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Book Club Wed Dec 16 2015
Earlier this year, I put together a list of the Best Chicago Novels by Neighborhood, tying the city's greatest works of fiction to their geographical settings. But during my research, I wound up with a handful of great books set just outside city limits.
Here is that list, the best novels (and one novel-esque memoir) set in Chicago's suburbs. You may notice most of them were published in just the past 15 years. It's not that no one was writing about Chicago suburbs before 2000 (see The Chicago of Fiction: A Resource Guide for proof), it's just that most of those books are out of print. If I've missed any great still-in-print books set in the suburbs, let me know in the comments.
The Instructions, Adam Levin (2010). Easily one of the most fascinating novels of the decade, about a messianic ten-year-old boy. The author grew up in Buffalo Grove, and the novel's Jewish day school is a "fictionalized" version of Aptasikic Junior High.
The Confessions of Al Capone, Loren D. Estleman (2013). There's plenty of nonfiction about the life of Chicago's most infamous gangster, but this taut historical novel imagines him close to death in Florida, spilling his secrets to an FBI agent posing as a priest, including his time as the King of Cicero.
A Good Family, Eric Fassnacht (2015). A multi-generational family dramedy in the vein of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.
The Black Hour, Lori Rader-Day (2014). Rothbert University is a thinly-veiled stand-in for Northwestern University in Rader-Day's debut mystery about a series of deaths on campus.
Ordinary People, Judith Guest (1976). An affluent North Shore family faces not one, but two tragedies. You've probably seen the movie adaptation, directed by Robert Redford and starring Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore.
Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (2009). Mostly set in London, Niffenegger's atmospheric follow-up to The Time Traveler's Wife features several scenes in Lake Forest, where the twins grew up with their mother.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000). It's not a novel, but this memoir by the founder of McSweeny's begins in Lake Forest (with guest appearances by Chicago and Evanston) as Eggers and his siblings deal with the deaths of their parents.
The Making of Zombie Wars, Aleksandar Hemon (2015). The protagonist lives in Lakeview, but his femme fatale Ana lives "way out in Lincolnwood, in a building that looks like a depressing dorm."
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Leviathan (2011). An experimental novel half-written by the author of The Fault in Our Stars about two very different boys with the same name.
Ballads of Suburbia, Stephanie Kuehnert (2009). Another (brutal) suburban coming-of-age tale, now featuring more drugs and rock'n'roll.