It’s summertime! And if you’re anything like me, that means finding a spot to curl up with a cool breeze, a tall glass of something iced, and a stack of good books. Now, I don’t always match my reading to the season, but sometimes I like my books to feel like an extension of the atmosphere I’m experiencing, rather than an escape from it. Especially if I’m lucky enough to be on vacation (or happily anticipating one); sometimes I want to read all about other people having the same disruption to routine that vacations bring, living outside of their regular schedules. And sometimes, y’know, I just want to savor the season as much as possible: sun, sand, water, just-picked fruits and veggies – celebrate the many incarnations of a summer vacation with the following vacation-themed reading.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Destination: Private island estate
This is the book that prompted the whole list of summer destination-themed titles; I devoured it in a single sitting (with a pitcher of iced tea, natch) and upon finishing was, a) blown away by the plotting – avoid spoilers!- and b) immediately ready for absolutely everything in my life to be summer-themed, because the setting was so deliciously drawn. Cady, our protagonist, is returning to her family’s summer retreat on a private island after spending the last two years away. She is suffering from excruciating migraines and trying to reclaim the easy, uncomplicated rhythms of the vacations she shared with her cousins in summers past, but she’s hindered by memory loss. As the incomplete flashbacks of previous years on the island draw the mystery closer to the dormant truth, the pages go by faster and faster until the truly shocking finale.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Destination: Lakeside cottage
This is the first collaboration between cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki since 2008’s much-lauded Skim (a personal favorite and a 2009 Best Books for Young Adults top ten selection), and like that nuanced, thoughtful graphic novel, this nuanced, thoughtful graphic novel is equally beautiful, with pitch-perfect dialogue and a subdued palette awash in blues and purples. The fully-realized characters are visibly bubbling over with complex, rich emotions, their relationships displayed with all the hesitations and missteps of real life. The gorgeously rendered scenes are alive with all the details of small beach town life; the magnificence of plunging into the water on a warm day, the lazy delights of an afternoon indoors after too much sun, the importance of marshmallows at a bonfire. I swear I could hear the gulls while I read.
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Destination: Private estate (non-island variety)
Bittersweet is an adult-market title told entirely from the point of view of nineteen year-old Mabel, who has been invited to spend the summer at the vacation compound (it’s like We Were Liars; everyone gets their own cottage) of her roommate from freshmen year of college, the unbelievably named Genevra Winslow. She then proceeds to unearth some fairly juicy details about the various members of her host family, and the book picks up steam as a veritable soap opera of bad behavior and buried secrets, all the while dispensing summer picnics, swimming sessions, and sudden rainstorms amidst all the drama.
Summer of Firsts and Lasts by Terra Elan McVoy
If you’ve ever been to camp, you undoubtedly have your own specific, nostalgia-drenched memories of exactly how things were done, and if you haven’t, The Summer of Firsts and Lasts will paint a vivid picture for you, from three distinct perspectives. Calla, Violet, and Daisy are sisters all attending camp together, Calla as an administrative assistant, and Violet and Daisy as campers, Daisy for the first time. As the three navigate their own summer experiences (Calla is trying to work up the nerve to tell another long-time camper about her feelings for him, Violet is taking the camp’s rules more as suggested guidelines than hard and fast rules), their stories intertwine and overlap, and the smell of a campfire practically wafts off the page.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani
Destination: Camp (with horses!)
Another adult-market title with a teen protagonist, this one shipped off to the titular riding camp after she does something decidedly unapproved of at home. Only, where most of the girls at camp are just there for the summer, Thea has been informed by her father that it’s unclear when she’ll be â€œreadyâ€ to come home (this one does meander off-list a bit, as it includes seasons other than summer, but the primary atmosphere is definitely summertime). Set in the 1930s southeast, this is a historical fiction novel and a coming of age novel all in one, with some school story elements thrown in for good measure. Thea is determined to experience the fullness of life but confused about the best way to go about it; the resulting story is both tender and occasionally provocative.
What are your favorite books set in a summertime vacation destination? Let me know in the comments your picks for warm weather reads; happy summertime reading!
-Carly Pansulla, currently reading One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson