1860s brought a rush of prospectors to the region, leading to the establishment of many mining communities. Idaho’s vast agricultural potential was also recognized, with irrigation playing a pivotal role in its development, beginning with wheat, oats, and barley. Settlers then began planting orchards of apples, cherries, and other fruits. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, potatoes became the state’s main crop. 

Idaho became the 43rd state of the Union on July 3, 1890. Throughout the 20th century, the state experienced growth in both agricultural and technological industries. Today, Idaho remains the leading potato-producing state in the US. The state’s volcanic soil, combined with its climate—warm days and cool nights—and irrigation systems, provides an ideal environment for cultivating high-quality potatoes.

Idaho is also called the “Gem State” due to its rich deposits of precious and semi-precious gemstones. From the rugged Rocky Mountains to the serene lakes and plains, this state is renowned for its scenic beauty and varied recreational activities. Locations like Sun Valley and Coeur d’Alene are especially popular, making tourism an important part of Idaho’s economy. Sun Valley, in central Idaho, was established in the 1930s and quickly gained fame as a winter playground for the rich and famous. Coeur d’Alene, located in northern Idaho, is a picturesque lake-side city with a vibrant arts and restaurant scene.  

While Idaho’s population is relatively small compared to most other states, it was one of the fastest-growing states in terms of percentage of population during the period leading up to 2020. Boise, the capital and largest city of Idaho, melds urban sophistication with outdoor appeal. Nestled along the Boise River and set against the backdrop of the Boise Foothills, it offers abundant recreational opportunities from river activities to mountain hiking. The vibrant downtown showcases features historic architecture and tree-lined streets, earning Boise its nickname, the “City of Trees.” 

Books Set in Idaho

Lonely Hearts Book Club Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

92% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Sloane is a small-town librarian in Idaho who enjoys her daily visits from the town curmudgeon, Arthur. She loves verbal sparing with him so much that she instantly notices when he doesn’t show up one morning. When another day passes without a visit, her worry intensifies.

When Sloane tracks Arthur down at home and finds him almost bedridden, she needs a way to cheer him up. An impromptu book club with other lonely library patrons soon begins and unlikely friendships form through their shared love of books.

Educated Book Cover

Book Summary

In this memoir, Tara Westover shares the story of her upbringing in rural Idaho. Born to survivalist parents, she grew up stewing herbs for her midwife healer mother and worked in her father’s junkyard. Her father forbade doctors and hospitals, even when she and her brothers suffered serious injuries.

She was also kept from any formal education. Although she didn’t step foot in a classroom for the first time until the age of 17, Tara worked hard to educate herself in mathematics and grammar. She was ultimately able to gain admission to BYU, where she studied history and learned about major world events, like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement, for the first time. From there, she went on to opportunities at Harvard and Cambridge.

This coming-of-age memoir details how she struggled to lift herself up and dealt with the struggle between family loyalty and the grief that comes with severing those ties in search of something more.

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25 Books Like Where the Crawdads Sing

No Hiding in Boise Book Cover

Book Summary

This contemporary drama is blended with a mystery as we experience a mass shooting narrated by those impacted in different ways.

Tessa, the 23-year-old bartender who hid in a storage closet doesn’t understand why she survived when others did not. Angie is awakened by a call that her husband is critically injured, but she’s confused as she thought he was sleeping next to her. Joyce gets a knock at the door that her son is dead after a bar shooting, except he wasn’t a victim in the same way she expected. He was the shooter.

These three women are now tied together in an unexpected way as they are thrust into a new reality. This powerful book is a hard read, but doesn’t focus on the shooting itself. Instead, it delves into the aftermath.

The Book Girls Say…

Readers say that the audiobook narration of this title is excellent and using at least eleven narrators.

The Rise of Light Book Cover

Book Summary

Gad channels the disappointment of his personal failures into his extreme control of others, especially his children. Aspiring artist Aran and sister Tasmin have united and are ready to challenge their father to improve their own future and for the sake of their two younger brothers.

