Most students approach summer with the relish of a prisoner being set free. We count down the days, suffer through finals, churn out papers that may or may not say anything useful and ultimately collapse in exhaustion at the end of it all. After a grueling semester full of required readings, it’s easy to understand why someone would want to take a break from the books. Born readers take the time summer off to dive into the piles of James Patterson thrillers, Nicholas Sparks weepies and other bestsellers they saved for when they could find time. But for those of us so burnt out from prose, the struggle of finding a good summer read proves more than it’s worth. If your semester left you as brain dead as me, you’ll need a guide to the best books that’ll keep you from turning into a college zombie this summer.
Every society has its own twisted inner workings. A Thousand Splendid Suns delves into the realm of family in Afghan society through the entwined tales of two women, Mariam and Laila, married to the same abusive man. The novel provides perspective through its inquisition of familial dynamics and their intersection with the woman’s role in Afghan society. “Sometimes when we’re all caught up in school, work, and applications, we lose sight of how many opportunities we’ve been afforded,” University of Florida junior Tori Robbins said. “A Thousand Splendid Suns helped me take a step back and reevaluate my complaints, [giving] me motivation to take advantage of the opportunities I’ve been given like independence, education and the ability to work.”
Familial obligations cause problems when they conflict with your own personal needs, leaving the need for an outlet. Like Water for Chocolate examines this conflict-inducing territory through the story of Tita’s struggle with her mother. As she gets placed between the call of tradition, which would require her to care for her mother, and her own desires to marry her lover Pedro, Tita finds solace in her love of cooking. “[It’s] a picture into another time and another culture, as it takes place in Mexico,” UF junior Lauren Perez-Maiy said. “It’s also just really creatively set up, each chapter is a month and has a recipe.” Written by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel, you can buy the novel in either English or Spanish, making it perfect for the bilingual book lovers out there.
Life comes with problems, but sometimes we find ourselves down on our luck and the odds seem insurmountable. A memoir recounting the effects of poverty and familial dysfunction in the life of Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle sees her rise from the life of poverty in which she was raised by her alcoholic father and artist mother to garner success through her love of the written word. “Jeannette Walls explained the dysfunctional life she had between her and her parents without ever demonizing them as parents or people,” University of Central Florida junior Charles Hines said. “She never sacrificed the complexity of the situation…It was really inspiring how she never stopped pursuing what she wanted to do.”
Human lives don’t usually take a fantastical form, which is why we turn to books. The Name of the Wind brings fantasy to life with the story of our hero Kvothe. From his humble beginnings as a child in a traveling theatre troupe, we follow him on his journey towards his notorious mastery of magic. “Although a fantasy novel, Rothfuss uses real world issues like greed and prejudice to push the story forward and give an outward perspective on the world we live in,” UCF grad student Kim Helms said. At 662 pages, this novel makes for a great undertaking for all those who enjoy the fantasy genre.
Books don’t often take historical concepts like slavery in the U.S. and throw in a sci-fi twist. Kindred takes us on a twisted journey with our heroine Dana as she travels through time and space from her home in California in 1976 and a slave plantation in pre-Civil War Maryland. “The main character Dana straddles what her life would have been if she had been born a slave and the life she has as a free woman,” Hines said. “The most interesting aspect of the story is seeing the consistencies in prejudice, inequalities and the patriarchy that have carried on. Butler also uses the story to display the resilience and unique struggle that black women have to and have had to go through since forever.”
Ever feel afraid to go outside? Bernadette has. Where’d You Go Bernadette follows the story of an agoraphobic mother who promises to take her 15-year-old daughter to Antarctica after she makes straight A’s in school–that is, until she disappears. “The book is told really differently because it’s not just narrative,” UF junior Valentina Herrera said. “It’s told in emails, letters, journal entries, memos and even video transcripts from Bernadette, her family and people in the community.” A journey into the realm of trauma and loss, this novel will take you on a trip in its quest to discover the complexities of Bernadette.
Ah, to be young and in love. This trilogy of stories follows 16-year-old Belly as she struggles to choose between two brothers, Conrad, who she’s always loved, and Jerimiah, who expresses his own affections for her. As the relationships evolve throughout the three books, we see the relationships blur until Belly must choose between doing what’s right and what’s easy. “The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy is one of absolute favorites. I didn’t want to put any of the books down—a love story with a major twist,” University of South Florida junior Kaitlin Harrington said. “The many ups and downs in this book will make you wish you had a summer beach house too, or at least a beach to go to.”
What does your hero look like? The Inheritance Cycle series follows a young man named Eragon who finds a dragon egg, then comes face to face with his destiny when his village burns down and he must become a hero. “The Inheritance Cycle is my favorite fantasy story,” UCF junior Stevens Thomas said. “I love it more than I ever could Harry Potter or Star Wars. I’m so sad it’s never gotten the movie series it deserves.” Among the under-appreciated YA series of the last 10 years, this action-adventure series will fill the void left by Harry Potter or The Hunger Games.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock your entire life, you’ve likely heard of this title. Though mainly known for its film adaptation, The Princess Bride takes you back to a time when your dreams were filled with the adventures of princesses and pirates every night. The novel follows the story of Buttercup, a young woman who falls in love farm hand Wesley, who must then go off to accumulate a fortune in order to be worthy of the young woman’s hand. “I didn’t think I would love anything as much as much as the Princess Bride movie until I read this book. This quirky story within-a-story is escapist lit at its best,” UF junior Karlye Becker said. If you’re looking for a fantastical romantic journey, peruse this novel as you wish.
If you’ve lost someone, then you probably also wishfully think you can see the person one more time. Be careful what you wish for, though. The Charley Davidson series follows our heroine of the same name, a private investigator who can both see and touch the dead. “This is the perfect beach read,” UF junior Karlye Becker said. “Jones takes a kooky concept – a snarky, endlessly sassy P.I. that also happens to be the Grim Reaper – and manages to produce a relatable, hilarious heroine whose quips and comebacks you’ll want to steal for yourself.” Charley uses her abilities to solve cases, but in the process she is often almost killed herself in completely unlikely places.