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Books Set in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee

Whether you’re participating in our 2023 Read Around the USA Challenge, or simply found your way to our website researching books set in the Southeastern states, you’ve come to the right place!

Below you’ll find a list of highly-rated books featuring some of the states in the southeast, including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee. There are many different definitions of the American Southeast, and future lists will also feature books set in the south. Books set in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi will be included on July’s list. Books set in Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will be included on November’s list. And books set in Kentucky will be on the May list.

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 South. The list is broken down by state, and you’ll also find a brief description of each state’s characteristics before the corresponding books.

Books Set in the Southeastern States

On the list below, we’ve grouped the books by state, and also indicated the time setting of each.

Books Set in Alabama

The culture of Alabama is deeply rooted in history and tradition. Despite often ranking high on the list of least visited states, Alabama has a beautiful landscape - from forested mountains and flat top plateaus to coastal plains and white sandy beaches along the Golf Coast - and lots of history to explore.

Alabama became a state in 1819, and by 1840 it was the country’s biggest cotton producer, earning it the nickname of the “Cotton State.” Like other states in the South, Alabama relied heavily on slave labor to work its cotton plantations, and by the time Alabama seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy in 1861, nearly 45% of the state’s population were slaves. Montgomery served as the first capital of the Confederate States of America for several months before the capital was relocated to Richmond, Virginia. 

Fifteen years after the Civil War, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), making it one of the oldest historically black colleges in the US. In the early 1940s, the Tuskegee Institute was at the forefront of helping prepare young African-American pilots to fight for freedom in the skies during WWII.

Alabama, and particularly the cities of Selma and Montgomery, are often regarded as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56 is regarded as the first large-scale US demonstration against segregation, and the voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 marked a major turning point in the movement. The Civil Rights Memorial Center and the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery are excellent places to visit to learn more about the movements for social justice and equality.

Located in the north of the state, Huntsville (a small cotton town before 1950) is now referred to as the “Space Capital of America” and boasts one of the highest populations of scientists and engineers in the country. After WWII, German rocket scientists were brought to the city as part of a secret intelligence program that would ultimately help the US win the Space Race. In 1961, when JFK envisioned an American on the moon by the decade's end, NASA turned to the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville to create the powerful rocket required to make that a reality.

Books Set in Florida

When many of us think of Florida, a few things immediately come to mind - Disney World, spring break, and hurricanes (not to mention politics). Its warm sunny weather and beautiful beaches make the Sunshine State a desirable vacation destination, and these perks, combined with the lack of state income and estate taxes, make it a very popular retirement destination as well. In fact, Florida has the highest percentage of senior citizens of any state (21% of the state’s population as of 2023).

Florida was under Spanish colonial rule from the 16th to the 19th centuries (and briefly British colonial rule in the 18th century) before becoming a US territory in 1821. When Florida became the 27th US state in 1845, nearly half of the state’s population were enslaved African Americans working on cotton and sugar plantations.

Key West, the southernmost point in the continental US, is just 90 miles from Cuba, and in the 1830s, many Cubans began migrating to Key West in search of freedom. Among them were skilled cigar makers who founded factories in the Keys, making Key West the cigar capital of the world by the late 1800s.

In the 1920s, a new wave of immigration changed Florida forever. As discussed in Bubble in the Sun (on the book list below), cities began to rise up from the Florida wetlands at a rapid pace to meet the demands of the Roaring Twenties. The decade saw the largest human migration in US history - far exceeding the settlement of the west - as millions flocked to this new American frontier in the sunshine, where gambling was condoned and prohibition was not enforced. Cities were developed with artistic (art deco) vision and featured grand hotels that played host to the glitz and excess of the decade, while also giving rise to a new subdivision civilization.

Books Set in Georgia

The last of the 13 original colonies, Georgia became the 4th state when it voted in favor of the US Constitution in 1788. Georgia played a pivotal role in the history of slavery in the US, in part due to the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, the use of which was first demonstrated at a plantation near Savannah. This invention led to cotton becoming a major cash crop, which further increased the reliance upon agricultural slave labor in the southern states. In 1861, Georgia was one of the original seven states to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America, triggering the Civil War. After the conclusion of the war, Georgia was the last of the confederate states to be re-admitted to the Union in July of 1870.

Nearly a century later, Georgia played an important role in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, and in 1957 he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in that city. The SLCL organized many influential marches and protests.

