Sometimes you just have to get up and go. These ten authors certainly are familiar with that feeling. We’ve chosen novels about road trips–some expected, others not. From classics like The Grapes of Wrath and On the Road, to lesser knows like The Last Days of California and Let’s Get Lost, there’s something that will appeal to everyone’s taste. While all of these selects might not describe your typical road trip, all of them are excellent reads and have one common theme: journey.
This Young Adult novel follows four strangers and their only connection—a girl named Leila. The story is told from five points of view from the people Leila meets along the way: Hudson, Bree, Elliot, Sonia, and finally ending with Leila’s story. As she is on her way to Alaska to see the Northern Lights, Leila meets these people and helps them get through a difficult situation. A clever way to describe a road trip, Alsaid’s novel will inspire you to adventure onward!
Less of a vacation, and more of a fight for survival, during the Great Depression of the 1930s the Joads family sets out for California in hopes of starting a new life away from the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. After Tom Joad is released from prison for homicide, he breaks his parole and travels with his family on Route 66. One of the most riveting stories told about hardship, Steinbeck explores peoples’ true character when faced with a grave situation: “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.” This wonderful read that you most likely read in high school is definitely worth another look.
This book, published in 1957, depicts Kerouac and friends’ travels across America. What’s interesting about the way this novel was written, is that Kerouac typed it out on a continuous reel of paper—which can occasionally be seen at various museums. The narrative, taking place from 1947-1950 tells the story of Sal Paradise (inspired by Jack Kerouac, himself), and Dean Moriarty (inspired by Neal Cassady) traveling the United States together. From San Francisco to New York, and everywhere in between, the two friends party a lot as they deal with responsibility—or lack thereof—and experience adventure. Named one of Time’s 100 best English-language novels between 1923 and 2005, this definitely needs a place on your bookshelf.
Chuck Klosterman’s non-fiction novel depicts his 6,557 mile journey to the burial sites of rock stars. Klosterman wants to know why the greatest career move any rock star can make is to kill themselves. Along the way, Klosterman recounts the four women he has loved, and compares them to the members of KISS. Just as rocker’s careers can rise above all expectations after they’re dead, these four women transcend upon Klosterman in such a way that will make it impossible for other women to compare. While his road trip is a unique one, this book definitely confronts death in a way you probably haven’t explored.
While this is a stretch for road trips, we think this book needs to be included due to its epic journey of self-discovery—even if it’s on foot. Cheryl Strayed has lost everything. Starting with her mother’s death when she was 22, her father is disengaged, her brother and sister remain distant, and her heroin addiction led to her divorce all before 30. At 26 and with no prior backpacking experience, Cheryl sets out on a 1,100 mile journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. This popular novel is told in a dynamic way—accounting her emotional and physical struggles that will speak to every reader who has gone through an extreme rough patch.
This novel, though slightly daunting with over forty narrators, is definitely a great pick for travel. The first and third sections are narrated by 17-year old aspiring poet Juan García Madero, who drops out of school to involve himself with a gang of poets called the Visceral Realists. They are seeking the “mother of visceral realism”, Cesarea Tinajero—whom they are not sure exists. The long journey that takes a look at Latin American society is definitely perfect for those of us who always want to believe in something, regardless of how impossible it may seem.
Jess’ evangelistic father packs up his family, including Jess’ mother and sister, Elise, fearing the rapture and Second Coming. His goal? Head west and save as many people he can before that happens. While Jess tries to be concerned about the rapture, at fifteen, she has a few other things going on in her mind—including the age old question of whether or not she’ll ever fall in love. Mary Miller adds humor to quite a depressing road trip, exploring all of Jess’ teen angst which, let’s face it, probably isn’t helped by the fact she has to pass out flyers all day.
You’ve probably seen the movie starring a very young Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon, but it’s also a wonderful read—especially for anyone looking for a mother-daughter relationship novel. The book follows Ann and her mother, Adele, who leave Wisconsin in a stolen car and goes out west so Ann can be a child star. Her mother constantly feeds her broken promises and thinks everything can be fixed with ice cream. At age 12, Ann is wise beyond her years and has to learn to grow up without a stable parent. Mostly narrated by Ann, the book follows 20 years of their escapades and makes it a great read about journey and self-discovery.
Gabriel Gudding actually wrote this book while “on the road”. It details the break-up of a family, and records the rise of patriotism in American before and during the invasion of Iraq. While not about road trips, it contains poetry written by Gudding as he drove between Illinois and Rhode Island twenty-six times to see his family. While the poems record the road’s features, it is more so a book about loss, hardship, and eventual recovery. If you’ve ever felt lost or alone, Gudding’s emotional recount of his time on the road will definitely resonate with you.
The autobiographical novel follows the author as he starts over after getting divorced and losing his teaching job. He goes on a road-trip—but sticks to the “blue highways”, which are out-of-the-way roads that connect rural America. His book depicts his three month, 13,000-mile journey and all the people he meets along the way. This is basically your American road trip guideline for going off the grid and meeting fascinating people along the way.