By Sophia Simon-Bashall
Summer is upon us! Well…sort of, for those of us in the UK – but summer is rarely warm/dry/sunny here, is it? And it’s not summer in many other parts of the world right now… time is such a strange concept. And holy macaroni, I’ve just had an epiphany. TIME IS JUST A CONSTRUCT. TIME IS MEANINGLESS. TIME DOES NOT CONTROL YOU. Phew. I think my life may have just changed forever.
That aside, I am excited for summer, for the idea of it. Even though I’m not currently in education, summer still holds the connotations that it’s had in the past – the word still translates to one thing in particular: freedom. It’s swimming in an outdoor pool; the fresh air in my lungs as I come up for air and the sun shining on my back as I move smoothly through the water. It’s eating breakfast in the garden, starting my day with a sense of leisure, and making smoothies in the afternoon, then lounging on the grass, reading a book. It is, perhaps most of all, the books. Throughout the academic year, a large chunk of what we read is dictated by exam boards, by old white men who don’t know anything about what we’re interested in, let alone care. So every year, I look forward to the summer, to the freedom of being able to read whatever I want. I may not have had the external restrictions of academia lately, but old habits die hard. I’ve felt guilty every time I’ve gravitated towards a book just for fun, for escape, because I can’t shake the thought that I should be enriching my mind in an intellectual sense. I have felt shame every time I have given up on a heavy classic, because I should be stretching myself, because reading is supposed to be about learning. As if my break from academia isn’t about learning to relax, about letting myself breathe and having some fun. I know that as summer washes over me, this will become easier, that I will not feel quite so bad about reading solely for pleasure, because I have always associated this time with light and fun and I am used to giving myself permission to let go a little. I am very excited for the relief that it will bring.
If you are reading this, you are probably a bit of a book worm, like me. I reckon you probably share my excitement for summer reading, too. But if you’ve had your reading material selected for you all year, you might feel at a bit of a loss – what are you even looking for? Well, whether you’re off to the beach, in your back garden, in the car visiting country parks with your parents, or having to sneak-read behind the counter at work, I have a few fantastic recommendations for you:
If you’re starting university/college after Summer… Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer
I read this graphic memoir whilst still at the Wrong University, and though I was completely distraught at the time, I was comforted by it. The protagonist, Ramsey, went to college in a completely new place, like me, and loved it, unlike me. Although I was bitter at the time that she got to enjoy her experience whilst I loathed it, I was also immensely reassured. It reminded me that it was possible. And whilst she loved where she went to school, it was clearly difficult for her, too. The workload, the navigation of a new city, the being away from home, the friendship anxiety… she was honest about that, which was so important for me. I needed to see that the people having a good time weren’t JUST living it up, it wasn’t ALL fun and games – that was just all I was seeing. I keep dipping into it again, and will certainly take it along with me when I go back to university in September, to soothe my anxieties. If you’re feeling stressed out about your move at all, I highly recommend Little Fish. Also, the drawings are so cute!
If you’re off on a road trip (or dreaming about one!)… The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Reading this will make you really really really want start a band with your best friends. Like, REALLY. But it’s not an entirely light-hearted read – it’s very much concerned with the question of ‘finding yourself’, and gets pretty profound in places. The thing is, it’s not predictable – self-discovery in YA can be fairly formulaic, usually revolving around the manic pixie dream girl trope, but LaCour’s writing is much too good for that. It’s subtly woven in to the fun and adventure, and to the touching moments between friends and family and strangers.
If you’re going to Summer Camp/working at Summer Camp/feeling nostalgic for Summer Camp… Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash
I’m ridiculously obsessed with Summer Camp stories for someone who was such an anxious kid that I was physically sick on the first night of every school trip or holiday camp I went on, and actually left after the first 48 hours one time. Alas, the idea of camp enchants me, and Maggie Thrash’s graphic memoir was wonderful for my obsession. The images are so beautiful, it’s easy to believe that some kind of magic goes into making camp happen. It is also a heart-warming tale of exploration, of the first crush and confusion that comes along with it. It shows how all-consuming it is the first time you fall for a girl, how you are overwhelmed by the girl but also overwhelmed in a scary way, overwhelmed by the fact that your desire appears to be unlike your peers. Perhaps most importantly, this book is an ode to the mystical, chaotic, insular world of teenage girlhood.
