Whether you’re escaping to the cottage or spending the summer at the park (or on your couch), the concept of “summer read” tends to connote “frivolous, perky paperback.” Not on my watch. As founder of the Girly Book Club—an international organization that hosts more than 50,000 members in 65 chapters across 12 countries—reading is definitely my jam. (I usually blow through at least two books a week.) So if you’re looking for a book you can really get lost in both emotionally and mentally this summer, read on. Here are 10 of my favourites, new and old.
North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person (2014)
Best read: At the cottage, with a view of the woods
This isn’t the newest book on the shelf but it’s imperative that you read North of Normal at some point in your life (and most certainly before you read Person’s newest book, Nearly Normal, which came out last February). The Canadian author offers a shock and awe tour of her early life in the remotest parts of Northern Alberta, where her family lived “off the grid” for most of her childhood. Her stories—often involving nudity, sex and/or drugs—are unbelievable, and make for a one-sit read.
The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green (2017)
Best read: Near the ocean
Ronni Sunshine is the mother of three adult daughters, Nell, Lizzy and Meredith. Spoiler: she’s not the greatest mom, having chosen her career (as an actress) over raising her girls. And maybe, as a result, all three are currently facing their own challenges, including single motherhood, crumbling marriages and the inability to build the lives they truly desire. Now Ronni is sick, and asks all three girls to come home in order for her final wishes to come to fruition. But, can we ever, truly make up for lost time? Or are some mistakes irreversible? I’d argue that every family is dysfunctional, yet the problems these sisters face will most likely make you feel better about your own intergenerational woes.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (2005)
Best read: During a staycation (it’s a little heavy)
I read this riveting memoir during its first wave of Oprah-pick popularity but I’ve never forgotten it—and I’ve since devoured everything else Walls has written, including The Silver Star and Half Broke Horses; her follow-up memoir about her maternal grandmother. “Dysfunctional,” “eccentric” and “poor” are a few of the words that describe Jeanette’s childhood at the hands of two parents each battling their own demons. It’s everything a memoir should be: heartfelt, sombre at times, but most of all honest. Another reason to read it now? A stellar-looking movie version finally lands this August, starring Woody Harrelson and Brie Larson.
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abi Waxman (2017)
Best read: At the beach or somewhere else equally easy-breezy
The Garden of Small Beginnings starts with protagonist Lili dissolving into puddle of grief and dissatisfaction after the death of her husband. Lili’s bossy sister, unwed herself, insists enough time has passed and that Lili, a mom of two young kids, must start moving forward with her life. This forward movement comes in the form of a gardening course complete with brawny, handsome instructor (as all good gardening courses should be). It’s not an edge-of-your-seat read, but Lili’s voice truly connects and is guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and cheer.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
Best read: On a long journey—you’re going to need some time to get through all 720 pages
Journalist turned novelist Hanya Yanagihara very skillfully tells the story of Jude, the gentlest of souls with a very difficult past. As a kid, in and out of foster homes, he endured periods of abuse and homelessness. Years later, the incredibly intelligent Jude becomes a huge success, but the scars of his childhood never fully heal and he faces a daily struggle between good and evil.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (2016)
Best Read: In private (trust me, you’ll be bawling)
Hold onto your hearts—this fast-paced read is a real tear jerker. Hoover, who typically writes YA, tackles the difficult subject of domestic abuse through the character of Lily, a strong, smart young woman set on tackling the world and making a better go of it than her own mother did. This book marks the first time I’ve been able to truly comprehend the courage it takes for a victim to walk away from an abusive relationship, and it’s clear that Hoover knows what she’s talking about: She wrote the novel for her mother, a domestic abuse survivor.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman (2016)
Best Read: In bed; this one requires minimal distractions
A thoughtful and unusual tale about Shelby, whose life is full of promise until, at age 17, she loses her best friend in an car accident. She then spends the next 10 years trying to cope with her survivor’s guilt. Hoffman’s character development is spot on, and Faithful is a modern-day novel addressing real issues such as guilt, abandonment and mental health.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)
Best Read: Anywhere! It’s the perfect holiday companion
There is always at least one book a season that touches your soul. This is that book. Eleanor Oliphant isn’t a character you’ll be able to relate to (at least hopefully not) because her life to date has been a series of unlucky curses including death, destruction and abuse. As a result of her tragic upbringing, she’s not well-versed in the norms one must typically follow to fit into society—but that only serves to make her all the more charming and compulsively readable.
Sweetpea by C.J Skuse (2017)
Best Read: In broad daylight
The full title of this book is The Last Person Who Called Me Sweetpea Ended Up Dead—so it shouldn’t be shocking when the book opens with the protagonist’s kill list. Yet somehow it still is. Rhiannon is depicted as the friendly girl next door, but because we’re privy to her most primal thoughts, we don’t ever truly see her in this light. She’s sadistic yet still lovable and you’ll LOL through this f-bomb-laced dark comedy.
Our Little Secret by Roz Nay (2017)
Best Read: On a plane, especially if you want to take your mind off the flight
Canadian author Roz Nay’s debut has all the makings of a good whodunit: A missing woman, a love triangle and a whole lotta secrets and lies. Nay succeeds, in a rather concise manner–it’s a very slim book—in capturing your attention and keeping you guessing until the very last page.
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