Maybe it’s because we’ve been stuck inside for a year, but the appeal of nature-themed fiction has never been greater. What is nature-themed fiction? Surely all fiction has nature in it? Well, yeah, but nature-themed fiction is fiction that really focuses on nature. Nature is the setting. Nature is the theme. Nature sometimes even acts as an adversary or companion. These books describe the natural setting so well that you can hear the birds and bugs, feel the breeze on your neck, and smell the salt on the air. Let these nature novels provide a needed escape to the natural world.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This historical mystery explores the lonely existence of Kya Clark, a girl abandoned to the unforgiving North Carolina marsh, living on the edge of society, through passages of rich detail and Kya’s love for the natural world. Where the Crawdads Sing has become a favorite of so many readers , and inspired this list.
The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn
This mythic, generational novel is set on the Korean island of Jeju, after WWII. As Goh Junja’s world changes around her, she must learn to become a successful haenyeo, deep sea diver, on her own. The Mermaid from Jeju is told in two parts, with Korean mythology references and lush scenic description.
Two Old Women by Velma Wallis
When winter famine threatens their tribe, two elderly women are selected to leave behind to save resources for healthier tribe members. Abandoned by their closest family, the women must use the skills learned over a lifetime to survive in the bleak but beautiful Alaskan wildness. This short novel is based on Athabascan legend, exploring the relationship between landscape, survival, and community.
When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle
The wild and sparsely populated Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara, are under stress from invasive species. Dr. Alma Boyd Takesue, a National Park Service biologist, is met with strong opposition by animal rights activists after two successful eradication missions. This novel explores man’s relationship and responsibility to nature, alongside high-stakes escapades and flawed characters.
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Remember this middle grade novel for the budding environmentalist? After moving to Florida from Montana, Roy finds himself caught between school bullies and mystery involving vandalism. As Roy and his new friends work to protect endangered Florida wildlife, they fight back against illegal construction. Comical and intriguing, Hoot is the perfect introduction to ecofiction.
The Inland Sea by Madeline Watts
In present day Sydney, crises blur together for an emergency telephone operator. Her self-destructive patterns mirroring the disasters around her. Two centuries earlier, her forefather John Oxley, traveled the expanse of Australia in search of water. From Oxley’s perspective, we see the effects of climate change beginning to take place. Watts presents an Australia is beautiful, boundless, and sensorial.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic doesn’t seem like it would be a nature focused book, with the beautiful heroine and gothic mansion setting, but nature is at the heart of this book. The remoteness of The High Place gives Mexican Gothic an eerie chill, with fog, dampness, moss, and general gloom. This is no beach holiday. Explore the intoxicating grounds of The High Place with Noemí as you uncover increasingly dark family secrets.
All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
This novel is a surprisingly heartwarming take on environmental activism and community. After 25 years away, Yumi has returned to her farm town community to care for her sick parents, and their potato farm. Businesses have taken over the farming industry, leaving small farmers without choice. An activist group, who travel in a biofueled van, step up to help Yumi find a solution. Smart and funny, All Over Creation is about more than potatoes.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Part Moby Dick, part Oliver Twist, with a side of cannibalism, Jamrach’s Menagerie is the adventure novel that will leave you breathless and a bit nauseous. Jaffy, a 19th century street urchin, is contracted to work for Jamrach, an animal importer. Later, Jaffy is sent aboard a whaling ship to look after a Komodo dragon for Jamrach. This book has a lot of whale facts, a lot of open sea, and lot of man’s true nature. Thundering and wild, Jamrach’s Menagerie is the kind of book that won’t leave you for a long time.
If you really want to get into nature-themed fiction, you can always turn to the OGs — The Romantics — and go sit in the woods with Henry David Thoreau. For nonfiction nature books, check out 100 Must Read Books About Nature. What nature setting do you want to read about?