Summer 2017 Reading List

Summer officially arrives on June 20th, but I like to plan ahead. With college now two years behind me (yikes!), I’ve finally remembered what it feels like to read for pleasure. Not because my professor said so, or, you know, because the book has their name on it. The act of it feels like being reunited with an old friend—we’ve picked up right where we left off. I have a lot of reading to catch up on, and there’s no better time to do so than summer. Here are the books on my summer 2017 reading list.

 

Lucky Boy

Author: Shanthi Sekaran
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Solimar (Soli) Castro Valdez is eighteen when she leaves Oaxaca, crossing the US/Mexican border and landing on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California. Silvia, her cousin, is a housekeeper for the well-to-do Cassidy family. By the time Soli arrives, she’s also pregnant. While motherhood wasn’t the plan, her baby boy, nicknamed “Nacho,” keeps Soli grounded in this foreign world. When she is arrested and detained, Nacho falls into the custody of the foster system and, inevitably, under the care of Kavya Reddy and her husband, Rishi.

Kavya is a chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house. In her mid-thirties, she’s unexpectedly beginning to feel the pull of motherhood. When fulfilling this desire proves to be more challenging than she expected,
it takes a strain on her marriage. With Nacho suddenly thrust into Kavya’s life, she attempts to become the mother she always dreamed of being, even if that identity is wrapped up together with someone else’s child.

An emotional journey, there are no villains in this story, and there are no heroes. Sekaran gives a human face to the timely topic of illegal immigration.


Fever Dream

Author: Samanta Schweblin
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Schweblin’s novel is difficult to describe. Translated from Spanish into English by Megan McDowell, Fever Dream is a story of a young mother, Amanda, dying in a rural hospital, and the young boy, David, sitting by her side. Together, they attempt to weave together the events that led to Amanda’s illness, and the result is a haunting, dream-like narrative “where souls shift from sick bodies to healthy hosts and poisonous toxins seep under the skin upon contact with the grass.” And while David is not Amanda’s son, the two have met before.

At their vacation home, Amanda and her daughter, Nina, encountered David’s mother, Carla, spinning tales of her son on more than one occasion. Their eventual, frightening introduction causes Amanda to throw Carla and David out of her home. Not too long after, the three women meet again. In her hospital bed, Amanda tries to put the fragments of her memories back together, how that reunion led her down this path. Readers will begin to question how reliable a narrator Amanda actually is.


The Accusation

Author: Bandi
Publisher: Grove Press
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Bandi is a pseudonym. The fact that we’re able to read his stories, smuggled out of North Korea, at all is an amazing feat. The seven stories in the collection, set during the leadership of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, beautifully capture the strange and terrifying experience of living under these dictators. In one, a man is unable to visit his dying mother when he travels without proper documentation. He’s forced into a truck, like a pig “being sent to the slaughterhouse.” In another, citizens in a train station are put on lockdown for over thirty hours as their leader visits nearby.

Bandi’s writing is ambiguous, not taking a moral standpoint but instead painting with stark tones the reality of people living in the closed-off society of North Korea.


Exit West

Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Nadia and Saeed meet when their country is collapsing into civil war. As the city they once knew like the back of their hands turns into wreckage, their own love story is jumpstarted with the sense of urgency only death looming at one’s back provides. They begin to hear rumors of heavily-guarded doors that transport people, taking them “away.” Tragedy strikes close, and the violence erupting throughout the city worsens. The couple flees their home, joining other migrants in search of one of these doors, and when they finally step through, they are taken to “alien” worlds.


Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

Author: Manjula Martin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: March 23, 2017

In this collection of interviews and essays, Martin pairs content from her online magazine, Scratch, with pieces contributed by writers including Cheryl Strayed, Jonathan Franzen, Roxane Gay, Nick Hornby, Alexander Chee, Daniel Jose Older, Yiyun Li, Jennifer Weiner, Susan Orlean, and more to demonstrate that “making it” doesn’t look the same for every author. She tackles the question that young and aspiring writers often ask the most: how do writers actually make a living?

Each contributor candidly discusses money, yes, but also topics like the ubiquitous MFA program, teaching fellowships, and what it feels like when getting published becomes more than just a dream.


