It’s one thing to talk about reading rituals for travel. It’s another thing entirely to find just the right books for those long hours on an airplane, or in the car.
Of course, we all have our summer vacation favorites–mostly beach reads (yes, this is an actual category in some bookstores, but it might as well be the romance section). But in case you’re on the lookout for books to take with you on the plane, or to the beach, or to that cabin in the woods this summer, I offer up this list of my own favorite summer reads, in hopes that at least one might become your new go-to vacation classic.
Divergent/Insurgent by Veronica Roth. Dystopian fiction is not something I’m used to liking–or recommending–but I have to admit that as guilty pleasure reads go, these are at the top of my list. Main character Tris is a badass–a teenager in a not-so-utopian society who finds herself on a quest to uncover the truth about her messed-up world, and then to fight for it. 1984 these books are not. (Meaning: There’s not much nuance to the dystopia, nor does it have any significant lesson to teach the reader.) These are, however, great books to make the hours fly by, especially if you like a mix of action, suspense, romance, and girl power. Oh, and the third book in the trilogy comes out on October 22, so if you read the first two titles this summer, you’ll be all ready for the big release.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. Speaking of girl power, Frankie is one of my favorite protagonists in YA lit, and this novel’s boarding school setting is totally juicy. Prepare yourself for hot guys, lots of pranks, and secret societies. Really, what could be better? If you love humor and/or main characters who challenge authority (and the patriarchy)–and then almost get away with it–you’ll eat this one right up.
What Comes After by Steve Watkins. Light reading this book is not, but as realistic fiction goes, I can’t think of a title I’ve liked more in quite a while. After her father’s death, main character Iris Wight ends up at horrible Aunt Sue’s, where she is mistreated and abused in increasingly destructive ways. Iris, however, is a survivor, and what makes this book so compelling is not just the fact that she does survive, but how she survives. Parts touching, parts traumatic, but also humorous and sweet, this is a book that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff. Now here’s a book I wish I’d had to read on a plane. It’s suspenseful. It’s chilling. It’s got a breathless, fast-paced plot…and (here’s where I was surprised) something kind of profound to say about growing up. Spend a little time with Benjamin, the teen assassin at the heart of this novel, and you’ll see what I mean. (Just make sure you have an empty afternoon or evening ahead of you, because you won’t want to put this book down.)
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman. Hello awesome, compelling, laugh-out-loud funny nonfiction. When Piper Kerman is sent to a minimum security prison for a crime she committed years before, she’s at first in denial about how her cushy Manhattan life has suddenly been turned upside-down. But prison, it turns out, is just the reboot Kerman needs. I loved this book for Kerman’s believable and touching emotional journey, but I loved it even more for the relationships (some profound, some interesting, some truly bizarre) that she forges with the other prisoners. Did I mention that this book is also the basis for a new TV show, being released on Netflix on July 11? Heck yeah.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. I can think of lots of children’s books that I’ve torn through in one sitting, but this one rises to the top because I know several other people who have inhaled it as well. Brave Mrs. Frisby is a character you’ll fall in love with right away, and who can resist the freakishly intelligent rats of NIMH? Light fantasy (with all the charm of an animal story) at its best.
Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton. I read this book on a plane! I really did! And it was fabulous. If you like documentaries like Spellbound, featuring brilliant, quirky teens on a quest to win it all (in this book, they’re out to take home the prize in the mother of all science competitions), then you’ll love the light nonfiction of Science Fair Season. You don’t even have to be a science geek to appreciate these teenagers’ stories. Sure, some of them are building nuclear reactors, but others are working with horses, or researching leprosy after a diagnosis makes science personal. Science Fair Season is equal parts heartwarming and heart-thumping, and it definitely made the miles fly by.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. You’re probably surprised to see a fantasy title on this list given how little fantasy I enjoy, but Seraphina is another book I read on a plane, and not only was it a totally compelling read, but it was also just a darn good book. Court musician Seraphina has a secret–one that threatens her status in a kingdom where humans war with dragons. But what seems to be a curse turns out to be an unusual blessing after a member of the royal family turns up dead, and Seraphina is the only one who can get at the truth. Mystery, romance, and terrific world-building combine to make this a title you won’t want to miss.
Every Day by David Levithan. Ohmygoodness, READ THIS! Every Day is one of those books that I sat down to read and literally did not move until I’d finished it several hours later. Main character A is a body-snatcher of sorts. That is to say that each day, A wakes up in a new body of an individual approximately A’s own age. Which makes A, well, a soul–always inhabiting another being, but never having a home of A’s own. This may sound like a strange premise, but it works. And I loved the opportunity to think about what makes us who we are, and what makes us able to love (or be loved by) someone else.
The His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. I won’t say I’ve saved the best for last, as you know I have a hard time picking favorites. But having almost blown finals week my junior year of college because I started reading this trilogy and COULD. NOT. STOP., all I can say is: These are books that inspire compulsive reading, no question about it. In the epic world of Pullman’s trilogy, there are adults who seek to stop children from growing up, and children who seek to stop them. There’s a strange substance called Dust, and charming soul-animals called daemons. Most of all, there’s richness to this trilogy like I’ve rarely seen. This may be the most brilliant–and engaging–set of novels written for 10+-year-olds that has appeared in the last 50 years. Best of all, if you’re going on a long car trip, the cast for the audio version is magnificent!
Happy summer reading!