By Anna Hill
In light of Sophia’s great post about the dire, repetitive sexism that is often prevalent in so-called “summer reads”, we decided in response that the rest of the PBG team would collect some of our own favourite summer reads and share them with you! Now we can all be huge nerds together and fall in love with some great books this summer! As it is sometimes harder to find alternative and less problematic books, we to put together our fave reads in a list for your enjoyment! If you want to know why we might have chosen them (some may not be as conventionally “summery” and “light” as other recommended reads in mainstream media), then it’s due to a range of reasons. These books are any/all/some/one/none of the following: empowering, liberating, moving, thought-provoking, stereotype smashing, thrilling, enthralling, exciting, enjoyable.
Without further adieu, here is PBG’s list of non-sexist, totally fantastic summer book recommendations:
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
This is a magnificent YA book and it’s so unbelievably good, it waayyyy passes the Bechdel test and it has mostly female characters who are kickass and freaking incredible. Basically a bunch of Beauty Queens crash land on an island and have to survive!! There are Queer characters, a trans girl, some really fab women of colour. Some really annoying tropes/stereotypes of women are utterly subverted and it’s just great, and it’s so aware of it all as well, it’s a clever satire. I think about it a LOT. Lastly it’s good for summer reading because it’s set on a desert island so it’s really HOT (and you know, summer is hot….. just go read this ok).
Every Day by David Levithan
This is a beautiful beautiful book. The story is a romance, so if you like to read love stories then this would be fab for you, it is also a beautifully written book, and it contains such wonderful moments that you will fall in love with all of it over and over again, every sentence. The story is slightly strange but very clever, it follows the story of “A” an entity or person that has no proper physical form – every day they wake up in another’s body. And one day they meet Rhiannon! (who obvs they fall in love with!) It’s also great because it discusses ideas about gender and sexuality and the fluidness of those ideas/constructs/concepts.
Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
This is a comic book series, and there are three volumes out so far and I am ITCHING for the next instalment, because SO MUCH DRAMA AND ACTION AND EXCITEMENT! The story is a war story and a love/family journey too – it follows a couple who fall in love but are on the opposite sides of the ongoing war that just keeps killing and hurting, and they have a baby. They then have to try to survive. It’s got a kickass female lead, as well as my personal favourite, an amazing bisexual woman named Gwendolyn who is so stylish and lethal. As well as this the relationship between Marko and Alana – the two who are in love, is very sweet and realistic, and the art is really really beautiful too. It’s so enthralling and interesting and beautiful and funny and silly and the characters are A+ (There are some really cute gay, green journalists!). I would also definitely recommend this to people who are new to comics (I’m a newbie myself) as it’s super easy to read/see and get into.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Forest of Hands and Teeth is basically a book set post-zombie apocalypse in this tiny village surrounded by the undead, or “unconsecrated.” It’s super religious and they’re basically told that they are the last humans left in the entire world, they’re God’s village. All the men are told to guard the fences and the women must all marry and have lots of babies because their survival depends on it. The protagonist, Mary, basically questions everything and sees past the lies, and she wants to be with a different guy to the one chosen for her because of love, not “duty.” When they’re pushed into the forest she is literally the most determined person and she realises her dream to find the ocean is the most important thing to her, and just being with this dude who she loves isn’t enough. And I won’t say much more but it’s so good.
Sing You Home
This a brilliantly well-crafted novel that outlines some very important issues that same-sex couples are unjustly forced to face. It is about: a woman named Zoe who fails to have a child multiple times and then gives up her hopes of ever being a mother. Her husband then decides to leave and her world is shattered. Luckily for Zoe, she finds a friend in her colleague Vanessa and the more time the two spend together, the better she feels. Zoe then discovers that she wants to spend more and more time with her new friend… until she realizes that what she really wants is something much more than friendship.
With a convincing and believable plot, and characters that you just want to hug (!), the book is a definite must-read. Picoult’s writing is compelling, moving and thoroughly thought provoking. Both Zoe and Vanessa are two of the strongest, bravest and most wonderful women I have ever encountered in literature. They both have a courage and defiance that lifts them above their struggles. Two thoroughly determined, tough and intelligent women (and they don’t rely on men either!).