Linda is a newcomer to Rexburg from Seattle, and hopes to heal from her own hard childhood. When she falls for Aran, she learns that his family is even more toxic than her own. Linda’s introduction to the family upsets the precarious balance that existed and triggers new upheaval. Can they all break free from the past and find a way forward?

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/19/2023
Maggie Moves on Book Cover

Book Summary

Opposites attract in this fun Idaho renovation romance! Maggie is a house flipper and YouTube star who needs to restore a crumbling Victorian mansion in four months or less. She arrives in the small town of Kinship, Idaho, with her to-do lists, her blueprints, and her team.

Her local landscaper, Silas, is laid back but also an outrageously sexy flirt. While she doesn’t have time in her busy production schedule for a long-term romance, she could handle a short-term fling. However, steamy nights with Silas begin to break down her long-standing emotional walls. When the end of her renovation looms, she has some big decisions to make.

The Book Girls Say…

Lucy Score is known for steamy romances, so skip this one if you prefer fade-to-black/closed-door love scenes.

What Beauty there is book cover

Book Summary

Jack’s father went to prison, and his younger brother, Matty, is headed to foster care unless Jack can come up with the money needed to save him. And the only way he can do that quickly is by finding the drug money that sent his father to prison.

Ava has lived in isolation and under her father’s directive to trust no one her entire life. Now, he is chasing the same money as Jack. When he discovers that Jack is also hunting for the cash, will Ava remain silently loyal to her dad or help the brothers survive?

History of Montana

Montana has a history that dates back to the indigenous tribes that called this land home long before European exploration. The Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and other tribes thrived off the land’s bountiful resources, shaping its early cultural tapestry. The 19th century brought Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition (1804-1806), mapping the vast uncharted territory. 

Montana subsequently became a hub during the mid-century gold rush, drawing prospectors and settlers alike and earning it the nickname the “Treasure State,” due to its rich mineral reserves. With this influx, tension between settlers and indigenous tribes escalated, leading to tragic events like the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. As miners continued to dig deeper, they discovered vast copper deposits. Butte became known as the “Richest Hill on Earth” due to its abundant copper deposit, and copper magnates, such as the infamous Copper Kings, held immense power and wealth. 

Statehood was achieved in 1889, and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad played an essential role in connecting Montana to other parts of the U.S., facilitating trade and migration. The homestead acts brought settlers looking to farm the land, and by 1910, Montana saw a dramatic rise in population. With these demographic shifts came political struggles. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company had a massive influence over state politics, controlling newspapers and, indirectly, policies. This domination led to grassroots movements advocating for campaign reforms and challenging corporate dominance.

Montana is often referred to as “Big Sky Country” due to its expansive landscapes and clear blue skies. This state boasts some of the nation’s most breathtaking natural sites, including Glacier National Park, known as the “Crown of the Continent,” and a portion of Yellowstone National Park. Its vast wilderness areas, pristine lakes, and towering mountain ranges are a haven for wildlife and draw outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. 

Montana is the 4th largest state in the US but has a relatively small population at just over 1 million residents as of the most recent census. The largest city, Billings, serves as a major economic and cultural hub. However, two of the fastest-growing cities are Bozeman and Missoula, where new residents are attracted by the strong economy, natural beauty, and good quality of life. This is especially true in recent years as increasing remote work opportunities allow individuals to live in scenic areas while maintaining urban employment.

Books Set in Montana

Bartender's Tale Book Cover

Book Summary

Tom and his 12-year-old son Rusty are a bit of an odd-couple family. Tom owns The Medicine Lodge, an isolated Northern Montana bar. Rusty wasn’t a planned child, and then his mother deserted them both. In 1960, Proxy, a dancer from Tom’s past, and Proxy’s daughter, Francine arrive in town. Proxy claims that Francine is also Tom’s child.

The arrival of these unexpected guests upends everything Rusty thought he knew about his life. This novel is told through Rusty’s perspective using Doig’s skills in storytelling, humor, and character development.

The Book Girls Say…

While this is listed as part of the Two Medicine County series, you won’t be lost if you read only The Bartender’s Tale.

