Works of fiction can be anything from a portal into the uncanny to a glimpse into the nuances of an individual. They can speak about a culture, time period, or an interpersonal dynamic, sometimes better than an objective textbook. Or, if you rather just turn off any overly analytical brain functions when you read for pleasure, you can sit back and enjoy all the wholesome moments, hilarity, and mystery.
This is a list of my own summer reading endeavors from the last 4 years. These are in the order I read them, and I would definitely read all of these again. I would like to note that even though I am a teenager, and most of these happen to fall into the “fiction” section, adults should be able to enjoy them as well!
[b]The Namesake by –Jhumpa Lahiri[/b]
As per Bengali customs, a child is given two names, one to be used by family and the one to be used by others. This book follows the life of an Indian-American boy, Gogol Gangulli as he struggles to comprehend the customs of his family while being influenced by the American society in which he grows up in. Even as someone who can hardly be described as sentimental, I feel that this book speaks to many children who struggle to come to terms with their heritage and their position between two vastly different cultures. This story was recommended to me (not assigned) by an English teacher, because I wrote an assignment on how weird I felt to not have a “house name”!
[b]The Joy Luck Club –by Amy Tan[/b]
So, I found this book laying on a bench at school and it reminded me of the movie “Turning Red”. The stories of the 8 main characters are told through segments, which make it a bit difficult to keep track of the characters, but I feel that the intertwining nature serves the story well. The Joy Luck Club is the binding agent between 4 sets of mothers and daughters. The mothers’ struggle to take control of their lives early on are juxtaposed by their desires to bequeath their rich Chinese cultures to their thoroughly Americanized daughters. Meanwhile, the daughters’ struggle to accept themselves and their traditional heritage influence problems in their adult lives. My favorite relationship is between the two “Tigers” (born in the year of the Tiger). In their case they both learn the value of independence from each others' hardships. Both characters mutually inspire each other to rebel against cultural norms while simultaneously accepting a part of their characters.
[b]Kite Runners –-by Khaled Hosseini[/b]
In Kabul, Afghanistan two boys chase kites far and wide—so they can repair the kites and fight again.
This is a story of the betrayal of cowardice, unspoken trauma, and the courage to face the past. This story will 100% break your heart, and it’ll 100% give you the courage to do something you’ve been dreading.
[b]Black Swan Green –by David Mitchel[/b]
In Margaret Thatcher’s England, there’s a young lad with a speech impediment and a love of poetry just trying to survive in a world where the school-boys have their own version of Victorian social classes. This book can be chalked down to “a very wholesome coming of age story.” The kid resolves the main conflict of the story, only to be hit with a more life-altering problem. He then comes to the conclusion that he has the ability to deal with whatever bricks life throws at him and continues on without so much as a nervous sweat.
My favorite character in the story is a sassy, no-nonsense, geriatric Belgian lady—who is also a poetry enthusiast.
[b]And Then There Were None –by Agatha Christie[/b]
[i]An island steeped in gloom;
the same nursery rhyme in every room
Ten guests geared up for a summer of fun
start biting the dust one by one[/i]
Perfect story to read at 2 a.m. !
[b]Maus –by Art Spiegleman[/b]
This book made the news quite recently for getting banned from schools in Tennessee…which is why it should be a part of your summer reading!
Maus (german for mouse) is a graphic novel by Art Speigleman detailing the true story of how his father, Vladec, survived the holocaust. However, aside from the main story revolving around Vladec, we also see the intergenerational trauma as explored via Art’s relationship with his father. That being the case, this novel dispenses plenty of light-hearted moments in between the sorrowful events of both Vaclav and Art’s lives. This book, being a graphic novel, is filled to the brim with visuals and symbols—in contrast to most biographical. or even, historical fiction texts.
[b]Educated –by Tara Westover[/b]
This is the memoir of Tara Westover, a girl from the mountains of Idaho, born to Mormon Survivalist parents. Their family is distanced from mainstream society; their parents distrust everything from the federal government, to modern medicine, to public education. Therefore, there was no one to ensure the children received a public education, had basic medical care, or were safe from domestic abuses. Following in the footsteps of her older brother, Tara decided to break away from the family. After successfully passing the ACT, she was finally able to embark on a safe, bountiful life. I feel like the internet is chock-full of jokes about anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, essential-oils fanatics, and conspiracy theorists, but the Westovers really hit me with the realization that “these people really exist…”
[b]The Grimerose Girls –by Laura Pohl[/b]
This is another murder mystery. It starts with the death of a close friend of the main cast of characters. However, the story focuses more on the relationships between characters and their, oftentimes, dysfunctional families, and how they cope with difficult situations. Also, there are still unresolved fantastical elements of the initial conflict, so I’m staying tuned for the second installment.
[b]Frozen Charlottes –by Alex Bell[/b]
“Frozen Charlottes” starts with the death of Sophie’s best friend, and follows Sophie as she is sent to her uncle’s isolated, gloomy mansion to recuperate from her loss. Said house, aside from being occupied by a generally tormented family, it’s also occupied by a collection of small, white dolls called ‘Frozen Charlottes’. The dolls look like the white, frozen corpses of little girls—complete with frost-bite induced mutilation. This book reminds me of the book Coraline, except here, there’s nowhere for Sophie to run.
This book is pretty chilling, and therefore a good one for the heat of summer!
[b]Air Awakens (series) –by Elise Kova[/b]
Last but not least, a book series I’m currently hooked on! It is currently feeding my nostalgia for Avatar the Last Airbender. For those who did not have ALTA as an integral part of their childhoods, you can enjoy some medieval-fantasy worldbuilding, well-choreographed fight scenes, and surprising well-written romance. There’s also a good deal of political intrigue, imperialism, and a girl who decided to take on an empire. I’m recommending this because it made the summer of freshman year (during the worst of covid) bearable. I mean, who needs to go outside when there are warring nations elemental magic, and electrifying drama right in front of you?
(Don’t listen to that—you still need to go outside. A book, despite how amazing it is, remains a poor substitute for vitamin D.)
[b]Note for any fellow highschoolers:[/b]
What tends to happen a lot in highschool is that most people lose much of the time and willpower to just read for pleasure—for the pure immersion into worlds and minds. Of course I know that most English teachers tell you to do those things when they want you to read books like Lord of the Flies or The Great Gatsby, but it can be understandingly hard to enjoy a book with an assignment looming over your head. It’s okay to just sit back and read for zero purpose other than to enjoy the plot and the accompanying emotions. That’s not to say that you cannot learn from pleasure reading; exposure to reading material inadvertently assists in vocabulary development and writing skills. Or maybe, like me, you’ll find yourself critically analyzing these books on your own time, without the external pressure of having a 1000 word paper due by Friday.
In any case, I hope you read something and enjoy it this summer!
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