7 Novels About Transformative Summers That Will Take You Away

Summers take on a different kind of sheen once one completes the traditional September-June school schedule. Whereas hot seasons of our youth signified freedom, endless days, drippy ice pops and hours of nothingness punctuated by the drone of a sad ceiling fan, the 9-to-5 jobs of most adults’ lives don’t take a break when the weather gets warm. 

What’s a professional to do, other than aggressively cram beachy days and outdoor-drinking nights into the weekends? Picking up one of these seven tomes for your commute or book club may alleviate summer FOMO. If July and August seem like they’ll be business as usual, take a dive into a refreshing world that’s not your own. 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki

Sure, you could finish Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel of a young girl’s summer at her family’s lake house in one golden afternoon, but this is one you’ll want to come back to again and again. The book, illustrated by Tamaki’s cousin Jillian, is a breathtaking chronicle of a whirlwind coming-of-age story. Seeing Rose teeter between girl- and womanhood will remind readers of their own halcyon summer break days.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

This novel is ideal for the slightly cynical city dweller who’s conned into sitting at a pool or beach in the name of merriment. The Post family journeys from Manhattan to Mallorca for what should be a relaxing trip — but, of course, the confluence of so many personalities under the same roof eventually leads to some abrasiveness. Watching those conflicts play out, and waiting for the teenaged Sylvia to get some alone time with her Spanish tutor, make the read quick and delicious.

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

Benji doesn’t quite fit in his elite, mostly white prep school in 1980s Manhattan, and an admission of his love for a horror magazine keeps him firmly in the uncool camp. He finds his place, however, when returning to his family home among other upper-class African-American families on Sag Harbor. This endearing and fiercely written novel by Colson Whitehead is a coming-of-age tale with a crescendo right around Labor Day, where all good summer stories must inevitably end. 

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Though Julia Pierpont’s novel doesn’t solely take place over one summer, the annual break from school does allow Deb, a mother and a wife who has recently had to confront her husband’s extensive infidelity, to escape with her children to a ramshackle summer house in Rhode Island. Due to the unusual structure of the story, the reader is, for better or worse, aware of how the characters’ stories will turn out in the end; the scenes set in the summer house connect a fractured family from point A to B, and show how things can continue after a trauma and the acceptance that nothing can be the same again. 

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

This read is for anyone who spent their lower- or middle-class upbringing daydreaming about what it’d be like to have a sprawling, secluded family estate, if only for some time. When Genevra invites college friend Mabel to her centuries-old family estate for the summer, the latter’s world opens up. For the first time, Mabel experiences how the other half lives ― but, of course, the closer she gets, the harder it becomes to extricate herself when things go awry. 

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson 

Phaedra and Dionne are sisters living in 1980s Brooklyn — until their mother, an AIDS nurse who feels she can no longer give the girls proper attention, sends them to live with her mother in Bird Hill, a neighborhood in Barbados. Each sister finds a way to test the limits of their matriarch for the summer, growing and slowly adjusting to the new rhythm of their lives. 

Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

What’s a dad to do when he’s recently become more involved with his 17-year-old daughter’s life and she suffers a mental break of viral proportions at a high school party? Take her to Lithuania, naturally. In this novel, Thorpe tells the story of an unforgettable summer, alternating between the teenage Vera’s insightful, unique letters to her boyfriend Fang back home and her father’s narration. The inexplicable magic of travel — and of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, resplendent in history and baroque architecture — are present on nearly every page.

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7 Novels About Transformative Summers That Will Take You Away

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