Forbidden Lessons in a Kabul Guesthouse by Suraya Sadeed
This book isn’t fiction, it is a memoir, but the writer has done incredible things, and it is an astonishing read. It is painful and sad to read at many points, as she describes experiences in the heart of a terrible war, seeing extreme poverty, and a kind of inequality that we in the West cannot ever truly imagine. Despite all this, it is immensely hopeful and inspiring, as Suraya Sadeed tells readers of the aid she brought to Afghan communities, and of how hard she fought to do so. She is truly admirable, and a reminder that we can make a difference, if determined enough, as resolve is a powerful trait in people.
The House of Bernarda Alba by Lorca
This recommendation is not exactly up everyone’s street! All the speaking characters are women (only one male character). It has been described as a photographic documentary of 1920’s Spain. Simply, there are five daughters who are in 8 years mourning after the death of their father but one gets engaged and problems follow. The text provides a wonderful insight into 1920s rural Spain and it’s attitudes towards women. Some have more power than others but in the end do they really have any power? Clever symbolism and stylistic techniques highlight the key themes of freedom and repression in a tragic tale of a family of women in mourning. Despite being set almost a century ago parallels can still be found in aspects of today’s society. Great play to help you question the things we see in our world today and what it was like to live as a woman in this society. Original language or a good translation is best (there is also an incredibly accurate English film starring Glenda Jackson).
Jane Eyre is an absolute classic that follows the life of Jane, from when she is a little girl dealing with cruelty and hardship to when she grows into an independent and intelligent woman. It’s a great feminist book because it was written by a woman and is about a woman at a time when society completely dismissed the idea of women being able to think/act for themselves.
Diary of Anne Frank
Also a classic! This book is both inspiring and also very sad. The diary was written by Anne Frank whilst she was in hiding during WW2 because she was Jewish. Anne inspires me because of her bravery and her honesty – I think her voice really speaks out to all women and girls.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl is about a girl who’s not afraid to be different and true to herself, it’s very heartwarming and tells girls that it’s ok not to fit in with the crowd!! (It might be for slightly younger readers)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
If you haven’t read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn I would highly recommend it, it’s an oldy but a goody. The book follows a girl’s life and family living in Brooklyn. Her family were Irish immigrates and very poor and they lived there during the time where that’s where immigrants would stay. It follows her becoming a woman, and it talks about the dynamics of her mother and father’s relationship. It’s spans over her life starting when she was about 8 and ending in her early 20s. It’s very well written although a tad slow in the beginning, you need to hold on until you get like 1/4 of the way through and it gets super good.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice is very good, though over 900 pages if you’re looking for a longer read. The plot sounds weird but I promise if you get into it it’s so so good. The novel is about a family of witches that are all strikingly beautiful. It’s set in more modern times when they’re trying to figure out who the next witch is. It describes the history of the family line of witches throughout the book but its main focus is explaining what makes the most recent #1 witch unusually powerful. Of course there is some romance and such but the storyline is deeply complicated and very interesting. I don’t wanna say much more because it’s easy to give things away, just don’t read it if you’re squeamish about sexual themes, it’s an adult novel and I normally have to warn people beforehand because the book can get slightly graphic at times. Again it starts a bit slow and can be a tad confusing at times but I would highly recommend this book to everyone, even if you aren’t into fantasy
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
A follow up to the highly acclaimed novel ‘The Kite Runner’, the book transports us into the life of Mariam, a young Afghan girl who is facing the daily struggle of living in a society that values women solely for their ability to reproduce. Though not light reading, Hossieni’s ability to make the harshest of abuse and discrimination readable subject matter is incredible, providing very valuable insight into the harsh lives of women in Afghanistan and beyond.
Bedpans and Bobby Socks by Barbara Fox and Gwenda Gofton
Bedpans and Bobby Socks is set in the late 50’s. It’s about 5 British nurses who move to America to work for a while then go travelling in an old car all over the States. It’s a really fun summer read, especially if you like travel and roadtrip books, and the 5 nurses are all amazingly independent, adventurous women (it’s based on a true story, too!).
Now go forth and READ!!!