If you’re off to a music festival… Remix by Non Pratt
Live music outdoors is one of the best things about Summer. FACT. And best friends are one of the best things about life. ALSO A FACT. Thus, Remix by Non Pratt? One of the best books in YA fiction. FACT FACT FACT. Seriously, nothing screams ‘TEENAGE GIRLS FOREVERRR’ more than this book. I adore that it is a dual narration, from both of the BFFs – Ruby and Kaz. Often when a book has more than one voice, it can lose depth, you don’t get to know the characters so well, but Non Pratt manages it perfectly. The emotions are raw, the love is real, and you can practically smell the mix of sun cream and vomit typical of a UK festival.
If you are really missing One Direction… Kill The Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky
It is so rare to find representation of fangirls and fandom that isn’t condescending, that recognises the different dimensions of this whole thing. Goldy actually shows the more ridiculous side of fandom, the side that middle-aged men refer to as ‘hysteria’, but with humour, affection and compassion. Equally, she highlights the sheer brilliance of fangirls, how determined, quick-thinking and creative we can be. Most importantly, she writes about how fandom makes you feel – how you form friendships, feel an affinity with other young girls, and how the object of your devotion gives you blissful joy. I will leave you with this quote, which kind of sums up how I feel about One Direction, and made me cry, because I miss my boys: “Did I love them because they were the only boys in my life who consistently told me that I was beautiful? Probably. I loved The Ruperts for who they were, sure, but I mostly loved them for how they made me feel. Which was happy. The Ruperts made me happy. The simplest thing to be in the world. And the hardest.”
If you are mostly just furious and fed up with the white cishet patriarchal world… Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
Queer People of Colour are simply not represented enough, but in YA fiction, it feels particularly problematic – this is a genre making waves, queer authors like David Levithan being some of the most prolific, and girl power trilogies such as The Hunger Games and Divergent being amongst the most successful. And yet, QPOC, particularly women, trans, and non-binary folk, are severely lacking. So along comes this novel, this outstanding novel, whose protagonist is a queer latinx young woman, and the book is blatant about that – the cover clearly and proudly depicts a woman of colour, and (not to stereotype, but…) she has an undercut, so clearly, she is queer (really, how many cishets do you know who have undercuts?). In moments the novel can feel a little bit 101 on intersectional feminism and being queer, but most of the time, the knowledge that is conveyed fits well. It’s about learning who you are and embracing that, it’s about the liberation that comes with finding your community, about respecting other communities, about challenging the norms and the crap you have internalised. It’s about a summer of discovery, and makes for a funny, emotional, and enlightening read.
If you want something to fill your heart like Perks once did, minus the manic pixie dream girl syndrome… Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa
I can’t sing the praises of this book enough, and the thing that I want most in life nowadays is for Kate Scelsa to announce that it is going to be turned into a film, because I feel a physical NEED to see this adapted for the screen. It would have the best aesthetic. And I would also bawl, annoying everyone in the cinema. This was a book that I really connected to, it was the first time I felt like I’d read about being a teenager with depression and how it affects your life in a way that truly resonated. It wasn’t dramatic about it – of course, sometimes depression IS dramatic, but it’s so rare that it is written about in a non-dramatic context. It still gets intense, but it also gives a picture of a ‘regular’ life – Mira is depressed, and some days she can’t go to school, others she can. It’s a depiction of depression that resonated with me as I read the book, and I think is relatable for many. Beyond that, it’s a tale of friendship, and it is just so beautiful. It will make you feel ALL THE FEELINGS. I love these characters, I love their relationships with each other, I love the way they view the world. I’m certain that you will love it all too.
Hopefully, some of these books will take your fancy. If you’re not convinced, I dare you to give one a try anyway! I didn’t think that I was going to like Remix at all, for example, but after a glowing recommendation from a highly trusted friend, I picked it up – and I am so glad that I did. It ended up being one of my favourite reads of last summer! Read a couple of pages if you see a copy in your local bookstore, and I promise, you will fall in love with at least one of these beautiful stories. Then you can sit back, relax, and lose yourself in them. Enjoy your summer!