Each year I put together a list of books that I think friends and family will enjoy. This summer’s list is quite diverse, but all have special meaning behind the recommendation.
To begin we will go with YA book recently turned film: Everything, Everything by Jamaican-American author, Nicola Yoon. Illustrations are done by her husband which gives this story an intimate tone. It is your typical Shakespearean tragedy, with star crossed lovers and flawed parents, but there is no tragic death which is not a spoiler so much as it is foreshadowing. The protagonist, Maddy, can die at any minute IF she leaves her hermetically sealed home…like John Travolta was years ago in the Bubble. The boy next door moves in, they fall in love through their semi-stalking of one another and she plots her great escape along with her nurse, Carla. I love Carla’s character since she is the one who reiterates that life is about living not just existing. The writing is well done here, and the plot is redundant but a good redundant. Like eating another bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The book came highly recommended by my pre-teen daughter and one of my favorite students, so there’s that…how can you not love a book that ultimately serves as your daughter’s first love story?
The opposite of love is hate, and The Hate U Give is my next recommendation. This new novel by Angie Thomas takes newspaper headlines to YA fiction in a masterfully woven tale of a police shooting from the witnesses perspective. Thomas began writing it in college after the murder of Oscar Grant, but then life happened and she set it by the wayside like so many authors do. After additional killings by police, she decided the time was NOW and gives us the tale of a girl protagonist turned activist. Our world needs this novel. If you read anything this summer-it should be this book. If you listen to it on Audible, you will not be disappointed in the reading done by Bahni Turpin.
Another novel that needs a re-read, or maybe a first read, is To Kill a Mockingbird. I just finished this with freshmen and realized how this book resonates at any point in my life. For example, I used to connect well with Jem, the know it all of the book, and saw a lot of my brother in Scout. The latest read had me thinking a lot on Calpurnia. It may be because I read Go Set a Watchman last summer, but her strength and compassion for children, who weren’t hers, really inspired me this spring. The staying power this book holds is what makes it a classic.
Next on the list is Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This hilariously sad book comes from debut Scottish author, Gail Honeyman. Poor Eleanor is socially awkward and does not realize that her life is sad. She also has some sort of facial deformity which is reminiscent of last year’s children’s rec, (and again this year for those of you who have procrastinated) Wonder. She’s going through the motions and not really living it (similar to Maddy in Everything above) until she meets this stinky IT guy who appreciates her quirky nature. They sort of get into a relationship when they help an elderly man; so becomes a reason to actually live life…and LOVE life. The mystery surrounding her past unfolds with each new experiences she chooses to live. This book had me crying and laughing all on the same page but I am still hormonal so don’t let that hold you back from reading something fresh and meaningful!
Wonder, a children’s novel by Raquel Jaramillo, under the pen name of R. J. Palacio, is a rec from last year, and is the children’s version of the above book. It is the most satisfying tale of empathy I have read. Schools should require this book. Here is the upcoming trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngiK1gQKgK8
Another classic children’s tale in my house is the picture book, When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach. Illustrations are from Davis Small. This hilarious encounter is a fun read for any age. The premise is as the title suggests, so one can only imagine the conflicts that occur when running daily errands such as buying groceries, getting a haircut, and even, as my favorite line suggests inside the doctor’s office begging: “I want a shot!” The larger than life illustrations take children into a world where dinosaurs don’t necessarily roam free, but are free. Read it to your kids, or to yourself if you are a kid at heart!
Not for children is The Handmaid’s Tale. I would urge you to listen to this on Audible as Claire Danes reads it. It is painful but necessary. If you need a visual, Hulu has released a series that documents the text quite well, but as a feminist reader, I suggest listening to it first. Margaret Atwood wrote it in 1985 but today, all I can say is, shame on us for heading in such a dystopian, evil direction.
In addition to this text, if you missed George Orwell’s 1984 in high school, or just read the Cliff’s Notes version, it should be on your to do list. Big Brother is always watching, and in this case, it is through the television screen. Albeit long, and sometimes tedious, I think a full read is necessary for an informed adult/YA today.
The last of the dark dystopias is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This brings the Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 together in a Shakespearean sense. It feels much further away than the two previous recommendations, which allows it to be much more entertaining. I mean, who wears birth control on their waistband, right?
Two books that I haven’t read yet but will be doing so in the next few days are: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children and Give a Girl a Knife. Both are new releases but vary in genre. Beautiful Music is about a guy who was born as Elisabeth and is coming to terms with his gender identity. Its relevance today makes it a must read for every teacher while Give a Girl is a memoir for foodies. It follows one chef from the Midwest to NYC on an amazing culinary journey. One can only hope for a female Anthony Bourdain!
This group of texts should suffice for a summer of education and entertainment balance. Let me know if you enjoy any of his year’s choices, or if you hate them. Either way, I love feedback! It lets me know people actually do still read which always, always gives me hope for our chaotic world today. And remember, books are expensive but the library is always FREE.