We must admit: reading has happened in spurts for us over these difficult past few months. Sometimes, we read a lot (like all-the-time-can’t-put-a-book-down) and other times, we can barely read at all (seriously, where did our attention spans go?).
But summer has us excited to read—maybe it’s the warm weather and sunshine that’s got us feeling a little happier inside and a little more eager to crack open new books.
Here is a list of our 2020 summer reads, broken down by what each editor is reading! Abbe, Jess, and Emma hope you find something that resonates with you and that you tell them all about it on Instagram or in our Facebook Group.
The Sober Lush
Amanda Eyre Ward
Anyone who knows me knows I quit drinking over three years ago (I don’t miss those morning-after headaches!) and it feels like my life has only gotten bigger and more awesome in that time. But I know it can be scary to abstain in a culture that constantly pushes “rosé all day.” You might be thinking: will I be a total bore if I don’t drink? Amanda Eyre Ward and Jardine Libaire are two authors and friends who don’t drink, and, in this book, they prove that life can still be totally flirty, fun, and carefree without alcohol.
Friends and Strangers
J. Courtney Sullivan
A new Read with Jenna Book Club pick, this novel is J. Courtney Sullivan at her finest. Elisabeth is a journalist and new mom struggling to adjust to life outside New York City. Sam is a young woman hired to babysit for Elisabeth, busy pondering her life after college graduation. These women, at very different stages of their lives, affect one another in ways neither will ever forget.
I Was Told It Would Get Easier
It was many, many summers ago that I was college visiting with my own mom, but this heartwarming story allowed me to revisit that instantly. Emily is relishing imaging her freedom on one of these college campuses, while her mom, Jessica, is hoping for a bonding trip with her little girl who grew up way too fast. Abbi Waxman’s novels are always full of heart and family drama and this one is no different.
After the success of her novel, Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler should have been over the moon. But she was mired in family trauma she thought she’d left behind over a year ago—her father, who’d once abandoned her family, was now a meth addict in recovery, and her mother, a lifelong alcoholic, had been further handicapped by a brain aneurysm. As her star rises, Danler must face, head-on, questions of her past and whether or not she can re-write her own future.
All My Mother’s Lovers
I’m fairly certain Read it Forward wouldn’t run without Ilana Masad, who has been writing for us for as long as I can remember. She is a wonderful writer about all things books, but her first novel absolutely shines. Her protagonist, Maggie, is enjoying her first relationship with her girlfriend Lucia when her mother dies in a car accident. Along with her mother’s will are five signed envelopes addressed to men Maggie has never heard of, and, in a way to confront her grief, she sets off to find more about the men they’re addressed to. What she finds will change her irrevocably.
The Death of Vivek Oji
The unbelievably moving novel is, yes, about the death of Vivek Oji, but it’s also about so much more. The bonds between family, especially between Vivek and his cousin Osita, are where my heartstrings were pulled the most, but it’s also a tale of gender, identity, and culture that I won’t soon forget. If you’re looking for an ending that will make you cry, look no further.
Erica C. Barnett
By the time she was in her late thirties, Erica Barnett had tried to quit drinking several times to no avail. She bounced in and out of detox centers and rehabs, always finding her way back to booze, as consequences mounted. “Rock bottom,” she says, “is a lie.” This ultimately hopeful memoir traces Erica’s experience with addiction and alcoholism and offers a critical take on the well-worn sayings and teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Well-Behaved Indian Women
This sweeping novel tells the story of three generations of—yes—well-behaved Indian women. The lives of this daughter, mother, and grandmother are intertwined and they each have hopes and regrets that have defined their paths. I love a mother-daughter story and this one adds a third layer! These characters will stay with me for a long, long time.
The Butterfly Lampshade
“OMG there’s a new Aimee Bender novel!!!!” is what I screamed when I heard this was coming out. You might know Bender as the author of The Color Master or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and this novel is just as dazzling. It’s a heartfelt examination of a daughter grieving her dead mother and trying to make sense of the thin barrier between memory and reality. It must be read to be believed.
Must I Go
After outliving three husbands, raising five kids, and witnessing the arrival of seventeen grandchildren, Lilia Liskia turns her attention on the diary of a former lover of hers, Roland Bouley. She begins to annotate it in the margins, re-writing it with her recollection of events, and revealing her life’s secrets in the process. I only hope I’m half the woman Lilia is when I get to be her age.
Kate Manne’s work of nonfiction centers on the poison of toxic masculinity and how male entitlement explains everything from mansplaining to mass shootings. Men feel entitled to bodily autonomy, admiration, promotion, power and yes, sex, and it affects us all, every day, playing out in things like police brutality, the #MeToo movement, Kavanaugh’s appointment, and Hillary Clinton’s loss. An incredibly poignant and necessary read for everyone.
