Five years ago today, I married my best friend. Anniversaries are really special to me, not just because it’s a celebration of our relationship, but also because it’s a reminder of the celebration we had and the people who were with us that day who both are and aren’t with us anymore. We had a great wedding and without doubt, I’d do it all over the same way I did before. I’d even marry the same guy.
I thought about sharing a list of books set in Las Vegas — where we got married — but that seemed too limited. Instead, I thought I’d take you on a little bit of a book road trip and share ya books set in some of the significant places where my husband and I spent time together. Consider it a little bit of a literary road trip through our relationship.
Note: I haven’t read all of these books, they’re almost all available now, and descriptions come from WorldCat.
My husband and I met in Iowa, at our small college about 20 minutes east of Cedar Rapids. Much of our entertainment there was derived from late-night trips to the city and roaming Wal-Mart. In fact, we cemented our relationship one night when we were trapped inside the store because of tornadoes outside. Where many people were ducking and covering, we wandered back to the furniture department and ended up sitting beside a comedian who kept us entertained for the hour or so we were stuck there. We spent three years together here, and despite being small-town Iowa, we both loved it, and I find that I have a soft-spot in my heart for the books set in this state.
Rotters by Daniel Kraus: Sixteen-year-old Joey’s life takes a very strange turn when his mother’s tragic death forces him to move from Chicago to rural Iowa with the father he has never known, and who is the town pariah.
The Princesses of Iowa by M Molly Backes: After being involved in a drunk driving accident in the spring, Paige Sheridan spends the summer in Paris as an au-pair and then returns to her suburban Iowa existence for her senior year of high school, where she begins to wonder if she wants more out life than being popular, having a handsome boyfriend and all the latest clothes, and being a member of the social elite.
Ashfall by Mike Mullin: After the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano destroys his city and its surroundings, fifteen-year-old Alex must journey from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Illinois to find his parents and sister, trying to survive in a transformed landscape and a new society in which all the old rules of living have vanished.
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd: The summer after graduating from an Iowa high school, eighteen-year-old Dade Hamilton watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate, ends his long-term, secret relationship, comes out of the closet, and savors first love.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill: Jack is practically invisible at home, but when his parents send him to Hazelwood, Iowa, to spend a summer with his odd aunt and uncle, he suddenly makes friends, is beaten up by the town bully, and is plotted against by the richest man in town. Even though this one is middle grade, rather than YA, I love how it gives Iowa a magical quality.
Road Trip Stop: Alliance, Nebraska
My husband and I are huge fans of road trips. We took our first one together not too long after we met. It took us through Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and Nebraska, and along the way we stopped at places like the Mitchell Corn Palace, The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and Wall Drug. Perhaps the most memorable stop is the one that is most surprising: Alliance, Nebraska. Sounds like your average small town in the Midwest. But Alliance is the major setting in one of my and my husband’s favorite novels, Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant. We stayed in a shady motel when we were there, and we were once again haunted by bad weather (tornadoes follow us). One of the scenes in the book involves a K-Mart in Alliance, so we went looking for it — and it doesn’t exist. So while we had a blast roaming the town one of our favorite reads was set in, there was very little in town that was in the book. The second setting in the book, Los Angeles, would be the first city my husband and I ever flew to together (and actually, the very first time I ever flew on a plane), later on in our college career. It’s a big literary circle.
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett: Just before dying, magician Parsifal of Los Angeles married his assistant, Sabine, who knew nothing of his private life, veiled in mystery. Not wanting to be an ignorant widow, Sabine sets out to learn who Parsifal was outside the world of illusion.
I didn’t want to fuss with a big wedding and the idea of stressing about something that is meant to be a big party really didn’t sit well with me. So when my mom suggested I get married in Vegas and not deal with the stresses of planning something traditional, I thought that was the perfect solution. I spent the summer before the wedding looking up venues and decided that Caesar’s Palace was perfect because I loved the outdoor setting and I was (and still am) a little in love with Roman culture and Latin. If you’re expecting some story about the fun of shopping for my wedding dress and trying on everything in front of fancy mirrors with an adoring crowd . . . you’re not going to get it. My dress shopping was stopping at one wedding store with my maid of honor, trying on a bridesmaids dress I liked from their catalog, and purchasing it (actually, I didn’t even try on the dress I bought — they didn’t have it, so I tried on “something similar” and bought the real deal based on that). All of my wedding invites were hand made and put together by my best friend and I.
