For several years I’ve written a summer reading post around the Fourth of July. It’s the perfect time – Memorial Day may be the unofficial start to the summer season, but the Fourth is the heart of it. This summer in New England has been particularly aggressive – a brutal heat wave that’s started earlier and lasted longer than we usually see around here. And so I should probably offer you some light, breezy reads that you can bring to beach and promptly forget about. But I’m nothing if not a contrarian, so instead I’m going to offer two pieces of fiction to make you think, and one cookbook to lighten the mood and because I’m personally going to use it a lot this summer with my new ice cream maker.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
As you can see from the trailer above, this 2017 YA novel is already being made into a movie, coming out in October. It’s also won numerous awards, and stirred up quite a bit of controversy, earning an unfortunate place as one of the American Library Associations “Most Challenged Books of 2017.” So many of you may have already read it, or have it on your “To Read” lists. I’m just here to urge you to go ahead and DO that, and do it soon, because this book is not only a great read, it’s a timely and important one.
The protagonist, Starr Carter, is a girl between two worlds – she lives, with her parents and siblings, in Garden Heights, a poor, majority black neighborhood, but goes to school at Williamson Prep, a private school where most of the students are white and wealthy. She’s forced to code-switch continuously, but ends up feeling uncomfortable and out-of-place in both parts of her life. Her life is up-ended when, one night after a party, she sees her childhood best friend, Khalil, killed by the police. The novel explores both how Starr processes her grief and how it moves her toward activism and a better understanding of both her worlds.
Without a doubt, this is a tough read, especially when we’re facing its truth every single day in the news. But because it comes from a place of authenticity and experience, it also manages to be hopeful and uplifting. There are a few characters who end up a bit broad – Starr’s frenemy at school, Hailey, is a particularly one-note villain – but the writing is solid and the message resonates.
Recommended for: Anyone who cares about other people and their experiences
Steer Clear: This is a tough one for the very sensitive and possibly for those for whom this IS their experience. Not a steer clear, per se, but a content warning.
Dietland by Sarai Walker
Another trailer! This one’s not a movie – it’s a new series for AMC that, I will confess, I have not yet watched. However, it’s clear that a few major changes have been made from the book, so if, like me, you like to have a sense of the source material first, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Sarai Walker’s 2015 novel before you binge in front of the air conditioner.
Plum Kettle just KNOWS she’ll be happy if only she’d lose weight. Her discontent with her job, answering “Dear Kitty” letters for teen magazine Daisy Chain, her non-starter love life, her overall shyness and self-deprecation – all of that will be fixed when she’s thin. So she’s saving up for a gastric by-pass surgery and generally avoiding life until that day. Except…she’s also being followed by a strange young woman with flashy tights and heavy eyeliner, and elsewhere in the world, men are being hunted and brought to justice by a mysterious group called “Jennifer.” Plum soon gets drawn into a world of radical feminists and beauty magazine saboteurs, and starts to question whether she and her weight were ever the problem at all.
Dietland is, no doubt about it, a weird one. It starts out in a way that you think you’re going to be reading an update of Bridget Jones’s Diary, and turns into something more like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Though there are gory deaths of frankly terrible men, the really scary part of this book is the peek under the hood of the fashion and diet industry – all the subtle and not so subtle ways that women are manipulated to hate themselves so that other people can make money. The best part for me was that there’s no real romantic subplot – something the show will no doubt “fix.” It was just refreshing to see a story about a woman learning to love herself that didn’t involve first being loved by someone else.
Recommended for: Anyone ready for the revolution.
Steer Clear: If you have a weak stomach. The deaths in this book are not pretty.
Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts by Stella Parks
If the first two books I’m recommending are a bit more politically oriented, here’s one I’m recommending for pure fun. It’s no secret that I love to bake, and one of my baking heroes is Bravetart’s Stella Parks. She’s the dessert specialist for Serious Eats, my go-to food site for well-tested, well-thought out recipes, and she’s also a highly trained pastry chef. But Bravetart is her ode to all-American food, many of them products that are processed and pretty far from homemade – think Oreos, Wonder Bread, and Nutter Butters. By breaking down what it is we love about these products and making them into something you can make it home, with quality ingredients, Parks performs a kind of magic trick – baked goods that taste both nostalgic and totally new.
Whether you’re going to a Fourth of July potluck or just bored in the AC, these recipes will inspire some creativity and fun in the kitchen. I just bought Parks’ recommended ice cream maker, so that’s my project for the week. What will you all be cooking up this summer?