The Beauty in Breaking
Michele Harper is a Black ER doctor who had a tough upbringing in Washington, D.C., but went on to Harvard, where she later met the man she’d marry. The two were together as she attended med school, but just as she was due to take a position at a hospital in Philadelphia, he announced he was leaving her. Starting a new job in a new city, newly single, Harper learned about healing from watching her patients. Her account of her journey out of pain is a truly inspiring one.
The Margot Affair
In what might be one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, Margot Louve is a frustrated seventeen-year-old. She is the secret love child of a notable French politician with presidential ambitions and a famous stage actress. No one knows about Margot’s existence and, if they did, many worlds would come tumbling down. Which is exactly what happens when Margot befriends a journalist, and impulsively opens her mouth.
Beach Read is so much fun—but also really emotional and evocative. When a romance writer named January finds herself living next door to fellow writer (and long-time nemesis) Augustus, the two engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters. This book was just what I needed to escape and feel warm inside.
We’ve all watched famous people make huge blunders on social media and see some of the repercussions that follow. But what we’re usually not able to do is peer inside the lives of those who made the mistake. Self Care allows us to do just that (in fiction form). It delves into the psyches of people working in a wellness start-up after the CEO tweets something terrible. It’s a really great read.
It Is Wood, It Is Stone
With sharp, gorgeous prose, It Is Wood, It Is Stone takes place over the course of a year in São Paulo, Brazil, in which two women’s lives intersect. It takes you out of your own bubble and puts you in a world that’s entirely new. It’s a light thriller, so it keeps you on your toes, and touches on so many important things, including class and colorism, race, sexuality, and complex histories that shape who we are today.
Sex and Vanity
When I heard that Kevin Kwan had a new book coming, I was floored. I loved everything about Crazy Rich Asians and couldn’t wait to get my hands on his next novel. I’ll tell you right now, it doesn’t disappoint. Sex and Vanity tells a story about a young woman who finds herself torn between two men: the WASPY fiancé of her family’s dreams and George Zao, the man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with. It’s brilliantly funny and glamorous and very, very sexy.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor
I read Hank’s debut when it first came out (I like John Green, and I like Hank as a person, so I figured I’d give his writing a go). I really enjoyed the contemporary sci-fi story about the robots called Carls and definitely saw parts of myself in the protagonist, twenty-three-year-old April May. This book is the second in the series and, I won’t give away too much, but it’s basically about April’s friends trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world and… the weird things that happen as they do.
This. debut. is. so. good. I really loved it immediately and couldn’t put it down. It is about three unforgettable characters who seek to rise–to the middle class, to political power, to fame in the movies–and find their lives entangled in the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India. I don’t reread books often, but I probably will pick this one up again. If you only read one book this summer, make it this one. Side note: it’s perfect for readers of Tommy Orange and Yaa Gyasi.
I needed this book. As someone who does have invisible disabilities, I’ve always searched for literature that talks about what it’s like and, to no one’s surprise, I couldn’t find much. This incredible book is a collection of first-person essays by disabled people and is out just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was the only thing that allowed me to graduate after missing three months of school due to illness. I cannot stress enough that EVERYONE needs to read this book.
One to Watch
I am obsessed with reality dating shows. There, I said it. So when I got wind that a book is coming out about a reality dating show, I needed to read it immediately. Bea Schumacher, the star of this novel, is a stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers—and a massively broken heart. Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call from reality show Main Squeeze—they want her to be their next star. It’s a powerful, sexy, fun, and fast read.
Jean Kyoung Frazier
I think this was one of the books that I was most excited about in 2020—and it didn’t disappoint. It centers on an eighteen-year-old, pregnant, pizza delivery girl living in suburban Los Angeles. While delivering pizza to a stay-at-home mother new to the neighborhood, our protagonist and the mother connect in complicated—and heartbreaking—ways. This novel is really funny and moving, and I love a flawed protagonist because, well, I relate to those the most.
Party of Two
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with Jasmine Guillory. I’ve read all of her books, so this one was a no-brainer for me. Party of Two has all of Guillory’s charm, coupled with sexy moments and, of course, well-rounded characters. This time around, Olivia Monroe, who’s just opened her own law firm in LA, meets a gorgeous man at a hotel bar and later finds out that he’s a big-shot politician. Sparks fly, but their relationship is far from easy.
nothing about our people is romantic
& it shouldn’t be.