The actual wedding itself was everything I imagined and I wouldn’t change a thing. The day of, I rolled out of bed, wandered the Strip with my friends, and won $350 at a Star Wars penny slot. With the winnings, I bought everyone yard-long margaritas. Then with two hours left to spare before the ceremony, I decided I needed to try out all of the pools at Caesars. So, I did. An hour before the wedding, my hair still pool-wet, I slide it into a clip and called it a day. The actual ceremony itself was short and the officiant was incredibly humorous (he called me by my nickname at one point, causing me to laugh uncontrollably). After the vows, we all went to a restaurant for a family-style meal where my aunt and uncle taught my friends the song “In Heaven There is No Beer” and I didn’t have a wedding cake.
I can’t say I’m too surprised there aren’t a lot of books for young adults set in Vegas, and the ones that are don’t give quite a rosy impression of the city.
Tricks by Ellen Hopkins: Five troubled teenagers fall into prostitution as they search for freedom, safety, community, family, and love.
What Happens Here by Tara Altebrando: When sixteen-year-old Chloe returns home to Las Vegas from a family vacation in Europe, she learns that her best friend Lindsey has been murdered.
Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse: When they were six years old, twins Beau and Paisley were famous for surviving on their own after their mother died of a drug overdose, and now, at sixteen, they escape from their abusive grandmother to look for their father, who is out of prison and, unbeknownst to them, has been writing them letters since he was put away.
I’ll spare many details, but after we got married, my husband moved to South Carolina for school and I moved to Austin, Texas for school (we had road trips from Vegas to Austin and then from Austin to Columbia, SC in the mean time). It wasn’t easy. That’s part of why he ended up leaving his school and moving to Austin. So officially, we spent our first married lives together in Austin. We lived in three different places in three very different parts of the city, and we spent the bulk of our free time (which wasn’t much with the time-sucks of school and work) meeting and spending time with new people. We also ate a lot of Mexican food. Not sure what it says about me that the bulk of what I remember about the years I was here was the food, but there it is.
I love how Austin is becoming a bigger setting in YA novels because I think it’s rich with stories.
Love, Inc by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout: When three fifteen-year-old Austin, Texas, girls who met in group therapy discover that they are all dating the same boy, they first get revenge and then start a wildly successful relationship consulting business.
Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker: Quinn plans to enjoy her summer in Austin, Texas, working for a record company, even though she has to live with her cousin Penny.
The Less-Dead by April Lurie: Sixteen-year-old Noah Nordstrom, whose father is the host of a popular evangelical Christian radio program, believes that the person who has been killing gay teenagers in the Austin, Texas, foster care system, is a regular caller on his dad’s show.
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith: When multiple murders in Austin, Texas, threaten the grand re-opening of her family’s vampire-themed restaurant, seventeen-year-old, orphaned Quincie worries that her best friend-turned-love interest, Keiren, a werewolf-in-training, may be the prime suspect.
We moved from Texas to northern Illinois, but soon after that move, we ended up buying a house in Wisconsin. People always ask how we ended up living here, and the answer was that it was the practical choice at the time: my husband was working 40 minutes in one direction then going to school 40 minutes in another direction, and I was working 40 minutes in the other direction. We don’t live in a city here, so I am even more appreciative of the novels set in small towns or rural areas of the state. In news that should not surprise anyone, I have read all of these. I consider it my duty to try to read as many of the books set in Wisconsin as possible (and I know there are more than these, too, but I don’t want to list every single one and really, it’s a little too close to home for me to think about Bick’s Ashes). For the most part, if you set your book in Wisconsin, it appears your cover should be blue.
The Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdoch: After spending her summer running the family farm and training the quarterback for her school’s rival football team, sixteen-year-old D.J. decides to go out for the sport herself, not anticipating the reactions of those around her.
Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick: An emotionally damaged sixteen-year-old girl begins a relationship with a deeply troubled older man.
Bluefish by Pat Schmatz: Everything changes for thirteen-year-old Travis, a new student who is trying to hide a learning disability, when he meets a remarkable teacher and a sassy classmate with her own secrets.
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach: Just before his sixteenth birthday, Felton Reinstein has a sudden growth spurt that turns him from a small, jumpy, picked-on boy with the nickname of “Squirrel Nut” to a powerful athlete, leading to new friends, his first love, and the courage to confront his family’s past and current problems.
With or Without You by Brian Farrey: When eighteen-year-old best friends Evan and Davis of Madison, Wisconsin, join a community center group called “chasers” to gain acceptance and knowledge of gay history, there may be fatal consequences.
Personal Effects by EM Kokie (September): Matt has been sleepwalking through life while seeking answers about his brother T.J.’s death in Iraq, but after discovering that he may not have known his brother as well as he thought he did, Matt is able to stand up to his father, honor T.J.’s memory, and take charge of his own life.
After we were married, we didn’t take a honeymoon. Since we traveled to Vegas for the wedding and then had to move immediately afterward, we not only were short on time, we had no money whatsoever. But four years later — last summer — when we were both in jobs which gave us real vacation time, we were able to finally do it. Being that we still had no money, we couldn’t do anything fancy, so we turned to what we hadn’t done in a few years and what we loved doing: taking a road trip. When my husband and I were first dating, we’d made plans to go to Toronto; he’d been there before and loved it, and my family was from a small town about an hour and a half southeast of the city. A number of things came up before we got to make that trip (we had to take a much condensed version and we were there during a huge tornado outbreak which I guess doesn’t happen a whole lot in Ontario — what does this say about us anyway?), and we’d always wanted to complete it. Enter the idea of finally completing that trip and our honeymoon was born.
While most people want to hit a tropical paradise, I can say that neither of us are much into that. We loved every second of driving to and from Toronto. I had the chance to see the teeny tiny place where my grandmother and aunt came from, even though their house was no longer there. My husband and I stayed in a beautiful hotel room right on the water in the city. In between watching a lot of Canadian television, we did a ton of wandering the city, hitting up museums, going up in the CN tower — where only I was brave enough to stand on the glass floor — and drinking in the hotel restaurant (where we became fast pals with one of the servers who eventually stopped charging us for drinks). And because I can’t do something that isn’t related to books or reading, our trip also included spending time with two of my favorite ya authors (since my husband is a super social person, he was more than along for the ride). I’m so glad we waited to take this trip because I think it meant a lot more to us than had we done it immediately after the wedding.
I’ve read two of these, and both of them were books I read post-trip. I loved “seeing” where they were happening.
Above by Leah Bobet: When insane exile Corner and his army of mindless, whispering shadows invade Safe, a secret, underground community of freaks and disabled outcasts, Matthew, traumatized shapeshifter Ariel, and other misfits go to the dangerous place known as Above, where Matthew makes a shocking discovery about the histories entrusted to him. This one’s about a futuristic Toronto.
Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones: Two teenagers who are living on the streets and barely getting by become involved in a complicated criminal plot, and make an unexpected connection with each other.
Yesterday by CK Kelly Martin (September): After the mysterious death of her father and a sudden move back to her native Canada in 1985, sixteen-year-old Freya feels distant and disoriented until she meets Garren and begins remembering their shared past, despite the efforts of some powerful people to keep them from learning the truth. (One of my favorite scenes in Yesterday starts at one of the museums we visited, and I could picture so much of the events that happened.)
After five years, I can still say I’m married to my best friend. I’m so lucky to have someone who supports what I do and supports my decisions, despite the fact he would probably roll his eyes so hard knowing I wrote a blog post about our relationship using YA books. If you’re curious, he’s celebrating our anniversary by being elbow-deep in a reread of the entire Harry Potter series.
It doesn’t even make me blink.