Monday, July 7, 2014

Jenn's Pick: 5 Books To Add to Your Summer Reading List

When I was in high school, I remember getting my summer reading list each year and then dragging my mom to the closest Barnes & Noble to locate the novel or novels among the shelves. Each summer, thousands of high school students are required to annotate novels and write papers. I remember my summer reading assignments for my sophomore (A Separate Peace), junior (The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried), and senior years (The Poisonwood Bible) quite vividly. I remember the smell of the bookstore and the feeling of sitting outside on a lawn chair beside the pool, listening to the quiet bubbling of the pump while I turned pages, underlining and highlighting phrases and sentences. I remember how the sunscreen scent mingled with that distinct smell of my new books. I remember the musky library that I often visited in the summer, scouring for my required reading books, too.

I love reading (hence the English degree) and I actually, surprisingly, enjoyed almost all of the novels I was required to read during my high school summers. So, in the spirit of summer, I decided to compile a list of five "summer reading" requirements for y'all. There are a ton of books that I am dying to read this summer and that I am sure you can recommend. So don't hesitate to hit up the comments with YOUR suggestions. For now, let's explore five very different novels that I recommend, shall we?

5) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Okay, so I already explained why you should read If I Stay in my book review of the novel, but it cannot be overstated: this is a compelling and unique story. It may not stand the test of time as a classic novel, but it's a good and quick summer read if you're looking for a story that ties together youth and central themes like loss, love, and music. Anyone who understands the healing power of music will fall in love with this book. Moreover, If I Stay isn't just a story about how love and memories play into our decision-making, but it's also a story about pain, real and lasting pain. It's a beautifully told tale about a young woman's literal life or death decision and what she chooses in the end.

I definitely recommend this book and not just to young adults, though that is specifically who the book was geared toward. No, I would recommend this to my adult friends just the same. If you're interested in a story this summer with a relatively simple plot, riddled with flashbacks and emotional nuances, this is the story for you. I promise that you'll ache for Mia just as I did.

4) Paper Towns by John Green

I would put The Fault in Our Stars on this list, because it is brilliant, but I'm quite partial to another of John Green's novels: Paper Towns. This novel is great summer reading material because (for most of you), it will be a quick and inviting read. It's a story about a teenage boy named Quentin (or "Q") and his mysterious, entrancing classmate and friend Margo. After an adventurous night with Margo, Quentin and Margo's family discover that she went missing. The rest of the novel is a story about Quentin's desire to find Margo and the clues and mysteries that lead her closer to her.

Paper Towns is not nearly as popular as The Fault in Our Stars, but it's a gem of a book. It's got John Green's witty voice, mystery and intrigue, romance, and asks big and bold questions. I think that every good book should ask a good question. The characters are intriguing and insightful, and you are left wondering questioning whether or not some lost people even want to be found.

Go and pick up Paper Towns and read it. Bonus: you'll get to read all about my city beautiful (Orlando) in the novel as well.

3) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I'm not going to lie to you: The Kite Runner is a pretty intense book. My high school literature teacher recommended it to me (a woman who essentially loves every single book that involves death) and when I told her that I had read it and my heart had been crushed into a million pieces, she just smiled. I loved Ms. Roberts, my literature teacher, and though she often made us read depressing literature, she always made us read GOOD literature. The Kite Runner is deep and often dark but it's one of the best novels I've read and I'm due for a re-read soon. It's a story about two boys who learn that the decisions they've made as children haunt them into adulthood and impact them, for better or for worse.

It's a story that is deeply rooted in the idea of loyalty and of sacrifice and pain. It's a tragically beautiful story though, make no mistake about it, with themes running deep and wild. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of the novel if you're near a bookstore or a local library. I can promise you that you will not be disappointed.

(I cannot promise that you'll emerge without shedding a few tears, though. Goodness knows I did.)

