I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Speak/Penguin Random House; Reprint edition: October 27, 2015)
There are some books that make such a strong impression on you, they leave you in a dream-like state for weeks, reeling from the sheer force of the story. For me, these are the books I cherish, the ones I hold close, vowing to never forget. These are books I make sure to own, so that I can, if not immediately re-read, then at least never forget. While reading I’ll Give You the Sun, characters Noah and Jude were so vividly captured, I had to occasionally remind myself they’rejust peoplein books. For me, the story of Noah and Jude was so real, the California setting so well done on the page, that years later, I still recall my complete immersion in this book. As a reader, I was in awe. It’s a coming-of-age story, but it also paints a vivid world that soars with feeling and emotion. It’s a radiant book, told from two perspectives. When this book came out in 2014, it garnered a slew of nominations and awards. For me, it’s a perfect beach read because of the sunny California setting and it orbits around the (sometimes tumultuous) relationship between twins Noah and Jude and follows them over time, exploring their identities and how their decisions along the way lay the groundwork for what was to come.
Paulina & Fran by Rachel Glaser (Harper Perennial: September 1, 2015)
Quirky, hilarious, incisive are all words I’d use to describe Glaser’s brilliant 2015 book, Paulina & Fran. Paulina and Fran are both art school students who become drawn to each other by their own charisma. Though dramatically different, Paulina has a mean-streak, she’s more adventurous and promiscuous. Fran has enormous talent, but lacks the confidence that Paulina has in spades. When Fran begins dating Paulina’s ex-boyfriend, Paulina reacts in a way that will have ramifications long past their art school days. This book crackles with wit and humor and it perfectly captures that early twenties time period of our lives when adolescence is just beginning to fade and for a while, at least, the world feels like a dance floor. This book is short— it’s a fast read that’s perfect for a long afternoon by the pool. Warning: You’ll be missing these characters long past the final page.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint edition: July 7, 2015)
For those readers who want a little science fiction in their life, but aren’t ready to commit to vast landscapes of artificial intelligence and galaxy-hopping starships, Rowell’s Landlineprovides the perfect balance of fantastical intrigue and down-to-earth, deeply identifiable romance. Picture a Twilight Zoneepisode populated by a couple from a CW show—that’s pretty close. Sometimes light, sometimes earnest, Rowell’s intensely loving characterizations of her central couple make the reader more or less the third spouse in their unlikely relationship. Its scenes often pop with that wit we all so love from the best movie rom-coms, but always in service of a greater, more meaningful point. If you want to ponder love and commitment and the passage of time in a way that won’t depress you (and God knows I do) this book doesn’t disappoint.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Penguiin Random House: April 13, 2004; Alfred A Knopf: September 11, 1992)
It’s not uncommon to read a murder mystery on the beach, but Tartt’s take on the genre has two notable qualities that set it apart. One is that you already know whodunit… and you’re uncomfortably on their side. The other is that this book is crafted with all the technical skill of a Swiss clockmaker, and that skill wildly pays off. Its world building is on par with the highest-grossing YA sagas of our time, but in such a quiet, unassuming way that it slips into your own memory in a way you won’t really notice until after you’ve finished reading. I feel like I lived on the same college campus as the main cast, slept in their dorm rooms, ate at their restaurants—meaning that I, for better or worse, committed their crime, too. Some readers might find the book’s (shall we say) detail-oriented prose to be a bulky, intimidating slog, much like Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch. But I recommend it anyway, because if the goal of a summer read is to transport you into a world that will envelop you completely, with people you will think about with the sort of nuance you might have when thinking about real-life friends, it’s hard to find a more effective round-trip ticket than this one.