A River Runs Through It Book Cover

Book Summary

Author Norman Maclean was an English professor who began writing fiction at age 70. His novella, A River Runs Through It was first published in 1976. It is now considered a 20th-century classic about life, told through fly-fishing and vivid descriptions of scenic Montana.

The Book Girls Say…

Robert Redford adapted A River Runs Through It into a beautiful movie starring young Brad Pitt, so this would be a fun pick to read + watch. 

Book Summary

When Cameron Post suddenly loses her parents to a tragic car accident, alongside her shock and grief, she also feels a sense of relief that they’ll never know she had – just hours before – been kissing a girl.

Orphaned, Cameron is forced to move in with her conservative aunt and old-fashioned grandma in rural Montana. Then, Cameron meets Coley Taylor – a beautiful cowgirl with a perfect boyfriend. The girls form a close friendship that seems to leave the door open for something more to develop in their relationship.

When Cameron’s ultra-religious Aunt Ruth tries to “fix” her niece through conversion therapy, Cameron must come to terms with her true self.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books with Teenage Characters
Books Set in the 1990s

Lone Women Book Cover

Book Summary

This horror novel uses aspects of historical fiction, fantasy, mystery, and adventure to create a unique tale set in 1915 Montana.

Adelaide has come to Montana as one of the “lone women” to take advantage of the government’s offer of free land for those who can tame it. She carries an enormous steamer trunk with her, but it’s not her essential belongings as you would expect. The trunk remains locked all the time because whenever it is opened, people begin to disappear.

Hattie Big Sky Book Cover

Book Summary

In this 2007 Newberry Medal Nominee, a 16-year-old orphan named Hattie has received the surprising news that she has inherited her uncle’s homesteading claim in Montana. She bravely travels from Iowa in 1917 to start a new life for herself on his land.

World War I is raging in Europe, and anti-German sentiment has reached Montana, creating complications for Hattie’s friend, Perilee Mueller. On top of the war, Hattie faces bug-infested summers and bitter winters, but her will to thrive finds a way to endure each challenge that comes her way.

The Book Girls Say…

The book is based on Kirby Larson’s great-grandmother, who received a  homestead from her Uncle in his will. There is a follow-up book about Hattie called Hattie Ever After, which continues Hattie’s story as she idolizes Nelly Bly and works to become a female reporter. 

Come Sundown Book Cover

Book Summary

Bodine is the manager of her family’s Montana ranch resort. She’s way too busy for love, even when her childhood crush, Callen, returns to work at the ranch. However, when a young woman’s body is discovered on their land, the deputy sheriff is fueled by an old grunge and treats Callen as a suspect.

Twenty-five years ago, Bodine’s Aunt Alice disappeared, so the murder of this young woman hits close to home for the Longbow family. Bodine and Callen must work together to discover the truth of the current murder and maybe they can learn more about Alice along the way.

The Book Girls Say…

This story alternates between the present-day with Bodine and Callen and Alice’s story from twenty-five years earlier until the events collide.

For additional romance picks set in Montana, consider Montana Sky by Nora Roberts, Montana by Debbie Macomber, and Montana Actually by Fiona Lowe.

History of the Dakota Territory

The Dakota region was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. European explorers arrived in the 18th century and the Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1804-1805 near present-day Washburn at Fort Mandan. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the Dakota Territory was established in 1861, encompassing present-day North and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Railroad expansion in the late 19th century, alongside the discovery of fertile land, lured settlers, leading to an agricultural boom. Statehood was granted in 1889, when North and South Dakota became separate entities.

Book Set in the Dakota Territory

Book Cover for The Children's Blizzard showing two young children peering through a snowy window

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Based on an actual event and oral history from the survivors, The Children’s Blizzard takes us to the 1888 Great Plains. Just before school was let out for the day, an unexpected and extreme blizzard overtook the Dakota Territory. That morning, it had been warm enough that most went to school without their coats.

Schoolteachers, often as young as 16, had the children’s lives in their hands and were forced to make life-altering decisions. Two of the teachers, sisters Raina and Gerda, came out of the storm with very different outcomes. One was a hero, and one was ostracized. The book tells their stories, along with the story of a young servant girl and her miraculous survival.