2) The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

When people ask me who my favorite author is, I usually tell them that it is Barbara Kingsolver. You'll notice that I copped out and included two of her books here, but I couldn't decide between them so I had to recommend both. Kingsolver has a way of creating strong narrator voices and that always impresses me. Each of her characters sound different: they have different voices with different wants and needs and quirks. That's the mark of a true author, to be quite frank. In regards to the recommendations, there are some distinctions between the two novels I've listed. If you're in the mood for a lighter summer reading novel, check out The Bean Trees. It's a delightfully woven story about a young woman named Taylor who flees her small town and ends up in possession of a Native American child who Taylor names Turtle. There's also another story that intersects with Taylor's and it's that of a young mother named Lou Ann who has been abandoned by her husband. The story of these two women and their unconventional families is so beautiful and brilliant. Kingsolver is at her best when she portrays families and The Bean Trees is a beautiful tapestry of motherhood, love, and sacrifice. I can guarantee that you will not regret your decision to read it.

The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand, is equally as brilliant but about twice as long. Clocking in at 576 pages, it's not for the faint of heart but I promise that it is worth every line. My favorite quote ("To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story and that is the only celebration we mortals really know") originates from this novel and - as you deduced from my opening paragraph - was actually a required summer reading novel (it still is) for my county in Florida. It's amazing that this book, which was written in 1996, is now considered to be a part of the English canon within high schools.

The Poisonwood Bible is brilliant: it's a story of a family who, lead by a zealous evangelical Baptist preacher named Nathan Price - moves to the African Congo in 1959. The story's point-of-view is what makes it so intriguing: the chapters alternate narrators. Readers encounter the stories of Orleanna Price (Nathan's wife) and his four daughters: Rachel (blonde and self-centered), Leah (utterly devoted to her father and his work), Adah (Leah's witty, sarcastic, and often verbally silent twin), and Ruth May (five-year old bundle of energy and joy) as they live and learn in the Congo. The story is about faith and tragedy and loss and it demonstrates quite perfectly the progression of these characters throughout the narration. It's one of the most unique stories I've read in terms of narration and Kingsolver utilizes her strengths so well.

Read one or both of these novels this summer and I can promise you that your lives will be changed.

1) Room by Emma Donoghue

I've never read a book quite like Room and I almost didn't. When I was wandering the aisles of Borders (R.I.P.) one summer afternoon, searching for a new and intriguing novel to spend my time with, I came across a display with the colorful cover and the title Room. I knew absolutely nothing about the book, apart from what I had read on the back and inside cover of it. No friend had recommended it to me, and yet... I clutched onto the book and bought it that day. That wasn't like me to do, you see. I never (never) purchase books apart from recommendations or requirements under summer reading. I'm not the type of person to wander aimlessly in a bookstore, select a novel from the shelf, and spend $15 on it. No, much like Annie Edison who researches her backpacks thoroughly before purchase, my relationship with new books is a structured one.

I began reading Room and could genuinely not put it down. I tore through the book rather quickly. I laughed and cried and experienced some of the most unique narration ever. You see, Room is a story about a young boy and his mother who are being held captive. It's a suspenseful and emotional story told from the point-of-view of a five-year old little boy. You see the world through his eyes and know, in your adult wisdom, what is happening even when the child does not. Room is such a unique and extremely captivating story that I immediately now recommend it to my friends whenever they take requests for novels they should read. And truly, this is an amazing novel. I won't spoil anything for those who haven't read it, but if you DO read, prepare yourselves for the emotional tidal waves you will be hit with.

In addition to the five novels listed above, I'll always recommend some classics. The Great Gatsby is a personal favorite of mine (the green light, y'all) as well as Jane Eyre (even though that one is quite depressing). If you're a bad English major like me who never actually read Pride & Prejudice in college but saw the Kiera Knightley movie a billion times, read the novel this summer too! And if depressing stuff is more your scene, definitely check out The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath or The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Finally, if you want to kill me, read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. You'll hate me forever while you're reading it, but may love me later on in life. (As I hated Ms. Roberts for making us read it but later thanked her because I used it on my AP Literature examination.)

As I stated above, feel free to hit up the comments with some book recommendations for me and other readers as well. And, as always, have a great day! :)


  1. Thanks for the recommendations! :) I shall go through them as soon as possible.

    I've already read Paper Towns as a friend gave it to me. I remember getting heart constrictions by the end of the book. Hehe. Up to this day, I'm wondering if my friend is trying to tell me something through the book but I think I'll no longer know about that. Relationships are complicated. :P

  2. I devoured Fault in Our Stars, so I really need a new John Green book. Paper Towns sounds really good! Thank you for all the suggestions!