The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Author: Hannah Tinti
Publisher: Dial Press
Release Date: March 28, 2017

The twelve lives of Samuel Hawley can be traced by the twelve scars that mark his body, bullet wounds from his days as a criminal. After years on the run, Samuel settles into his late wife’s hometown of Olympus, Massachusetts, with his teenage daughter, Loo, finding work as a fisherman. The chapters alternate between Samuel’s past and Loo’s present, as she fumbles her way through first love and attempts to understand the events that led to her mother’s mysterious death. As the two story lines begin to merge, this coming-of-age novel turns into a thriller.

A story of redemption, of the lengths someone will go to to protect someone they love, Tinti beautifully and lyrically demonstrates her understanding of character development and the way our past shapes us.


What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky

Author: Lesley Nneka Arimah
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: April 4, 2017

Filled with elements of magical realism, this debut collection “shuttles between continents and realities to deliver 12 stories of loss, hope, violence, and family relationships.” “Who Will Greet You at Home” was a National Magazine Award finalist for the New Yorker. It’s the tale of a woman, desperate for a child, who weaves one out of hair with strange results. The title story is set in a world where all of humanity’s secrets have been “unlocked.” Humans have been boiled down to equations—our defects can be “fixed.”


Marlena

Author: Julie Buntin
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: April 4, 2017

Fifteen-year-old Cat is new to the rural town of Silver Lake, Michigan, when she meets her seventeen-year-old neighbor, Marlena. Marlena is bold and reckless. Her family and friends are all the wrong sort. Her only connection, Marlena draws Cat into her world, but within a year, Marlena’s body is found in the woods nearby—drowned in the freezing water. Now Cat is in her mid-thirties, living in New York with her husband. When a “ghost from that pivotal year” appears in her life, she attempts to finally leave the memories and pain that have become a part of her behind.


The Book of Joan

Author: Lidia Yuknavitch
Publisher: Harper
Release Date: April 18, 2017

It’s 2049, and humans (read: the wealthy ones) have left the war-torn and radioactive earth to live on the colony of redesigned space stations known as CIEL. There, a former self-help guru turned bloodthirsty cult leader, Jean de Men, has used propaganda to turn their world into something like a police state. The humans who live here have been transformed, a reminder that evolution doesn’t necessarily mean better—they are pale, hairless, and sexless. They inscribe stories on their skin. Rebels emerge to stop Jean de Men, inspired by “the heroic song of Joan.”

Though Joan is a powerful child warrior (with a deep connection to earth) whose story is based on the old tale of Joan of Arc, the book tackles timely themes. CIEL, for instance, siphons a dying Earth’s remaining resources through “invisible technological umbilical cords.” It’s a bleak world, but with Yuknavitch’s deft prose, it still manages to maintain its beauty.


Priestdaddy

Author: Patricia Lockwood
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: May 2, 2017

In 2013, Lockwood and her husband spent eight months living with her father, the married catholic priest, after a family crisis brought her back to Kansas City. Having left town the decade before, Lockwood soon found her past colliding with the present. In some ways, Father Greg Lockwood isn’t like any priest I’ve ever met—he lounges about in his underwear, jams on his guitar, and loves action movies. Lockwood revisits her religious upbringing, like the day her father is arrested at an abortion clinic sit-in or her participation in a cult-like youth group.

Publishers Weekly calls Lockwood’s memoir “wickedly funny” with the author employing her “acerbic wit and a keen eye for raunchy detail.”


The Leavers

Author: Lisa Ko
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: May 2, 2017

Daniel Wilkinson was once Deming Guo, but that was before his single mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, went to her job at a Bronx nail salon and never came home, leaving no trace of herself. Soon Deming is adopted by a pair of white college professors, Kay and Peter, living upstate, where they shape him into an “all-American boy,” name change and all. But Daniel struggles—with college, with his career as a musician, and ultimately, with coming to terms with his mother’s disappearance and the loss of his community.

Set in New York and China, Ko’s debut novel was the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction for addressing issues of social justice. It’s a moving and powerful story of how one tries to find their place in a foreign world and come to term with the mistakes of their past.


Fly Me

Author: Daniel Riley
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: June 6, 2017

Set in 1972, “in the shadow of LAX,” Daniel Riley’s debut novel follows Suzy Whitman, whose tossed her freshly earned Vassar degree aside to join her older sister, Grace, as a stewardess for Grand Pacific Airlines. Spending her days suntanning and skateboarding in the beach town of Sela Del Mar, Suzy finds out what it feels like to belong. On the 4th of July, she meets Billy Zar, a local weed dealer. While Billy gives Suzy the adventure she’s looking for, he also introduces her to a life of crime, backing her into a corner that leaves her with only one way out.