The Book Girls Say…

We had nearly 100 of our readers select this book for our Decades Reading Challenge earlier this year. Common themes among the reviews were how well-researched and descriptive this novel is and that it is heartbreaking yet hopeful.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1880s and 1890s

History of North Dakota

Throughout the 20th century, the economy of North Dakota was dominated by agriculture and natural resources, with a heavy shift toward energy production in the late 1900s and early 2000s. The state is a major producer of crops like wheat, barley, soybeans, sunflowers, and flaxseed. North Dakota saw a coal boom in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the Bakken oil boom in the late 2000s truly transformed its economy, making North Dakota the second-largest oil-producing state in the U.S.

Although North Dakota has historically been a relatively conservative state on the political spectrum, in the early 20th century, the state became a hotbed for the Nonpartisan League (NPL). This populist movement aimed to assist farmers against the big corporations. The NPL influenced the state’s politics and led to the establishment of state-owned enterprises, like the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator. Unique to North Dakota, these state-owned enterprises are still operational today and contribute to its economic landscape.

In terms of landscape, North Dakota is divided into three primary regions. The Red River Valley in the east is a flat, fertile plain that’s a hub for agriculture. Moving westward, the Drift Prairie is home to the rolling Turtle Mountains, lakes, and pastures. The Missouri Plateau, also known as the Great Plains region, dominates the western half of the state, featuring rugged badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as buttes and deep river valleys. 

Fargo, the largest city in the state, is home to North Dakota State University and a thriving arts scene, including its annual film festival and historical museums. The capital city of Bismarck features a towering Art Deco capitol building and is the state’s center of health care and commerce. Grand Forks, home to the University of North Dakota, is recognized for its vibrant student population and its aerospace and drone industries. Grand Forks is also recognized for its resilience, having rebuilt impressively after a devastating flood in 1997.

Books Set in North Dakota

O Beautiful Book Cover

Book Summary

Elinor Hanson grew up in North Dakota as the daughter of an overbearing father and a distant Korean mother. She left decades ago to pursue a modeling career and has hardly looked back since. Now in her 40s, Elinor is trying to reinvent herself as a freelance writer. When her grad school mentor offers her a chance to write a piece for a prestigious magazine about North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom. Because she was raised on the nearby Air Force base, it’s assumed that she’ll be treated as an insider and will be able to leverage her connections to get a better story.

Instead, Elinor returns home to find a place she barely recognizes. The area has seen an influx of tens of thousands of roughnecks seeking to cash in on the oil boom. Not surprisingly, the locals are concerned about the changes to their once-small community.

As Elinor pursues the writing assignment, the story begins to intertwine with her own. She struggles to feel at home in the place where her family fell apart and where so many people still treat her like a foreigner based on her Korean heritage

The Book Girls Say…

Author Jung Yun was born in South Korea and raised in North Dakota. This provides her with a unique perspective from which to write a novel that not only addresses the competing interests related to the oil boom but also the ways in which racism divides the population.

The Round House Book Cover

Book Summary

The Round House is the story of Joe, a 13-year-old boy on the cusp of manhood, who seeks justice for his mother after she is beaten and raped. The question is, who did it and why?

Set on the Ojibwe Reservation in North Dakota, this novel includes Native lore and legends. It also illustrates the ways in which tribal law sometimes clashes with state and federal jurisdictions.

The Book Girls Say…

The Round House is just one of several novels that author Louise Erdrich has set in North Dakota and the surrounding states. Erdrich was born in Minnesota to a German-American father and mother who is half Ojibwe. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation and is widely acclaimed as one of the most influential modern Native American writers. Reviewers say that The Round House is her most accessible novel to date.

