Summer reads don’t have to be light and breezy. Reading an engrossing, transporting novel that tackles serious and difficult topics can also be a rewarding way to enjoy summer days when schedules are looser and minds may be less cluttered.
Here are some literary fiction choices to consider for long, hazy summer days.
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh (Harper Perennial) This satisfying, rich family drama opens with a New England family on vacation on Cape Cod. Soon after, they learn that their middle child, a daughter, has a genetic condition that prevents her from going through puberty. The book then jumps ahead twenty years, with Haigh taking each character in turn and examining how that diagnosis affected their lives. Haigh’s dissection of family dynamics is masterful, as is her rehabilitation of these wounded characters.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok (Riverhead) Kwok’s novel is about Kimberly, a girl who immigrates to the US from Hong Kong at age 11. She lives with her mother in a slum, working in a sweatshop and going to school in Brooklyn. This book is heartbreaking at times, but always compelling and engrossing, as Kimberly becomes a teenager and grapples with social acceptance, romance, friendship, and the trappings of privilege that surround her.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver (Harper Perennial) This inventive novel by Shriver explores the two parallel lives that follow after the main character, Irina, either cheats on her husband or doesn’t. Shriver creates a detailed, convincing, flawed, yet rewarding life for Irina under both scenarios, which makes reading this book more complex and almost tortuous, but in a good way.
Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce (Viking) Small Mercies is a family drama about the Amendolas, who live in Staten Island. One son, Bobby, dies in 9/11, and ten years later, his loss is still felt deeply by the rest of his family. The book is told in alternating perspectives, and covers 9/11, of course, but also corporate law firms, high school sports, March Madness, the pressure to do what your father did, and the changes modern times have brought to a traditional Italian neighborhood across the river from Manhattan. Joyce’s characters linger long after the book has closed.—GAYLE WEISWASSER