A Smarty-pants Guide to Summer Reading
Let me just start by saying that there is nothing wrong with reading fluff in the summertime. Fluff is delicious and fun, but in this season, I also like to sink into something more challenging than I would dare during a school year. So, if you, like me, want books with both summer themes AND substance during these months with greater leisure, here are my suggestions.
Death in the summertime
First, it seems like a lot of YA fiction that deals with death is set in the summer. My guess is that authors choose this season for stories about death because time slows down, and the normal distractions of school and extracurriculars are absent, allowing the characters to reflect more deeply on what is happening to them or around them. My first suggestions all deal with death. (The Fault in Our Stars is not on this list only because, if you live on Planet Earth, you already know about it.)
The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder – actually published a month before TFIOS, these two outstanding novels have some similarities. Both feature a smart and snarky teenage girl who is dying and is surrounded by people who love her and are trying in often inadequate ways to cope. In Probability, Campbell has had many losses and not much joy in her short life, but she discovers love and other glorious things as her time begins to run out. It is an easy book to fall in love with, and is pretty much guaranteed to wrench your heart. Be prepared for some magical realism. Things happen that are outside our understanding of reality and are never explained. Sort of like life.
Last Chance Summer by Morgan Matson – Taylor is forced to return to her family’s lake house, something she has not done since she was 12, to fulfill her father’s dying wish that the family be together during his last summer. Taylor would prefer to run away from her family, from death, and from the thing that happened all those summers ago. This is a slowly unfolding story of a young woman who is forced to confront pain, enabling her to discover the growth and beauty that can come as a result.
Going for the Record by Julie A. Swanson – Leah has a great future just within her reach. She is a gifted soccer player with Olympic dreams on the horizon. But when her dad picks her up from a training camp, he gives her the awful news that his death from cancer is imminent. Life stops as the family gathers to care for him
during his final days. I have a special love for this book as I have cared for three family members through death. Of all the books I have read, this one comes closest to capturing what it felt like, for me at least, to be totally absorbed in the experience of loving and caring for someone as they die. A beautiful and authentic book.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray –This unusual book may not be for everyone, but I loved it! Sixteen year old Cameron is not a likeable guy. Friendless (for a reason) and usually stoned, I did not want to spend much time with him, and felt more than reluctant as I contemplated its hefty 500 pages. But, like the sucker that I am, I was drawn in by the cow holding a yard gnome on the cover. So, I stuck with it, and was so glad I did! Cameron is diagnosed with mad cow disease and a difficult death is not far off. Don Quixote and a pink-haired angel send him and his hospital roommate off on a quest for a cure, resulting in a truly unique and fantastical road trip novel.
The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner – Frankie’s family has not been able to move on after the death of her little brother four years ago. Frankie has carried a heavy load of guilt as she was the one caring for him when he drowned. But this summer, she is ready to move on. She wants to experience joy and find love. And she receives a sort of cosmic blessing when she lands a job caring for a four year old boy that she is convinced is the reincarnation of her little brother. Mixed in with the usual romance and family drama is a thoughtful exploration of one person’s attempt to find meaning in death and life.
Sweet Summer Romance & Other Delightful Drama
Summer reading really does have to include some good romance. Several of the books listed above do have some swoon worthy moments, but the ones I am going to offer now – lip smacking love is pretty much the focus.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman – Allyson is kind of OCD about life. Time is to be planned, rules are to be followed. But when she encounters a charismatic street actor, Willem, while touring Europe, she does something that is way beyond her normal boundaries: she takes off with him on a trip to Paris. This great adventure fills the first half of the book. What happens after – assimilating the experience and its impact on her life, is the second half. This is an unusually fine romance that features a not-so-predictable trajectory of growth and self-discovery.
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour – A fine road trip book about Bev and Colby, best friends who have a long standing pact: after high school graduation, Colby will go with Bev on her girlband tour, and then they will head off for a yearlong trip to Europe. But they barely get started when Bev announces that she has new plans and that Colby will be on his own after the band tour. This book captures the difficulties of unfulfilled love and the transition from the teenage years into adulthood.
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – Another great road trip book, and the one that made me fall in love with John Green. Colin is graduating from high school having not reached his potential as a math genius. He takes off with his best friend, Hassan, on a quest. He has been dumped by 19 girlfriends, all named Katherine. He is determined to create a mathematical formula that will accurately predict at the onset of a relationship which party will be the dumper and which will be the dumpee. Hilarious!
The Sweetness of Salt by Cecilia Galante – Shaken by the revelation of a family secret, Julia abandons her summer internship to follow her sister to Vermont. Julia is the good girl – follows rules, makes good grades, bright future, etc. Her sister Sophie is the rule breaker, the rebellious one, the single mom who is now trying to open her own bakery. It is Sophie who rips off the cover that has hidden important truths from Julia, sending the whole family into crisis. Julia is determined to understand what has been kept from her and why. This is a very fine book that explores all kinds of love and relationships with compassion.
That is my list. There are so many more great summer reads and I do hope you will dig in with gusto! Please add your own suggestions in our comment section.