Each year I post a few book suggestions for the upcoming summer. This list is composed of something for everyone whether you are looking for inspiration, a thought provoking read, a “fun” read, or something that gives you pause. Here are the picks for 2016 in random order:
The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta
Set in what feels like Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college freshman has dissapeared. Not only that, she was last seen arguing outside a bar with a frat boy who had raped her months prior. This story follows the investigation and includes actual research from various cases plus statistics that will alarm any reader… “Boys who join fraternities are 300% more likely to commit rape than non-frat members…”. In light of recent cases such as Brock Turner, this book enlightens the legal side of many rape cases in America since Leotta is a former sex crimes DA from Washington, DC. It also begs the question: Is being a good girl worth it anymore? Albeit realistic fiction, it is a must read for anyone, but essentially necessary for students heading to college this fall and all parents.
You don’t have to be a fan of Bourdain to enjoy this shocking memoir of food, fun, travel and addiction, but after reading, you will become one if you aren’t already. Bourdain’s brutally honest voice as a storyteller captures the reader early on with sentences like: “In the kitchen, they were like gods. They dressed like pirates: chef’s coats with the arms slashed off, blue jeans, ragged and faded headbands, gore-covered aprons, gold hoop earrings, wrist cuffs…”(22). The imagery is captivating, especially for someone who has worked in the food industry before. Basically the book chronicles Bourdain’s early years as a chef and follows his descent into addicition during the hazy ’80s of cocaine use and later, heroin. If you like non-fiction memoirs with snark, sarcasm, and increasingly shocking stories, this book is must!
This YA fiction recommendation actually comes from two students in my 6th hour English 11 class. They gave me this read and I was riveted. It only took me a few days to complete this book and return to them with a full discussion on our reactions to the plot. Niven clearly details an accurate portrayal of mental illness during adolescense combined with a whimsical relationship that is set in the quirky state of Indiana. This irony is what really sets the tone for the plot to move as gracefully as it does in a complete cycle. Lines like this will resonate with the reader even after the book is through: “The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave” (Niven 156). The maturity and wisdom that both young protagonists enlighten the reader with is refreshing and not at all cliche’. Be warned though, you will shed a tear or two. It is that powerful of a read.
This is an oldie but a goodie from a teacher friend of mine who I share a first name with, although she spells hers a little funny. We must have shared this book with every teacher in Brown City when it first dropped in our hands twelve years ago. The protagonist, Carrie (no bias there!), is forced to make a moral decision early on in the book when her boyfriend, whom she is about to break up with, decides to jump off a pier and becomes paralyzed. This is the story of Carrie’s journey through a life altering decision and the pressures others put on her when they think they know what is best. It’s also the story of loving oneself and becoming selfless. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Ann Packer, or stories that put you in a sitation where you, the reader, are forced to think “but this is what I would do.”
I first heard Mr. Coates when I was listening to NPR, in fact, that is where many of my “To Read” book titles come from. At this point though, he headn’t written a book, he had written an article for The Atlantic. I promptly pulled in my driveway and sat reading the article. The next day, I copied it for my seniors to read at school. The premise is this: Coates is a black man, with a black son, and he does not want his son killed. Simple, right? Not in our world today. The article reads as a letter, as does his longer version here called Between the World and Me. Passages like this resonated with my students: “Shortly before you were born, I was pulled over by the PG County police, the same police that all the D.C. poets had warned me of. They approached on both sides of the car, shining their flashing lights through the windows. They took my identification and returned to the squad car. I sat there in terror….But these officers had my body, could do with my body whatever they pleased, and should I live to explain what they had done with it, this complaint would mean nothing. The officer returned. He handed me back my license. He gave no explanation for the stop” (76/77). This is essential reading for someone who needs a shift in perspective, longs for equality, and as Atticus Finch told Scout you’ll never get to know someone “until you climb in his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 85).
I may have suggested this series a few summers ago, but here it is climbing back up to this summer’s list! It’s that good! If you are a reluctant reader, or have one in your home, this series is a good fit. The books are intense and short, full of imagery and suspense. It is a post-apocalyptic setting (but better than we’ve seen from Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series) with two male protagonists. One is from the new world and one from the old (resembling Brave New World a bit here). They encounter difficulties with trust and acclimation, as well as conflicts once they encounter the new version of the national “Park Service.” Fans of Winfield will love his take on YA literature (known for new adult works Jane’s Harmony and Jane’s Melody) as well as his quick response time to posted reviews and comments.
Another older recommendation, but in light of the Brock Turner rape case, this memoir may be a necessary read for many. Sebold, better known for her novel, The Lovely Bones, was raped as a young college student. This is her poignant memoir. From first glance at the cover and title, one might not realize the content of the true story, but it is evident in line one as she writes: “In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky” (1). Sebold’s tone is often sarcastic and clever, yet also humorous and hopeful. It is an inspiring read for anyone who has been humiliated and torn apart by sexual assault but also beckons to those victims of any type of trauma with a powerful, redeeming message.
Another snarky famous white guy who follows the wit of Anthony Bourdain is former Pulitzer Prize reporter for the New York Times, Charlie LeDuff. But this book, well, let’s just say it’s quite different from a typical memoir. This book reads as an investigation to why Detroit has become the poorest big city in America, and follows LeDuff’s quest to find the truth behind the downfall of his hometown, all the while reminiscing about his childhood. What’s even better is that he runs into catalysts who are shaping a new version of Detroit and trying to reconcile what was once one of the most profitable cities in America. If you love Michigan and humor, this book is for you. My only criticism is that it left me wanting more…get writing some new stuff, LeDuff!
Would you want a friend of yours from high school picking up your senior daughter drunk from a party because she needed a ride? Would you blame him if he dropped her off at a friend’s house instead of yours later that night? Would you kill him if he did not tell you he did this and your daughter went missing? These questions begin the mystery, Promise Me, by Harlan Coben. A work buddy of mine suggested this as we trade books often (he just completed Detroit) and I could not put it down. I read it in a weekend, and then begged him for more of Coben’s books. The protagonist, Myron, is essentially a guy who does good for people, or at least tries to save people and usually ends up getting mixed in with more than he bargained for. You don’t have to read Coben’s series about Myron to check out any of his books though-I wasn’t lost or confused at all and I think this is book #13. I loved Myron’s best friend, right hand man and assassin, Win. He is absolutely who you want by your side any time you face conflict. Check this out if you are looking for adventure and mystery with a drop off romance to complete the plot.
My two books, To Read, this summer are:
Both above books come highly recommended by Stephen King (Beukes) and my husband (Senghor) so I will spending time with each. Please comment on any of your suggestions, or feel free to provide feedback on my list. And as my friend, Kat, always says, “Read a good book and then share it with a friend!”