A List of Books That Embrace, Glorify, Make Bearable, and Distract From the Summer
By REBECCA, June 24, 2012 (omigod, it’s only June!?)
According to the alignment of the planets, Wednesday was the first “real” day of summer. I don’t know what the planets are talking about, though, because it’s been approximately as hot as the outer reaches of the sun for, like, months now over here in Philadelphia. I realize that for many the summer is a wildflower-draped, lemonade-drenched, beach-volleyball-studded, school’s-out-for-summer love-fest. But me? I hate the heat. I hate the sun. I hate sweat. Thus, as you can imagine, it’s extremely necessary for me to have a cache of amazing books that convince me that these fires of hell they call summer aren’t really that bad—or, at the very least, can distract me from it. If you are a sun-worshipper, bully for you! I’m sure you’ll find some favorites here, too, and perhaps you’ll leave some tips about how to better enjoy this five-month-long trip to the cosmic dentist.
Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block
Basically, I want every day of summer to be like Weetzie’s L.A. The food, the clothes, the surfing—so dreamy. “In the daytime, they went to matinees on Hollywood Boulevard, had strawberry sundaes with marshmallow topping at Schwab’s, or went to the beach. Dirk taught Weetzie to surf. It was her lifelong dream to surf—along with playing the drums in front of a stadium of adoring fans while wearing gorgeous pajamas. Dirk and Weetzie got tan and ate cheese-and-avacado sandwiches on whole-wheat bread and slept on the beach. Sometimes they skated on the boardwalk. Slinkster Dog went with them wherever they went” (6). “Duck was a small, blonde surfer. He had freckles on his nose and wore his hair in a flat-top. Duck had a light-blue VW bug and he drove it to the beach every day. Sometimes he slept on picnic tables at the beach so he could be up at dawn for the most radical waves” (28-9).
The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen
Or really almost any Sarah Dessen book. The Truth About Forever takes place over a summer in which Macy decides to stop playing it safe and start taking risks to be herself. I love this book because it gives a prismatic view of summer: there’s Macy’s new job at the chaotic catering company, her late-night truth-telling sessions with Wes, and lazy evenings with her new friends, etc. My favorite scenes are the casual summer night hangouts at the diner, going for soda at the gas station, walking and talking with nowhere to be and nothing to get back to. SUMMERY!
Same Difference, Siobhan Vivian
Emily is a girl from suburban Jersey who thinks she has her whole life planned, until she attends a summer art program in Philadelphia and realizes that she wants different things altogether. All the stuff at the art program in Philly is awesome (art, fashion, food, hair dye), but the stuff in Emily’s hometown is particularly summery. Lying by the pool, blended drinks at Starbucks, meetups at the local Dairy Queen, and cheering at boyfriends’ baseball games. It all sounds nightmarish to me, but it’s super evocative and summertastic. Check out the complete review here! and C&M’s interview with the lovely Siobhan Vivian here!
The Toll Bridge, Aidan Chambers
Piers feels suffocated by his parents, by his girlfriend, and by everything that’s expected of him in college. So, when he sees an advert looking for someone to live in a small cottage and be keeper of a toll bridge three hours away from his home for the summer, Piers jumps at the chance to get enough space to figure out what he wants. I read this book when I was maybe 11 or 12 and I so badly wanted this to be my summer job. Living in isolation with one or two new friends popping by, barely having to talk to anyone, the beautiful English countryside: what’s not to love?!
13 Little Blue Envelopes, Maureen Johnson
I haven’t read this one yet, but I know Tessa really liked it, so I’ve put it at the top of my summer list. Ginny receives 13 envelopes and is told to buy a plane ticket to London, where she has an epic and (I imagine) romantic summer adventure. Note: anyone who would like to send me envelopes (of any color, really) that somehow lead to my ending up in London is more than welcome.
The Secret Circle trilogy opens with a series of delightful summer scenes. Still, I think the real reason it seems so summery to me is that the first time I read it, the summer after sixth grade, I was so enthralled that I stayed up all night to finish the trilogy. It was the first time I ever stayed up all night by myself (as opposed to at a sleepover or something, you know). I finished it at like 6am, before my parents were awake, and I made breakfast and was feeling all floaty and witchy, and I took the bus downtown and . . . it was MAGICAL, is what I’m saying. The Secret Circle feels summery the way that Harry Potter feels Christmas-y! Anyway, despite the recent terribleness of the show, this is a must-read summer series. Read more about why in my full review.
