Twelve characters are making their way toward the biggest event of the season: the Big Oakland Powwow. These are people who feel like they belong to their tribes and to the United States, who feel rejected by both, and who are trying to grapple with what it means to live and love on land that is both their own and stolen from them. With everything from rage to despair to joy and merriment, this book will both rearrange your ideas and make you feel.
A Place for Us
Fatima Farheen Mirza
A wedding is a great place to catch up with family drama, and that’s where this debut brings us. The wedding at the center is for Hadia, who’s marrying a man she chose for herself, a decision her parents, Rafiq and Layla, still struggle with. The book flashes back to their arrival in the United States as immigrants and moves forward as we learn more about the love holding this family together, and the decisions that have torn them apart.
The Great Believers
HIV and AIDS are no longer the death sentences they once were, but when the outbreak began in the U.S., these conditions were terrifying and largely mysterious. In this novel, we watch Yale Tishman as his career takes off, even as his friends are dying around him, including his close friend Nico. Years later, Nico’s little sister is still gripped with grief and the trauma of loss, while she tries to mend her relationship with her own daughter.
Tell the Machine Goodnight
In a not-too-distant future, Pearl works as a technician for the Apricity Corporation, inventors of a machine that spits out sometimes odd, often delightful methods individually tailored to make the user happy, with a success rate of over 99%. But Pearl’s teenage son is meanwhile refusing the machine’s suggestions, along with the very notion that happiness is the only desired or possible outcome. As Pearl and her son try to understand one another, you’ll question the concept of happiness—but you’ll keep smiling while doing it.
Eagle & Crane
Eagle and Crane are the nicknames of two ace pilots who perform in the not-entirely-legal flying circus traveling around California in the 1930s. Eagle is Louis Thorn, and Crane is Haruto “Harry” Yamada, a Japanese immigrant whose parents live on land that the Thorn family believes was stolen from them. After Pearl Harbor, Haruto and his father escape an internment camp in his plane, but the plane crashes. Who sabotaged it, and why? A stirring exploration of American life and bigotry during the Depression and World War II.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
It should be easy, being an heiress. The narrator of this novel knows it should be easy. Easier, at least. But there’s a sense of distance between her and the world, and maybe it’s the death of her parents or her stupid boyfriend who treats her badly or her chaotic relationship with her best friend. Or maybe it’s just life. Maybe that’s what life is about: alienation. In order to try to cure herself, the narrator begins an intense drug regimen and begins to lose herself in an entirely different way.
The Romanov Empress
C. W. Gortner
Once a Danish princess, Maria (née Minnie) Feodorovna narrates this delicious novel of royal intrigue and bizarre history. After the death of Maria’s husband, her son Nicholas becomes the next tsar of Russia, but the world is changing, and Maria believes that Russia must change with it. Meanwhile, Nicholas’s wife has become entrenched with an odd and dangerous mystic, Rasputin (yes, that one!) and opposes Maria’s every move. Watching the longstanding Romanov dynasty crumble from within, Maria does what she can to try to save the country she’s grown to love.
The Garden Party
Grace Dane Mazur
In the Cohen family’s garden, the rehearsal dinner is set to begin. On the groom’s side are his parents—literary critic Celia Cohen and Babylonian translator and cookbook writer Pindar—and their two daughters. On the bride’s side: real-estate lawyer parents with three lawyer children, and a divinity-school dropout son. There’s also an elderly grandparent on each side. What could possibly go wrong? The shenanigans are fast, furious, hilarious, and deeply felt.
Willa Drake is a mother and widow. She can identify the defining moments of her life, the times she knew everything was going to change. One of these moments is in 2017 when she keeps hoping she might become a grandmother. But instead, when her son’s ex-girlfriend gets in touch after breaking her leg, Willa impulsively goes to help care for her and the woman’s young daughter. Getting away from her overbearing second husband and breaking old patterns, Willa is in for another life change.
The Death of Truth
Up until recently, Michiko Kakutani was the chief book critic for The New York Times, and she’s got the chops to show for it. In this book, Kakutani goes back decades to examine when the beginning of subjective truth began to enter into our culture. As real and fake news are conflated, as our TVs are filled with false facts and science long proven is called into question, such an examination of how we got here is very much in order, and Kakutani’s critical eye does a great service to our understanding of how, why, and where next.
When you spend a wonderful week with someone and they never call you, it hurts, sure, but usually, you learn to let it go and move on. But Sarah can’t, even though her friends tell her she should. She can’t help it; her week with Eddie was the most real thing she’s ever experienced, and when he doesn’t call, she’s certain something happened to him. And she’s right—but so are her friends. Eddie has lied to Sarah, but the reasons are touching, shocking, and will keep you flipping the pages until you, like Sarah, understand what’s going on.
Now My Heart Is Full
It wasn’t until her daughter was born that Laura June began to understand and sympathize with her mother. For years, June didn’t want her alcoholic mother around, and certainly couldn’t understand how her mother could act as she did. But as June begins to raise her own daughter, Zelda, she starts wishing for her mother’s guidance, and begins to understand the ways generations are emotionally tied together through the bonds of parents and children.
