Five for Friday: Contemporary Not Set in USA or Western Europe

Another theme coming courtesy of Anna @ Reading Peaches. This time, we’re going contemporary that’s set outside of the usual places, i.e. not the USA or Western Europe.

She did say I could have Aus/NZ as well, but in an attempt to make things, if not trickier, then more different, almost, I’m going to try limit ones set in Aus at least to one at most (we all know I would just be reccing Marchetta all over the place if I was allowed).

But anyway. Here are five contemporary books set outside of the USA and Western Europe.

Amelia Westlake
Erin Gough

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Two very different girls, and one giant hoax that could change – or ruin – everything.

Harriet Price has the perfect life: she’s a prefect at Rosemead Grammar, she lives in a mansion, and her gorgeous girlfriend is a future prime minister. So when she risks it all by creating a hoax to expose the school’s many problems – with help from notorious bad-girl Will Everheart, no less – Harriet tells herself it’s because she’s seeking justice. And definitely not because she finds Will oddly fascinating.

But as Will and Harriet’s campaign heats up, it gets harder for them to remain sworn enemies – and to avoid being caught. As tensions burn throughout the school, how far will they go to keep their mission – and their feelings for each other – a secret?


First up is the single Australian book I had to resort to, because until you’ve seriously looked for YA contemporary books set outside the USA, you don’t realise just how little there is. Or is that’s well known. So, why this one? Because it’s gay. And rivals to lovers. What more do I need to say.

Noon Tide Toll
Romesh Gunesekera

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Vasantha is a van driver in Sri Lanka. After nearly three decades of conflict, the civil war is over and the country is moving tentatively into the future – though at times the recent past seems too close for comfort. Pretty, entrepreneurial hoteliers have mysterious scars under their collars; Chinese businessmen looking to invest in scrap metal are led to gigantic scrapyards of abandoned bicycles; genial old soldiers are headhunted for brutal war crimes; young Sinhalese men pine after Tamil girls whose brothers, in another time, died by their hands. In this collection of linked stories, Vasantha drives across the beautiful but scarred landscape of his home island, lingering on the periphery of his passengers’ varied stories. Though he keeps his own counsel and remains stoically in the background, he cannot help but reveal a little something of his own story too.


This book is more like a collection of short stories featuring the same main character than a novel in itself. But, honestly, that’s good because not a whole lot happens (and I’m not complaining about that, it’s a little like a character examination but of a country I guess). Just goes to show, sometimes random books you pick up from the library are good.

The Astonishing Color of After
Emily X. R. Pan

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide she leaves only a scribbled note – I want you to remember.

Leigh doesn’t understand its meaning and wishes she could turn to her best friend, Axel – if only she hadn’t kissed him and changed everything between them.

Guided by a mysterious red bird, Leigh travels to Taiwan to meet her grandparents for the first time. There, Leigh retreats into art and memories, where colours collide, the rules of reality are broken and the ghosts of the past refuse to rest … 

But Leigh is determined to unlock her family’s secrets. 

To remember.


First of my two slightly cheating recs, this one because, although the bulk of the novel takes place in Taiwan, it starts and ends in the USA. (Anna said she would allow it though.) It is frustratingly hard to find YA lit (from big publishers, and contemporary) that isn’t set in the USA or UK, so this one is a breath of fresh air in that respect. It’s also one of those books that’ll probably stomp all over your heart.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid

Rating: 4 out of 5.

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful encounter…

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by an elite valuation firm. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his budding romance with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his relationship with Erica shifting. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love. 


This is the second slight cheat: while the main character is narrating his story in Lahore, the story mostly takes place in the States. But I’m forcing it to count because it’s a really good and well-written book.

The Fishermen
Chigozie Obioma

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Told by nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of a childhood in Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his absence to skip school and go fishing. At the forbidden nearby river, they meet a madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen is an essential novel about Africa, seen through the prism of one family’s destiny.


Me and award-nominated and/or winning books don’t generally get along, for the simple fact that they’re often just not my style. But this one? This one proved me wrong. It’s also a kind of murder mystery, which was always going to grab my attention more.

I hope you found something on here you hadn’t already read (that’s aimed at you, Anna).

What are some of your faves?

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