books and reading

Great Summer Reads

(image via weheartit)

Summer is almost here.  Although it’s not technically summer yet, it certainly felt like it this week, with temperatures skyrocketing into the 90s (in Minnesota, when it’s hot like that, it’s also usually quite humid, which makes it so, so much worse).  In honor of summer, I thought I’d compile a list of some of my favorite books that have to do with summer.  The books that follow take place during summer and are books that I think would make for some great summer reading.  It’s always better to read about summer when you’re experiencing it, right?

Happy reading.

The Last Summer (Of You and Me) by Ann Brashares: I’ve written about this book on the site before, but it’s one of those books that I can’t talk about enough.  Although it didn’t perform as well as Brashares Traveling Pants series, this novel (billed as her first “adult” one) about two sisters and their childhood best friend is a quiet, sad look at growing up and becoming adults.  It’s not light chick lit, and readers should know that going in.  Slow to start and lacking in any extreme drama or inciting action, Brashares’s novel is much more a character study.  Some readers take issue with the actions of the three main characters, but I enjoyed the fact that they made mistakes and acted rashly.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a summer read with a little heft to it, this might be your book.  Plus, Brashares is a really, really good writer, and there are some beautiful passages to be found in this book’s pages.

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler: My review of Ockler’s fantastic Twenty Boy Summer sums up my feelings about this book pretty well, to be honest.  This book remains one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and I can’t recommend it enough.  Like many of the books on this list, it isn’t a super-light read, but it’s absolutely engrossing and worth your time.  Ockler’s ability to write such convincing teenage girls is unparalleled, and the compelling storyline and believable romances will keep even the most fickle reader interested.  Seriously, why aren’t you reading this right now?

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han: Although I have issues with the two sequels to Han’s first novel about a young girl named Belly who spends her summers at a beach house with her mother’s best friend and her two boys, there’s no denying that Han tapped into something special with the first book in her Summer trilogy.

Something about the way that Han writes this story is completely evocative of the summer season.  I devoured this book in one night and found myself incredibly nostalgic for summers of my youth.  It isn’t the same once you’re not a teenager anymore, you know?  It’s rare for me to feel nostalgia for my days gone by, but this book definitely pulled at my heartstrings–in a good way.

Conversations with the Fat Girl by Liza Palmer: Palmer has written a couple of really  smart books that fall solidly in the chick lit genre, but Conversations with the Fat Girl, her debut novel, is by far the best.  As most of Maggie’s friends get married and seem to be making headway in their careers, Maggie struggles with the fact that she’s overweight, single, and working a dead-end job.  She also tries to come to terms with the extreme personality change in her best friend Olivia, who has either had a lobotomy or has become a total bridezilla.

Palmer’s book is both hilarious and a little heart-breaking.  What is remarkable about Palmer’s book is that she doesn’t offer any easy answers for her characters.  They struggle with their actions and decisions, and there isn’t a neat little ending for everyone at the end of the story.  An introspective exploration of the complicated aspects of female friendship and a fantastically realistic look at what it’s like to be in your mid-twenties, this is a book that deserves more attention than it gets.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen: This is probably my favorite Sarah Dessen book.  It came to me at a time in my life where the characters just clicked for me, and it remains the most vivid of all her stories.  Macy Queen spends the summer before her senior year apart from her boyfriend Jason, who is at brain camp.  In addition to her gig working at the public library, Macy finds herself working for Wish Catering, a business with a rag-tag bunch of employees full of quirks.  The employees are messy, make mistakes, and don’t always follow the rules, which is completely different than what Macy is used to–and might just be what she needs.

Most of Dessen’s novels take place during the summer, and this one is no exception.  Something about this book just begs for it to be read every summer, and that’s not something that I can ignore.  If you haven’t read this one yet, you should.  It’s not a bad Dessen book to start with, either, now that I think about it.

Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson: Something about this novel completely disarmed me.  I found it incredibly charming despite my better judgment.  Scarlett is a pretty normal teenager living in New York, but her family is pretty crazy.  They run (and live in) a crumbling old hotel in Manhattan.  Scarlett’s three siblings are full of personality and quirks, as are her parents.  On her fifteenth birthday, Scarlett’s parents give her a room–and a guest to take care of.  Mrs. Amberson is high-maintenance and totally dramatic, but she presents Scarlett with an offer too good to refuse.

It’s the lightest book on this list, no doubt about it.  Funny, poignant, and totally worth the reading time for the secondary characters alone.  This was the first Maureen Johnson that I read, and I don’t regret it.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume: I’m an unabashed fan of Blume’s work.  I love her children’s books, her YA books, and her adult fiction (completely underrated).  For my birthday a few years ago, I got to see Blume be interviewed for MPR’s “Talking Volumes” series, and it was pretty amazing.  Summer Sisters, one of her adult novels, makes the list because it’s a book that I reread almost every summer.

Vix and Caitlin become friends in grade school, and their friendship is solidified when Caitlin invites Vix to spend the summer at her house on Martha’s vineyard.  The two girls spend every summer together at the house as they grow up, fall in love, and grow apart, just a little bit.  Spanning something like 20 years, this is a book that is perfect for summer.

I first read this book when I was fifteen (I wasn’t allowed to read it when it was first published), and I’ve reread it probably a half-dozen times in the intervening ten years.  What’s interesting to note about this book is the way that my relationship to it has changed as I’ve gotten older.  Things that I accepted about the book and its characters when I was younger I struggle with now, but I still find something new in it every time I read it.

Those are my summer reads.  What’s on your list?



4 thoughts on “Great Summer Reads

    1. If it makes you feel better, my disappointment with the second one had more to do with my ridiculous expectations for it than anything else. The third one had some serious plotting issues and some character decay (that felt unnatural and more like a way to force reader sympathy in another direction, if that makes sense).

      You might really like both of them, though. Most people did.

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