Peace Like a River Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

91% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

The narrator of this novel is 11-year-old Reuben Land. His older brother, Davy, is accused of murdering two people who had been terrorizing the family. Suspecting that justice will not weigh in his favor, Davy flees. But Reuben, together with his father and his little sister, chases Davy across the North Dakota Badlands, determined to catch up with him. Meanwhile, a federal agent is tailing the Land’s Airstream trailer

The Book Girls Say…

This novel, which is widely considered a modern classic, is heavy on religious themes with nods to various biblical stories. One particular emphasis is their father’s faith and the miracles that they witness along the way as they search for Davy. While the writing is said to be outstanding, the story can also feel bleak at times.

The New Wild West Book Cover

Book Summary

For generations, Williston, North Dakota was a sleepy farm town. But all that changed when oil companies moved in, setting off a boom unlike anything since the Gold Rush. Workers arrived from all over the country following the promise of high-paying jobs that required no prior experience.

In some ways, it was the definition of the American dream, but with the population influx also had a darker side. Reports of violence and sexual assault skyrocketed, and schools became overcrowded. Real estate prices soared so high that many workers were forced to live in tent cities or in their cars.

Through this book, we see the big picture challenges as well as portraits of the real people behind affected on all sides, from the farmers who have worked the land for generations to those who arrived in search of work.

The Book Girls Say…

Author Blaire Briody is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, and Glamour, among others. The style of this non-fiction is described as similar to the writing of Jon Krakauer, with a mix of first-person adventure and cultural analysis.

Let Him Go Book Cover

Book Summary

Years ago, George and Margaret Blackledge lost their son James when he was thrown from a horse. Now it’s September of 1951 and James’s widow Lorna has remarried. Margaret doesn’t trust the new husband, Donnie Weboy, and is concerned for the safety of their grandson, Jimmy.

Jimmy is their last remaining connection to James, but George, a retired sheriff, doesn’t want to stir up trouble with Donnie. Unable to allay Lorna’s fears, George gives in and the two take to the road in pursuit of Jimmy. They travel through the North Dakota badlands and on to Bentrock, Montana.

When Margaret tries to convince Lorna to return to North Dakota with Jimmy, she and George find themselves entangled with the fearsome Weboy clan who aren’t going to give Jimmy up without a fight.

The Book Girls Say…

Author Larry Watson was born and raised in North Dakota. He writes modern Westerns with simple prose and limited punctuation, similar to the style of Kent Haruf (author of Plainsong).

This novel was adapted into a film of the same name starring Kevin Costner.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/19/2023

History of South Dakota

Historically, mining and agriculture dominated the economy of South Dakota. And while both remain important, other industries have had major impacts on this state. In the 1980s, South Dakota liberalized its banking laws, attracting numerous financial institutions to the state. This deregulation led to the growth of credit card operations in cities like Sioux Falls, making finance a significant industry. In recent decades, South Dakota has worked to diversify its economy, focusing on sectors like biotechnology, renewable energy, and telecommunications.

South Dakota’s landscape varies from rolling prairies to rugged badlands and scenic mountains. The eastern portion of the state has fertile farmland, but as you travel west, the topography becomes more dramatic with the unique formations of the Badlands, a maze of canyons, pinnacles, and spires sculpted by millions of years of erosion. Even further west lie the Black Hills, a small, isolated mountain range. South Dakota’s rich cultural and natural attractions, from Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial to Badlands National Park and the historic town of Deadwood, have made tourism an important part of the state’s economy. The annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally also draws a significant number of visitors.

South Dakota’s major cities each have their own distinct character and charm. The largest city, Sioux Falls, is a modern hub of healthcare, finance, and commerce. Its bustling downtown is set against the cascading waters of Falls Park, blending urban life with natural beauty. The capital city of Pierre is nestled along the Missouri River. And Rapid City is strategically located at the gateway to the Black Hills. Its proximity to national treasures like Mount Rushmore and the Badlands places Rapid City at the center of the state’s tourism industry.

Over the years, South Dakota has maintained a slightly higher population than its neighbor to the north. However, both Dakotas grapple with challenges like rural depopulation and economic dependency on commodities, which can lead to boom-bust cycles.