White Oleander, Janet Fitch
Another L.A. book. Astrid is groomed by her mother to observe the world with all her senses—to smell the Oleander, taste the fruit on the trees outside, and really look at things. When her mother is imprisoned for murder, sensitive Astrid is shuttled from place to place, always hyper-aware of the world around her and always mistrusted because of her beauty. Astrid goes through a lot of shit, all against the backdrop of a gorgeously rendered L.A. and its surrounds. While not exclusively a summer book, White Oleander has that summer feeling of lazy days, brunch, and, of course, the California heat.
The Body, Stephen King.
Okay, so Stephen King isn’t exactly synonymous with bright and sunny. Still, his novella The Body, made into the coming-of-age epic Stand By Me, is total summer fare. It’s the 1960s and four friends set out on a quest to find a dead body that is purportedly in the woods. Along the way, they tell stories, outrun trains and dogs, tease each other mercilessly, and basically do what best friends do. Of course, the premise of finding a body is a touch grim, but if you haven’t read The Body or seen Stand By Me, you have to give it a chance—it’s in the same collection of novellas as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (also movie-fied), and it’s definitely of that ilk. Dude, SO GOOD!
Bonus!: Your Recommendations
I queried the Facebook crowd as to their favorite summery YA reads and they have spoken. Here are a gems few gems from them:
A Summer To Die, Lois Lowry; recommended by T.C. One summer, Meg’s family moves to a little house in the country and has to share a room with her popular sister. Meg envies her sister’s popularity and beauty . . . and then her sister dies! Nothing says summer like a good guilty sob, eh? No, seriously, though, I haven’t read this since I was little and I totally will re-read it this summer!
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Betty Smith; recommended by T.C. Resourceful Francie lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the start of the 20th century. Like the tree that pushes up through the cement in Brooklyn, Francie must transcend her circumstances (code for class and gender) to come of age. I first read this because my mom’s from Brooklyn, so I kind of thought it would be like reading about her childhood but, um, it wasn’t.
Bridge To Terabithia, Katherine Patterson; recommended by A.R. Omigod, such a perfect summer book! The entrancing creation of a fantasy world, best friends, learning hard lessons. (It makes me cry, too, A.R.)
Bartimaeus series, Jonathan Stroud; recommended by A.R. This boy-magician-in-training series sounds like a perfect summer read. Indeed, A.R. says it’s his favorite series of all time! I will definitely check it out, although it’ll probably just make me sad all over again about how my letter from Hogwarts never came.
Anything by Judy Blume; recommended by S.W. I am in total agreement that Judy Blume provides some stupendous by-the-pool reading. While some may gravitate to Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I am more of a Fudge fan, myself: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Superfudge, hell yeah!
The Time Quartet, Madeleine L’Engle; recommended by A.H. A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels are exactly the kind of summer series that I want to read. For one thing, it’s not summer in them (indeed, at many points, it is a dark and stormy night), but always seems autumnal, which will distract me from feeling as though the ten minutes I spend outside waiting for the trolley are going to cause me to spontaneously combust. Great adventure, wonderful and flawed characters, and supergeniuses!
His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman; recommended by Au.R. Like The Time Quartet, His Dark Materials series is a wonderful summer series that will cool us down (polar bears!) and distract us. Au.R. says that since it’s about Lyra’s budding sexuality and growing maturity it’s a total summer read, and I couldn’t agree more.
Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury (R.I.P!); recommended by E.H. Omigosh, such a summer book! Dandelion wine is the concentration of all of summer into one cup, and Bradbury packs exactly that into this book. Must re-read this summer. (Oh, and the 50th anniversary edition has a forward by Stephen King!)
Legend, Marie Lu; recommended by M.U. M.U. says that this is a great, fast read, and I’m psyched about something like that for the summer; this dystopia sounds like the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster.
Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin; recommended by A.D. I am so delighted by the rush of older fantasy series in response to my asking folks for their summery recommendations! Le Guin’s Earthsea books are another series that I really must re-read this summer, preferably near the ocean.
So, what of you, dear readers? What are your favorite summer celebrations and distractions?