Stephen Florida

Author: Gabe Habash
Publisher: Coffee House Press
Release Date: June 6, 2017

I don’t typically go for books centering around athletes, but ever since reading Megan Abbot’s You Will Know Me earlier this year, I’ve had a change of heart. Gabe Habash’s debut novel follows Stephen Florida. Stephen wrestles for Oregsburg College in Aiken, North Dakota, staking everything on his obsessive goal to win the championship. Now a senior, this is his last chance. But life has a way of pulling him away from that goal. He must confront his friendship with a talented teammate, a budding romance, his grief over his parent’s death, and the demands of a hostile coach.

According to Publishers Weekly, “He must also face his demons: a lack of direction, a deep intolerance for boredom, a reckless despair that verges into suicidal ideation, and a loneliness so vast it becomes a potent feature of the dramatic landscape.” Habash approaches all of this with humor.


The Gypsy Moth Summer

Author: Julia Fierro
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: June 6, 2017

It’s summer 1992, and gypsy moths have invaded Avalon Island. Caterpillars drape the branches in the woods where children play and encroach on the large estates of the families of East Avalon. They’re everywhere, a constant topic of conversation. When Leslie Marshall returns to Avalon and “The Castle” she’s inherited, with her African-American husband, Jules, and their two children in tow, the island residents finally have something else to talk about. The appearance of the moths and the Marshalls distract residents from the fact that “something is rotten in the heart of Avalon Island.”

On West Avalon lies Grudder Aviation factory, the livelihood of the majority of the island’s residents, arming generations of soldiers with war machines but also rumored to be dumping toxic waste in the water. Exploring issues like race, class, and abuse, Fierro makes room for her characters to reveal themselves, the ways they learn to let go and the ways they try to hold on, even as the gypsy moths chomp away at it all.


Borne

Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Release Date: June 15, 2017

VanderMeer’s latest book is bizzare, to say the least. There’s the biotech organization, “The Company,” which casts its experiments out into the world. There’s Mord, one of those experiments, a giant bear who grew wings and broke free. While Mord ravages the city, he also leaves enough behind for scavengers like Rachel to find. One day Rachel finds a creature in Mord’s fur she calls “Borne,” “like a hybrid of sea anemone and squid” capable of shapeshifting. Her lover, Wick, a former employee of The Company and a drug dealer specializing in something like mind-altering beetles, reluctantly accepts her decision to keep Borne.

But they both know attachments of any kind are a dangerous thing. Borne’s transformations become more complex, threatening to bring painful truths to the surface. Why won’t Wick talk about his work at The Company? Who is his mysterious rival, “The Magician”? It’s a barren, surreal landscape—feral children roam the “wasteland.” A blend of post-apocalyptic and science fiction and a whole lot more.


Things That Happened Before the Earthquake

Author: Chiara Barzini
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release Date: August 15, 2017

In this coming-of-age novel, Italian teenager, Eugenia, and her filmmaker parents start a new life in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley weeks after the 1992 LA riots. Eugenia’s parents struggle to make it big in Hollywood as she navigates her new landscape. A high school rife with gang activity, sexual trysts—it’s darker and less glamorous than she imagined. She befriends Henry, whose mother owns a movie memorabilia shop, and Deva, who introduces her to the alternative Topanga Canyon culture.

And then there’s the 1994 earthquake, which shakes the foundation of the life she’s begun to rebuild for herself. The book almost has two parts, the second being set back on the Aeolian island Eugenia grew up on. But Eugenia’s time in America has changed her and, so, the picture of the island she has clung to in her mind, as nostalgic as the movie buffs who enter Henry’s mother’s memorabilia shop, no longer looks the same upon her return.


Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: September 5, 2017

An American road novel by a National Book Award winning author, this story begins with Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, as they are living with their Mam and Pop on a farm in Mississippi. Their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, is both haunted and comforted by the visions of her dead brother she experiences while high and only stops by the farm on occasion. But when the children’s father, Michael, is released from prison, they join their mother “on a journey rife with danger and promise,” heading across the state to the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

Ward unflinchingly embraces the dark heart of America, tackling issues like poverty, addiction, and interracial relationships, as well as the harsh reality of the limits of our familial bonds. Sing, Unburied, Sing may mark the end of this list (and, basically, the end of summer), but I know I’ll be anxiously awaiting the moment I can get my hands on this one all season long.

Stick around for the summer as I review the books on this list, but for now, what’s on your summer 2017 reading list? Tell us below.

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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