Poetry moves me in ways that are unique and profound. This collection is beyond breathtaking and a must-read for everyone, especially in our current times. These poems consider the brevity and disposability of Black lives and other oppressed people in our current era of emboldened white supremacy, and the erasure of peoples in the American narrative. Please read it.
Sisters is a dark, gripping read. Born just ten months apart, July and September are thick as thieves, never needing anyone but each other. Now, following a case of school bullying, the teens have moved away with their single mother to a long-abandoned family home near the shore. In their new, isolated life, the sisters begin to change as a creeping sense of dread and unease descends inside the house. It explores the tenseness of isolation which is profoundly creepy right now considering we’re in a pandemic, but really good.
Deacon King Kong
In his first novel in seven years, James McBride follows up his National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird (soon to be a limited series!) with a novel set in Brooklyn in 1969. This timely, funny, wrenching, and humane story follows Sportcoat, a curmudgeonly church deacon who shoots a local drug dealer, and the far-reaching causes and effects of this violent act.
He Started It
Family road trip! Family revenge road trip! Family revenge murder road trip? With author Samantha Downing, nothing is off the table. Secrets, long-held grudges, and a family inheritance are at the heart of this twisted, scary romp.
Burn Our Bodies Down
It would be more apt to say that I inhaled Rory Power’s last novel, Wilder Girls, than to describe how I consumed it as “reading” and my anticipation for her follow up is at a fever pitch. Burn Our Bodies Down follows Margot on her quest to learn more about her mother—her only family for as long as she can remember until she leaves Margot unexpectedly—and the town of Phalene, where her mother’s roots run deep.
Journalist, author, and speaker Mikki Kendall tackles the inadequacies of the modern feminist movement in this piercing essay collection that examines the intersection of race, class, sexual orientation, and ability that is so often overlooked by mainstream feminism, which tends to focus on the needs of already privileged (white) women instead of the basic needs that are at the root of struggle for a wider majority of the female population.
Rules for Visiting
Jessica Francis Kane
I admit that the striking cover is the thing that drew me to this novel initially. But what could be more apt for a summer of social distancing and sheltering at home than a novel about the difficulty of forming and maintaining friendships in the digital age; or a woman who feels most at ease at home surrounded by her plants?
The Last Train to Key West
Three women’s lives intersect in surprising ways during a historic storm in the Florida Keys in Chanel Cleeton’s Depression-era new novel. Told in alternating points of view by Mirta Perez, a Cuban woman embarking on the honeymoon of her arranged marriage to an American man; Elizabeth Preston, a privileged young women determined to change the fortunes of her family, who lost everything in the stock market crash; and Helen Berner, a tourist traveling on the legendary Overseas Railroad, one weekend changes three lives forever.
Home Before Dark
Maggie Holt returns to Baneberry Hall, the supposedly haunted house where she lived as a small child with her parents to investigate the claims made by her father in his book, House of Horrors, that made him, the house, and the Vermont town where they all lived (in)famous. Sager, a master of classic horror tropes and one of my reliable favorite authors, alternates chapters between Maggie’s POV and chapters from House of Horrors.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
For me, summer is a great time to catch up on books I’ve been meaning to read. Ocean Vuong’s debut novel made a huge splash last summer and it’s been hanging out on my TBR pile ever since. I can’t wait to read this epistolary family narrative.
They Wish They Were Us
A young adult novel with the logline “Gossip Girl meets One of Us Is Lying with a dash of The Secret History” is instant catnip for me: I’m always looking for new reads at the intersection of teen soap and literary mystery. Add a dash of detective fiction and I absolutely can’t resist.
A Woman of No Importance
This World War II-set biography of real life spy Virginia Hall, described by the Gestapo as “the most dangerous of all Allied spies” piqued my interest when a recent podcast guest cited it as the book she most hoped would be turned into a movie, a story too exciting to be true—except that it is!
The Vanishing Half
Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age (a RIF book club pick that I loved), had this to say about The Vanishing Half: “Bennett’s tone and style recalls James Baldwin and Jacqueline Woodson, but it’s especially reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s 1970 debut novel, The Bluest Eye.” Combine that with Brit Bennett’s track record of writing engrossing, affecting family sagas, and I’m so excited for this tale of two sisters’ divergent paths of identity and community.
Another summer reading pastime of mine is the re-read! I know re-reading can be divisive, but even though I don’t do it as much as I used to, I’m strongly in favor of the comfort of revisiting old favorites. And, because of the sheer volume of books I read, both for work and for pleasure, I’m sometimes a little fuzzy on the details. Take Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements: I read it in 2013 and I remember that it’s about a wedding weekend in a WASP-y enclave, that there’s tons of drama and intrigue, and that I really enjoyed it, but I don’t remember the finer details, so it will be almost like reading a new book!