Hoboken has a long and varied history, from its pre-industrial time as a seasonal gathering place for the Lenape Indians to its boom period as a transportation and shipping hub, to its late-20th century decline, its rebirth as a bohemian hotspot and evolution into the land of the condominium and the bro bar, Hoboken has never been just one thing.
Along the way, the city has inspired a lengthy list of artists, including musicians (uh, Sinatra?), painters, poets, and writers. And yet it’s not easy to find a novel that’s actually set in Hoboken. This is in part likely due to our proximity to New York City; after all if you’re going to set your story in a Northeastern city, why not go big and just set it in Manhattan? But the elusive Hoboken-set novel isn’t impossible to find. While there might be others, the seven books on this list make their Hoboken roots proudly obvious.
The former owners of Patricia’s Yarns on 4th Street published this novel a few years ago, before closing up shop. The story of a woman who sees a sweater she knitted for her former boyfriend on a mystery woman splits time between New York and Hoboken, and has a sharp eye for the local details.
The story of the scion of famous musician who chooses to escape his legacy and start a band in Hoboken is darkly funny and offers a keen sketch of our little town, presented as a blend of the more bohemian Hoboken of a few decades ago and the modern city we all know and live in.
Possibly the best-known book with the word “Hoboken” in it, this children’s novel about a man who brings a huge chicken home for Thanksgiving was made into a TV movie in 1984, and was made into a play in 1988!
One of Isenberg’s Bel Barrett mystery novels involves skulduggery at the community college level—and a professor who has a secret double life as a stripper before she winds up dead on the streets of Hoboken. These streets are described as “mean,” which even in 2003 seems like a bit of hyperbole.
Want to know what Hoboken was like back in the day? This 1930 mystery novel is set in a Hoboken you might not recognize, making it a pretty mind-blowing trip. When a stolen locket and a murder yield no clues, only a mysterious folded piece of blank paper offers any hope, and a famous writer of detective novels lends a hand.
This slow-boil psychological thriller is set in modern-day Hoboken, where fifteen-year old Ella finds herself after her mother remarries. Ella meets a beautiful boy who turns out to be her new stepbrother—as well as a first-class sociopath who instantly begins layering on the gaslighting and manipulation. The story twists the tension to unbearable levels as it goes on, and residents of the Mile Square will thrill to the familiar setting.
You’d be forgiven for not realizing Jim Fusilli’s 2011 novel is set in Hoboken, as the author—a music critic for the Wall Street Journal—changed the name of the city and the names of all the streets. Narrows Gate, New Jersey, however, is Hoboken before, during, and after World War II. Fellow Hoboken native Joe Pantoliano read the audiobook version, completing the Hoboken flavor trifecta.
As you set up your Summer Reading List, these seven novels offer a glimpse at Hoboken through the years and through the eyes of different authors, while telling eclectic, fascinating stories. Check ‛em out!
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