Today, Georgia is synonymous with southern hospitality, peaches (earning the nickname “the Peach State”), and sweet tea (which is so beloved it even has its own state holiday). From the Blue Ridge Mountain in the northwest corner of the state to the subtropical coastal climate in the east, Georgia is filled with beautiful scenery ranging from impressive caves and waterfalls to swamps and beaches.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean near the border with South Carolina, Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city and the first planned city in the US. Over a million visitors a year travel to Savannah to experience its 22 Spanish moss-draped town squares, its well-preserved architecture, and its southern charm. With a history stretching back almost three centuries, Savannah is regarded by many as the most haunted city in the US.

Books Set in South Carolina

South Carolina was one of the original 13 colonies, and its early economy was largely agricultural, including prosperous rice and indigo crops that flourished in the hot, subtropical climate. Plantation farmers relied heavily on slave labor, and in 1730, people of African descent accounted for two-thirds of the colony’s population. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slave labor made South Carolina the wealthiest of all the colonies.

During the Revolutionary War, South Carolina was grounds for more battles than any other colony - over 200 in total. Following the war, South Carolina became the 8th state to ratify the US Constitution in 1788. It was later the first to vote for secession from the Union in December of 1860, and in April of 1861 it was the site of the first shots of the Civil War, when Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter in Charleson Harbor.

When we think of South Carolina today, we are immediately transported to Charleston - a city that the Book Girls have been fortunate to visit together twice. Founded in 1670 and named in honor of King Charles II, Charleston today is a blend of old and new. You can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage down cobblestone, gas lamp-lit streets while taking in the colorful architecture of the centuries-old mansions shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees. Then you can visit the many galleries and restaurants that make up the city’s vibrant and modern arts and culinary scene.

South Carolina’s “Lowcountry” - located in the southeasternmost corner - is home to some of the most picturesque views in the state, as well as a rich and diverse cultural history. Stretching along the coast from south of Charleston to the Georgia border, the Lowcountry region includes salt mashes and coastal waterways that connect the many barrier islands, including Hilton Head. To the north of Charleston, the coastline near Myrtle Beach is one of the premier resort destinations on the East Coast, with over 100 golf courses.

Books Set in Tennessee

Tennessee earned its nickname - “The Volunteer State” - during the War of 1812 when many Tennesseans stepped up to help with the war efforts. In 1861, Tennessee was the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out; although “East Tennessee” - the eastern ⅓ of the state - remained a Unionist stronghold. Tennessee was also the first state readmitted to the Union after the war.

Bordered by Blue Ridge segments of the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi on the west, Tennessee is filled with beautiful scenery. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited National Park, with more than 14 million visitors in 2021 alone (three times as many visitors as either Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon).

Of course, you can’t think of Tennessee without thinking of its famous music scene - from the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville to the blues clubs of Beale Street in Memphis. Nashville alone accounts for more music industry jobs than any other US city. Among the legendary music artists that hail from Tennessee are Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, and BB King. More than 500,000 people visit Elvis’ Graceland in Memphis annually (making it the second most visited private residence in the US, second only to the White House). And each year nearly 3 million guests visit Dollywood, nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains (making it the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in Tennessee).

You are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope this list of books has given you a good starting point.

Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls, can log ratings for their monthly challenge reads. The logs provide us with data for the “BGG Reader Ratings” that are added to descriptions for future years. We’d love you to contribute your rating after you’ve finished your read this month. You can find the links to the logs in your Friday emails each week throughout the month of the challenge.

Join the Read Around the USA Challenge

Photo of the read around the USA reading challenge printable with text about how to join the challenge. Clicking the image takes you to our reading challenge page with all of the text instructions

Can you send me a printable list with the book titles but not descriptions?

This was a big request last year that we weren’t able to add to our plates in 2022. New for 2023, readers who support Book Girls Guide through our Buy Me a Coffee membership site will receive special monthly printable journal pages as a thank you bonus. The voluntary members (we call them our BFFs) help cover the cost of running the challenges so we can keep them free for everyone.

We’re so excited to be able to offer this fun perk this year!

The new pages will be pre-filled with every book title for each state, and include space for you to mark your interest level, make notes about whether you’ve requested the book from the library (or any other notes you’d like), and then fill in your rating. We’ll also include blank lines in case you have other books on your TBR (to be read) list that meet the prompt. We’d love you to sign up here!

That said, you’ll always find the most updated version of our recommendations with descriptions each month at no cost on our website. We do update the list and descriptions regularly based on reader feedback. But, we know some of you wanted to print the list to take to the library or bookstore, and we hope this helps.



Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

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