R. O. Kwon
When Phoebe meets Will at Edwards University, it’s fate. Here is a boy who’s just as screwed up as she is, in his own way. Where Phoebe blames herself for her mother’s recent death and begins obsessing with a cult led by a former student, Will is trying to get away from the fundamentalism that led him to Bible college, and then, later, to dropping out of Bible college. As Phoebe becomes more involved with the cult and finally disappears, Will searches for answers and tries to find her. A fast-paced and fascinating novel about the things we do in the name of faith, grief, and yearning.
A Short Film About Disappointment
Ever wondered what a novel constructed of movie reviews would look like? Well, here it is. Noah Body is a film critic in the near future, and no one reads his reviews anyway, so why not mix his own life into the pieces he writes? Through the reviews, we learn about how he has to write in order to get his water rations, how his wife left him, and how Noah, all on his own, is going to create the next film masterpiece. An imaginative and witty debut.
The Distance Home
René was the golden girl in her South Dakota community post-World War II. Leon, her brother, was the outsider. As René impressed their father with her passion for dance, Leon disappointed him with his. As the years go on, we watch as René’s and Leon’s parents struggle in a failing marriage, and we see how the siblings’ lives begin to drift apart and take entirely different paths. A gripping story of an American family over years of turmoil, and an examination of the choice to live an artistic life.
A River of Stars
Scarlett Chen is going to have a baby boy, and her boss, the man who impregnated her, sure is happy about it—so happy that he sent her to the United States so his son would be born with U.S. citizenship. In the secret maternity home, Scarlett discovers something unsettling on her newest sonogram and flees before her boss can find out. With an unlikely ally fleeing the maternity home with her, Scarlett ends up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she must forge a new life for herself and her unborn child, while the father of that child is in hot pursuit.
Convicted and serving his sentence for bank robbery, Nico Walker has written a novel as gritty as the reality he lived through. A young man meets Emily in 2003 in Cleveland, but when she leaves town and he flunks out, he decides to join the army. They marry before he ships off to Iraq as a medic—and when he returns, things are different. He has PTSD, a taste for drugs, and begins using heroin, as does Emily. As the two descend together into poverty, addiction, and desperation, he pursues a new occupation: robbing banks.
The Sapphire Widow
In 1935 Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), British couple Louisa and Elliot live a charmed life. Or so it seems at first glance, anyway. But as Louisa struggles through several miscarriages, Elliot begins staying away more and more on the nearby cinnamon plantation. When he dies suddenly, Louisa heads there to try to discover what happened to him—and when she begins finding out about his numerous betrayals, she has only the plantation’s charming owner to turn to. But who can she really trust?
Where the Crawdads Sing
Kya Clark is known as the “Marsh Girl” because that’s where she’s been living since she was young and abandoned in the middle of the marshes. Surviving on her wits and the natural splendor around her, she becomes curious about people and begins to long for company. But when she meets two local men who are drawn to her wildness, something terrible happens, and now everyone thinks she’s responsible for a murder. But is she? Or is she being used as a scapegoat?
The unnamed narrator of this debut lost her mother 10 years ago and is now about to become a mother herself. Interspersed with her meditations on motherhood and grief are significant moments in medical history that involve seeing differently: the invention of the x-ray, psychoanalysis, and more. Remembering her summers with her psychoanalyst grandmother, the narrator links three generations with a fourth on the way alongside the evolution of medicine. Evocative and stirring.
Whiskey When We're Dry
Jessilyn Harney is only 17 when she decides it’s high time to go find her outlaw brother, Noah. Her parents are dead and she can’t manage the homestead alone, but the roads are dangerous in 1885, so she binds her chest and cuts off her hair to mask her identity. Proving herself a worthy shot and fighter, she joins a band hunting Noah down, dead or alive. As they move west and she gets closer to him, she has to reckon with her own secrecy, the things her brother has done, and the true meaning of heroism.
Dr. Jean McClellan is not the kind of woman who ever imagined she would be silenced. But that’s exactly what happens when a near-future American government decrees that women are only allowed to speak 100 words per day (people typically speak some 16,000 words a day on average). Women’s rights only shrink from thereon as the world goes full-on Handmaid’s Tale. But Dr. McClellan won’t stand for it. And so the fight for her freedom, for her daughter’s freedom, for the freedom of half the population, begins.
Nikole Paterson has only been dating her boyfriend for five months. When the scoreboard at a Dodgers game flashes with a misspelled proposal, saying no is pretty easy; she’s never been keen on the guy’s man-bun or his bro-y friends. But the video of Nik’s refusal to the proposal goes viral, and in an attempt to both rebound and distract herself from her flaming social media, she embarks on a fun affair with Carlos, a handsome doctor who helped Nik out of the stadium. Except when they keep making things more serious than they were meant to be, one of them has to pull the plug…right?
A one-percenter to his core, Barry Cohen holds romantic ideas about getting away and living simply—so he ditches the company where he oversees several billion dollars, the SEC investigation into it, and his ex-wife and three-year-old autistic son. He climbs on a Greyhound bus, just like in a ’60s pop song, and goes off to try making a life with his college sweetheart. Between him and his ex-wife, Seema, the novel moves in search of something richer than wealth.
When you’re stocking up on your summer reading stack, don’t forget last summer’s hot new releases (now out in pool-friendly paperback!). These reads will give you all the feels, make you think, and help create a space for your self-care needs—that’s what summer’s all about, right? We’ve rounded up 24 of the best books of summer 2018. We hope you stock up, dial down, and take care.
Featured Image: Matt McCarty