No more work-assigned reading or book reports — summer is all about diving into some new releases and classics that will transport you to another world, especially if you have upcoming vacation plans. The narrators in each of the books listed here bring the reader along on a first-time experience, whether it’s traveling to a new country or falling in love in a foreign city. Here are seven of our favorite summer reads to bring with you on your travels or to kick back with at the beach — or both.
1. The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein
Rebecca Dinerstein takes us on a summer journey to a small grouping of isolated islands off the northern coast of Norway. Just above the Arctic Circle, an ever-present summer sun beats down on a love story unfolding between two New York strangers who have traveled to this remote land for very different reasons. Frances, a native of Manhattan, escapes her parent’s divorce and the pressures of post-college life for a summer artist residency, while Yasha, an émigré to the Russian neighborhood of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn brings his father’s body to Norway to fulfill his final wish to be buried in the land of the Vikings. While their summers take unexpected paths, Frances and Yasha find refuge in one another and the solitude of the remote landscape of the Lofoten Islands.
2. Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is well known for the recent success of Underground Railroad, but this established author’s 2009 novel is a more personal account of growing up as an African-American in a predominantly white school in New York City, and the summers he’d spend vacationing in a wealthy enclave of Long Island. Sag Harbor is a generational novel, harkening to the unsupervised summers of youth where Whitehead’s characters find love, heartbreak, and an ever-persistent need to reinvent themselves. It’s a coming-of-age story that may make you squirm from the nostalgia of awkward teenage years we’ve all survived but would rather forget.
3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo
A National Book Award winner, Behind the Beautiful Forevers is an empathetic accumulation of stories that follow the lives of several families in Annawadi — a migrant tent city set up outside the Mumbai airport that has become a home to thousands. Katherine Boo, who spent three years living among the residents of Annawadi, weaves together these stories to paint a broad picture of the heartbreaking struggles the lower classes of India face. Not a light summer read, the novel is a page-turner that, if nothing, will remind you of the many lives lived across the globe. Boo doesn’t ask readers to wallow in sorrow, but to respect the individual lives and narratives she aptly describes.
4. Volcanoes, Palm Trees, and Privilege: Essays on Hawai’i by Liz Prato
An April 2019 new release brought to us by Liz Prato, an author of short stories and essays. Her latest collection takes us on a contemplative journey to consider the US’s obsession with the islands of Hawaii. From the perspective of a non-native who has a deep love and long relationship with these islands, Prato shares stories that intertwine facts and personal memories. They will leave you feeling both enchanted and more aware of our place in the world as unconcerned tourists to a place that many call home.
5. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
For those who dream of visiting Cinque Terre, Italy, Beautiful Ruins is not just a suggestion, but a must-read. After holding the number-one spot on The New York Times Bestseller List for more than a year back in 2012-13, you may feel out of the loop if you haven’t checked this novel out. It tells the story of the owner of a Cinque Terre hotel who travels to the US in search of the movie star he’d fallen in love with in 1960, 50 years earlier, in a small Italian fishing village on the coast of the Mediterranean. With a layered cast of characters and personalities, Walter takes an old love story we’ve known for half a century, flips it on its head, and brings it back to life.
6. All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung
A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, Nicole Chung’s debut novel is not like anything we’ve ever read before. All You Can Ever Know is the story of a young woman’s challenge to understand her transracial adoption as a Korean-born premature baby adopted by white parents. Chung gives us the extremely intimate gift of allowing us to travel with her as she searches for her birth parents during a time in which she’s preparing for the birth of her own child.
7. The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson
Jodie Patterson’s debut novel sheds light on the complexities that come with the identities we hold onto and the roles we play in our families and relationships in 2019. It’s not a travel book in the typical sense — no jetting off to tropical islands and no self-discovery backpacking trip. Rather, The Bold World takes us to the uncharted waters of accepting yourself and the people you love exactly for who they are, regardless of societal norms.
Patterson sets the scene for us as a young, confident Black girl growing up in 1970s Manhattan. Hailing from a long line of strong Black women, she found strength and momentum in the ultra-feminine stereotype she herself praised as she became a successful beauty business owner. This memoir takes us on Patterson’s journey of discovering true growth through her varied career, and her children’s gender transformations, all while letting go of cultural norms to be the truest form of herself.