School is out and, depending upon where exactly you live, summer weather may or may not be here. For those of us whose favorite pastimes include reading, that means it’s time to get started on summer reading lists. If you’re a middle-grade child, a teenager, or an adult who enjoys literature for young people, I have a few recommendations. This is a list of some of the summertime books new this year that I’ve read recently. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it might be a good place to start. (As a side note, I notice that all of these books have female protagonists and most of them qualify as chick lit. My apologies to those of you who are looking for something more masculine or gender-neutral, but this is what has come across my radar so far this summer.)
Summerlost by Ally Condie, 2016
Last summer, Cedar Lee lost her father and autistic brother Ben in a car accident. This summer, Cedar and her mother and younger brother Miles are staying in Iron Creek, Cedar’s mother’s hometown. After Cedar befriends a boy named Leo, she finds herself getting a job at the local Shakespeare festival and learning about the life and mysterious death of an actress named Lisette Chamberlain. In fact, Cedar and Leo begin secretly leading a tour about Lisette. But when their boss finds out, they get in trouble and lose their job at the festival. This book is partly about friendship and partly about dealing with the harsh reality of death. The relationships, both within Cedar’s family and between her and Leo, make this a heartwarming story. The subplot about Lisette adds a touch of mystery, even though Lisette’s backstory doesn’t feel fully developed. Despite the theme of death, this book is a relatively light and fun read that many middle-grade children will enjoy having along for boring summer road trips. I would recommend it particularly for ages ten through thirteen. Cedar herself is twelve.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, 2016
I’ve already given a plot summary and a brief opinion of this book here. But given the fact that it’s one of the hottest children’s books of the year and takes place in the summertime, it definitely belongs on this list. It’s a coming-of-age story that I would recommend for kids between about third grade and early middle school, or for anyone who is partial to Kate DiCamillo.
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar, 2016
Twelve-year-old Carolina (Carol for short) isn’t happy to be spending her summer in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping to move her Grandpa Serge into assisted living. She’s never met him before, since her father has never gotten along with him, but she knows that he was prickly even before dementia set in. But it takes less than a day for Carol to become drawn to her harsh grandfather and fascinated by his stories about a tree that gave the gift of immortality and a lake that was carried away by bees. As the summer draws to a close and Carol goes home and starts seventh grade, she gradually realizes that those stories aren’t just the garbled tall tales of an old man with dementia—they are the truth about her own roots. This is a serious and highly emotional book for readers who want something a little more substantial than the stereotypical beach read. The magical realism genre doesn’t exactly make it unique, but it does make it unusual and attention-grabbing. Although Carol is just a tween starting junior high, I would classify this as a YA book.
Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, 2016
Almost-sixteen-year-old Summer Everett is going to spend the summer with her father, a painter who has lived in France since her parents divorced. At least, that’s the plan. Just as she’s about to board a plane, she gets a phone call, and at that point, her life splits into two different realities: one in which she ignores her ringing phone and gets on the plane, and one in which she answers the phone and her father tells her to stay home in Hudsonville, New York. This book alternates between the two different storylines, giving the effect of a multiple perspective story even though both perspectives are Summer. In one version of the summer, Summer explores a picturesque southern French town, discovers a love for chocolate eclairs, and develops a crush on a cute French boy named Jacques. In the other version, she takes a photography course taught by her Aunt Lydia and starts spending time with her long-term crush Hugh Tyson. But in both versions, she must deal with a strain in her relationship with her best friend Ruby and a horrible secret that her father has kept for years. This is a compelling chick lit book that does its genre proud. I would recommend it for teenage girls who enjoy clean romance, travel stories, and/or multiple perspective books.
The Underdogs by Sara Hammel, 2016
Friends Chelsea and Evie are horrified when teenage Annabel Harper is found dead by the pool at the tennis club where this entire book takes place. They eavesdrop on Detective Ashlock as he investigates the case. Interspersed with the story of the murder mystery are chapters that relate events that occurred earlier in the summer, particularly Evie’s transition from a bullied and ignored overweight girl to a newly discovered tennis prodigy. Although I didn’t find this book as interesting as I’d hoped and the writing is nothing spectacular, it has a clever surprise ending that left me re-reading large portions of the book to see if there were clues. (For the record, there were indeed some pretty obvious ones.) I would definitely recommend this book to tweens and teens who like tennis, but it also has some appeal for murder-mystery fans and for anyone who loves a good twist at the end of a story.
The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, 2016
It’s early summer, and seventeen-year-old Gottie Oppenheimer is mourning her grandfather who died almost a year ago. She’s also mourning last year’s summer romance with Jason, her brother’s friend. And to top everything off, Gottie finds out that her childhood friend and neighbor Thomas is moving back and will be spending the summer at her house. Amidst all this chaos, Gottie is repeatedly sucked into wormholes, causing her to re-experience scenes from previous summers. Since she is something of a mathematical genius, Gottie gets caught up in trying to figure out what exactly is happening to her and why. This book blends intellectual science fiction with teen romance in a way that doesn’t quite work at first, but leads to a satisfying and enjoyable ending. The setting, a quiet English village, is appealing, while Gottie’s German background and Thomas’s culinary experiments add a little extra flavor to the story. Although this book will probably not be earning a place on my best-of-the-year list, I definitely enjoyed it and would strongly recommend it for any teenagers who have an interest in both romance and spacetime.
Summer of Sloane by Erin L. Schneider, 2016
Although this book came out just a little over a month ago, I actually got to read it last winter, since I reviewed it for School Library Journal. In my review, I called it “an enjoyable beach read for fans of teen romance”, which is the line that Amazon.com quoted. Sloane McIntyre’s summer starts out badly when she finds out that her best friend Mick and boyfriend Tyler slept together, and now Mick is pregnant. Sloane punches Tyler in the nose and breaks her hand. But things are looking up when she arrives at her mom’s home in Honolulu. The majority of the book is a carefree and lightweight story about a tropical vacation and a newfound romance, but then Sloane gets terrible news from home that makes her rethink her relationships and the value of forgiveness.