To help you prepare for the outdoor reading season, each week we’re sharing a list from different Booklist editors and staff. —Ed.)
My family spends much of each summer on beaches in Michigan, and I’m sorry to say that, as a kid, I thought beaches were the most boring places in existence (I hadn’t taken chemistry yet). So what else was a tween girl to do? I packed up a backpack full of books and huffed my way down to the sand to swelter. Maybe it was because, still being in school, I was in a bit of an anti-academic mindset during the summer. September through May was for reading new things and broadening my mind. Summer was reserved for old friends.
It’s not as true as it used to be, but the bulk of my summer beach time these days is still dedicated to rereading (and I don’t just mean Harry Potter, although, duh). The following is a list of beach-read favorites (in that they are books I first read on a beach) that I hope to revisit this summer—assuming, of course, that Chicago gets one of those this year.
An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
Colin Singleton, recent high-school graduate and former child prodigy, has been dumped 19 times by a girl named Katherine. Nineteen different Katherines, that is, and all spelled just like that (with a “K”). The latest dumping was a doozy, so in this last summer before college Colin packs up his broken heart, his love for anagrams, and his best friend Hassan (who, incidentally, has never been dumped: all relationships end in breakups, divorce, or death, he says, and he wants to limit his to the last two) and hits the road. Colin’s determined to figure out the science behind breakups (and graduate from “prodigy” to “genius”), but all bets are off once they reach Gutshot, Tennessee and get tangled up in the politics and relationships of the locals. Be careful reading this one in public, though—my sister threatened murder if I didn’t stop laughing out loud.
Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
Ella was cursed at birth with the “gift” of obedience, which forces her to obey any direct command. But though she’s bound by the curse, she’s not molded by it, and Ella sets out into the world with spunk and smarts, facing down ogres and cotillions and evil stepsisters with stubbornness and wit and making unlikely friends everywhere she goes. There’s love there, too, deeply romantic and slowly unfolding, though her curse threatens to keep her from it forever. This is a Cinderella story for any age, with characters that linger and demand the reader’s return.
Fly on the Wall, by E. Lockhart
In a Manhattan school for music and the arts, weird is the new normal. Gretchen Yee, more interested in drawing comic superheroes than still lifes, stands out because she doesn’t stand out; even dyeing her dark hair stop-sign red hasn’t made her any less normal. But now her parents are splitting, her first boyfriend has dumped her, her best (read: only) friend is acting weird, and her new crush is oblivious. In a moment of frustration, wanting to learn more about those mysterious boys and the way their brains work, Gretchen wishes she was a fly on the wall of the boys locker room—only to have the wish quite literally come true. In a bizarre twist on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Gretchen spends a week as a fly in the boys locker room, getting very up close and personal. This quick, highly readable story, which manages to be both hilarious and poignant, is a delightful, if unusual, beach companion.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
It seems, at first glance, a bit of an odd choice for this list: Eugenides’s sophomore novel is scopey and broad, encompassing three generations and multiple countries in a veritable odyssey of a story. Years ago, in Greece, two siblings married (they’re also third cousins), keeping their taboo relationship a secret and eventually emigrating to Michigan. But several children later the genetics have done their work, and enter Cal, our narrator, a hermaphrodite raised as a girl who eventually comes to terms with his identity as a man. Gorgeously written and expertly plotted, it’s also never been more relevant.
Scarlet, by A.C. Gaughen
Was there ever a teenage girl not susceptible to the charms of a Robin Hood story? It was probably Disney’s fox version that did it, but at any rate versions of this swashbuckling tale have been filtering their way through the middle grade and young adult canon for decades. This novel, Gaughen’s first, focuses on the character of Will Scarlet, one of the Merry Men—or, in this case, woman, as Scarlet (Scar to Robin) is secretly a girl, running from her past and fighting feelings for her dashing, though not untroubled, leader. It’s an historical adventure story of the highest class, and now is the time for a reread as the final installment in the trilogy, Lion Heart, is due out in May.
This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
Elise Dembowski has never fit in. She’s studied the popular kids for years, trying to figure out the pattern that will just allow her to get by. But she’s still the school outcast for no real reason, and a sort-of suicide attempt just made her even more of a target for bullies. She loves music, but even that doesn’t make her cool: as she’s come to realize, it’s not cool to love anything too much. So she takes to walking the streets at night in her safe suburban town, aimless until she stumbles across an underground warehouse party, where, for the first time, she is seen: by someday-rockstar Vicky, by even-keeled bouncer Mel, and by Char, the DJ, who shows Elise the ropes and has her spinning her own tracks in no time. Elise’s frank, first-person narration sets her apart from the crowd, and the quiet determination of her story makes it one that is hard to forget and easy to revisit.