Books Set in South Dakota

Personal History of Rachel DuPree Book Cover

Book Summary

Rachel works in a Chicago boardinghouse, where she falls in love with the owner’s son, Isaac. Isaac agrees to marry Rachel, but only if she signs over her 160 acres from the Homestead Act so he has control of all 320 acres. She agrees and they claim the property in the South Dakota Badlands.

In 1917, they’ve now been on the land for 14 years and life has become increasingly difficult. It hasn’t rained in months, making both the cattle and the land thirsty. Supplies have dwindled and Rachel is pregnant again. Her husband, a fiercely proud former Buffalo Soldier, will never leave the land that puts him on equal footing with the white landowners. But, Rachels knows she must do what is right for her children and herself.

The Book Girls Say…

We were excited to find this historical fiction novel that shares the little-known story of Black homesteaders. The book is said to blend the spirit of The Color Purple with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Willa Cather.

Work of Wolves Book Cover

Book Summary

Carson bought his first horse from Magnus Yarborough, the town’s wealthy landowner, when he was only 14. Years later, Carson is now a respected horse trainer. He reluctantly agrees to train Magnus’ horses and to teach his wife to ride. However, his irritation at power-hungry Magnus increases alongside an increasing attraction to Magnus’ wife.

This attraction sets off an unsettling chain of events that also impacts Earl Walks Alone, an Indian trying to study his way out of the reservation and into college, and Willi, a German exchange student confronting his family’s troubled history.

The Book Girls Say…

Reviewers say the border town in Western South Dakota feels like a character itself in this Western about men from different backgrounds becoming unlikely friends as they unite to fight a wealthy landowner.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/19/2023
Never Give Up Book Cover

Book Summary

Journalist Tom Brokaw’s father, Red, left school after only 2nd grade in order to work at the family hotel – Brokaw House, which was established in 1883. As he got older, Red developed a talent for machinery. He met Tom’s mother, Jean, after she was the lead in a high school play.

Jean’s father was a father who lost everything in the Great Depression, and Red and Jean also had financial struggles as they raised their three young sons. However, Red’s mantra was “Never Give Up’ and his good attitude was soon rewarded with a job for the Army Corps of Engineers building great dams across the Missouri River.

Late in life, Red recorded his memories of his early life, and those reflections helped inspire Tom to write this book

The Book Girls Say…

While this non-fiction focuses on the Brokaw father’s history, you can also pick up A Long Way from Home, which is Brokaw’s memoir of growing up in Pickstown, SD.

Hour Glass Book Cover

Book Summary

Calamity Jane was one of the most infamous American frontierswoman. In this historical fiction, we see her story through the eyes of 12-year-old Jimmy Glass. When Jimmy’s Pa becomes ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, must travel into lawless Deadwood to get help.

A surprising group of Deadwood inhabitants, including Calamity Jane, surround Jimmy & Hour. The kids find a new “family” that protects them from the uncertainty and chaos that define the region.

Quiet Retreat Book Cover

Book Summary

Five mystery authors have been invited to a writing retreat at the isolated Black Hills Manor. While they’re promised a relaxing visit filled with amazing scenery,  free food, drinks, and like-minded company, everything takes a turn shortly after their arrival.

Soon, each writer suspects the others as odd occurrences from strange noises to missing items begin happening. As tensions rise, the authors find themselves in a reality that is more mysterious than the plots of their novels. 

The Book Girls Say…

This twisty, fast-paced thriller has two timelines from different perspectives and is a good pick if you’re looking for a fast read. 

Kindle Unlimited as of: 09/19/2023

We hope you enjoyed this book list and found several books to add to your TBR (to be read list). If you’re choosing a book for our reading challenge, you are also welcome to read any other book that meets the challenge prompt.

If you have a suggestion for a book that you think would be a great addition to this list, please fill out this form.

You can read all about the Read Around the USA Challenge and sign up for a free printable challenge book tracker here.


Comments on: Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota

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  1. Thanks for finding some Idaho books that I haven’t seen before. For anyone else looking for Idaho books, I highly recommend “Educated.”

  2. Jerri Patton says:

    Of the six that I’ve read, my favorites are ‘Educated’ and ‘The Great Alone’.