Whether you’re participating in our Read Around the USA Challenge, or just curious to learn about the US island territories, you’ve come to the right place. Our list of highly-rated books will allow you to explore the rich history and unique cultures of these often-overlooked places.
Overview of the U.S. Territories
The American territories are lands that are either under the direct jurisdiction of the United States or administered by the U.S. government. There are currently a total of 14 U.S. territories. For purposes of our book list, we have focused on the five permanently inhabited island territories. The inhabited US territories in the Caribbean are Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are the inhabited US territories in the Pacific.
Reading about these lands and the unique stories, cultures, and people that make them home can be inspiring and educational. This post will explore the books set in U.S. Territories and how, through literature, we can gain insight into these beautiful, far-reaching places.
Note that our map is not intended to be geographically accurate. We grouped the inhabited island territories together on our printable map simply for the purposes of reading challenge tracking.
Discover the Untold Stories of the US Territories Through Books
Are you ready to explore the hidden gems beyond the mainland of the United States? The island territories often get overlooked despite their rich history and unique culture. Books set in the territories offer a window into the beauty, complexity, and diversity of these lands. From exploring the history of the islands to examining the struggles of their inhabitants, the books featured on our list below bring together stories that represent a multi-faceted view of the culture and life in these island territories.
Whether you’re a fan of literary fiction, memoirs, or crime thrillers, these books are sure the captivate and educate. You may have to step outside of your reading comfort zone, but the titles we’ve curated will help you discover the rich history and cultural traditions of these islands. From Puerto Rico’s complex politics to the little-known stories of the Northern Mariana Islands, the territories are full of untold stories just waiting to be discovered. Without further ado, let’s dive into some must-read books that will take you on a journey to explore the US island territories.
Must-Read Books Set in the US Island Territories
On the list below, we’ve grouped the books by island territory and also indicated the time setting of each. We’ve also included a brief overview of the inhabited territories to provide some context for the history and literary themes.
Puerto Rican Books
One of the most fascinating stories among the US territories is that of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico's land mass is larger than that of either Rhode Island or Delaware. With a population of 3.4 million, more people live in this island territory than in 21 of the US states.
Puerto Rico has a complex political history. Understanding it requires delving into a variety of issues, including colonialism, economic dependence, and cultural identity. Luckily, we've found a variety of highly-rated books set in Puerto Rico, including books by Puerto Rican authors.
Puerto Rico was acquired by the United States from Spain in 1898 in the aftermath of the Spanish American War. In 1917 Puerto Ricans became US citizens, and in 1950, President Truman signed the Puerto Rico Commonwealth Bill. As a Commonwealth, the island was able to establish its own constitution, and it has limited autonomy over local matters. However, for much of its recent history, the U.S. has dominated it militarily, politically, and economically.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but they do not have voting representatives in Congress. They do, however, elect a non-voting resident commissioner to Congress who serves on standing committees. While they can participate in primaries, they do not have electoral votes for president.
The island's status is often debated, both within and beyond its shores. Numerous statehood referendums have been held in Puerto Rico over the past half a century, most recently in 2020. But ultimately, the power to grant statehood rests with the US Congress.
Books Set in the US Virgin Islands
This Virgin Islands chain is made up of about 90 small islands. Four larger islands make up the British Virgin Islands, and three larger islands are territories of the United States. The US Virgin Islands (USVI) include St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas.
When you think of the USVI, you likely picture a luxurious, family-friendly beach vacation. But there's so much more to learn about the approximately 100,000 people who call these islands home.
The United States purchased these islands from Denmark in 1917 for a total of $25 million. The US made the aquisition to establish a naval safety net for the Panama Canal.
Individuals born in the USVI are considered citizens of the United States. While they can't vote in federal elections, they do elect a nonvoting delegate to the US House of Representatives.
Explore the islands' vibrant culture, history, and natural beauty through books on our list.
Books About American Samoa
The Samoan islands are located in the South Pacific, about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Around the turn of the century, this island chain was split in two. In 1904, the eastern islands became territories of the United States, now known as American Samoa. The western islands, which are referred to just as Samoa, passed from German control to New Zealand in 1914.
Despite government differences, the two parts of Samoa retain very similar cultures, and both are equally stunning in their beauty. The non-American islands are much larger and are where you'll find most of the resorts, dining, and shopping options. The islands of American Samoa are smaller and less developed.
According to the 2020 census, American Samoa has a population of around 50,000 people (a decrease of 10.5% from 2010). Individuals born in American Samoa are United States nationals, rather than citizens. However, as nationals, they have the option to apply for citizenship if they choose. American Samoan residents can't vote in federal elections, but they do elect a nonvoting delegate to the US House of Representatives.
Books About Guam & the Northern Mariana Islands
Located in the western Pacific, the Mariana Archipelago includes 15 islands. The 14 northern islands are known today collectively as the Northern Mariana Islands, the largest of which are Saipan, Guguan, Rota, and Tinian. The southernmost island in the Mariana Archipelago is Guam.
At one time, all these islands were under Spanish colonial rule, but in 1898 Spain ceded Guam to the US.
In 1914, Japan took possession of the Northern Marianas. Three decades later, these islands were the sites of significant WWII battles between the US and the Japanese. In August of 1945, Japan surrendered, and the US military took control of the islands. And in 1975, the Northern Marianas became a US territory.
The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth of the United States, and Guam is an incorporated territory. People born in both the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam are US citizens. According to the 2020 Census, about 150,000 people live in Guam, and fewer than 50,000 people reside in CNMI.
Although Guam came under the control of the US half a century before CNMI, they share the indigenous Chamorro culture. The cultures of both have also been strongly influenced by American customs over the years. Nonetheless, their political separation has had different impacts on the islands and their cutlures. Further, Guam and CNMI's economies are heavily tied to tourism, placing the two in direct competition with one another.
You are welcome to choose any book you’d like to read for the challenge, but we hope this booklist provides a good starting point. If you have other book recommendations or have personal connections or experiences to share, we invite you to leave a comment below, or join the discussion over on Facebook.
Members of our email list and Facebook group, Read with the Book Girls, can log/rate their monthly challenge reads. The logs provide the data we use for the “BGG Reader Ratings” seen below some of our book descriptions. We also use this reader data to set up monthly discussion groups. 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
Book Recommendations for Other Regions of the USA
We’re publishing a book list for a new group of states each month throughout 2023. You’ll find a schedule of upcoming regions in this post.
- Books Set in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
- Books About Traveling Across America
- Books Set in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
- Books Set in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas
- Books Set in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware
- Books Set in Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska
- Books Set in the U.S. Territories
- Books Set in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee
- Books Set in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
- Books Set in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont