Jarrett’s Summer Reading List

As hard as it is to believe, summer is almost here.  As such, before you head out on your wonderful summer trips (I sure hope you are taking them again), or sit down on your couch for a much-deserved break, I thought I would pass on my top recommendations for your summer reading.

The Hate You Give

While this book is labeled as a “young adult” read, and I did get it from my fourteen-year-old daughter, there is absolutely nothing childish or immature about it.  If I had to recommend just one book to read this summer, this would be it. I just can’t say enough good things about this book which is absolutely engrossing and mind-opening,

The Hate you Give is written by Angie Thomas, a true southern voice from Jackson, Mississippi.  Prior to becoming a writer, Ms. Thomas was best known for her work as a teenage rap artist.  The Hate you Give is her debut novel and is a powerful, thought-provoking tome about a teenage girl named Starr Carter, who is forced to live two separate and mutually-exclusive lives at the same time.  In one life, she is a poor black girl coming up hard in a dangerous neighborhood.  In her other life, Starr is a wonderful student and friend to many, at a high-end, mostly all-white prep school in a fancy suburb, miles from her home.  Starr has to navigate the trials and tribulations of both lives, and has to walk a fine line, so that neither world knows the other one exists.  And when Starr becomes the sole witness to a brutal police shooting of an unarmed black man, both worlds start to collide and unravel at the same time, with chilling consequences for Starr and the dual lives she has set up for herself.

Where the Crawdads Sing

If, like myself, you are an avid reader of contemporary novels, you have probably already read Where the Crawdads Sing.  if not, don’t wait any longer.  I promise, you won’t be disappointed.  Ever since it was published in 2018, Where the Crawdads Sing, written by Delia Owens, has been one of the most popular books around, and I still often see people reading it at the pool or on the BART train and, for good reason.  This book is absolutely fantastic!  Part love story, part murder mystery, part history of the south, this book really does have it all.

Where the Crawdads Sing is written about a young woman named Kya Clark, who is better known to the locals as the “Marsh Girl.”  When Kya is abandoned by her parents at an early age, she learns to live alone in the wilds of the North Carolina marshlands.  Kya lives well, both off the land and off the grid and seems able to do just about anything on her own.  But as she gets older, Kya finds herself yearning for contact with others.  However, due to her solitary lifestyle and hard childhood, Kya does not understand all of the rules and language of society and has serious issues of trust and understanding when she comes into contact with people from town, who also do not understand Kya or her way of life.  When Kya is drawn to two very different young men she meets in the marsh, her life, their lives, and the lives of almost everyone in town are changed forever.

The Girl with the Louding Voice

Spoiler Alert — This book is an absolute heart breaker. However, it is also a magnificent book and a must read for anyone who wants to feel (and can handle) what it is like to be in the shoes of someone from a very different place and circumstances; someone who is willing to work endlessly hard and risk it all in order to better themselves and their circumstances, regardless of the obstacles in their path.

The Girl with the Louding Voice, written by Abi Dare from Nigeria, is about a teenage girl named Adunni, who lives in a small village in Nigeria.  Adunni wants, more than anything, to get an education, and is willing to put in the effort to get it. The problem is, she lives in a time and place where it is all but impossible for a girl to do so.  Despite the roadblocks in her way (and you won’t believe how many there are), Adunni never gives up hope and brings new meaning to the word “determination” in the face of seemingly-insurmountable odds.  This book is written as a first-person narrative, and in the beginning, it is often hard to understand what Adunni is saying with her very-broken English.  However, as the book progresses, and as her character progresses (both educationally and spiritually), her writing gets clearer and more concise, and her vocabulary and writing style improve along with her lot in life.

Yes, this book is heart-breaking and sometimes it is hard to continue.  However, if you are diligent and patient, you will be rewarded with a truly unforgettable read.

I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

This is a book all about the stress and strife of a young girl of Mexican descent trying to be true to herself and live life as she wants, while simultaneously feeling like a failure because her life does not match her parent’s expectations.  Julia Reyes is not the perfect Mexican daughter.  She does not want to dress the way her parents would like, she does not want to act the way her parents want, and she does not want to stay in the family home after graduation.  These are all things that Julia believes a perfect Mexican daughter, like her older sister Olga, should do.  However, when Julia’s seemingly-perfect sister is killed in a terrible accident, Julia stumbles upon clues to her sister’s real life – a life that neither Julia nor her family knew, or would ever dream, existed.  This puts Julia into the role of detective, and the more she learns about her sister and her true life, the more she learns about herself, her family, and the world around her.

Erika Sanchez’s I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is incredibly well-written and different from any other novel I have ever read.  I would never think it possible for a middle-aged Jewish man from Berkeley (me, just in case you are wondering) to truly empathize with the pain, fear, frustrations and hopes of a young Mexican-American girl. But, through superior writing-and-storytelling skills, Erika Sanchez absolutely made this happen.

Apples Never Fall

To be honest, I have a real love/hate relationship with this book.  I love it because it is funny, exciting, provocative and most of all, supremely entertaining.  I hate it, because when I passed it on to my wife (who is usually a somewhat reluctant reader), she kept me up late into the night for almost a full week, rapidly (and noisily) turning pages and gasping out loud, as she was totally engrossed and unable to put the book down.

The author of Apples Never Fall, Liane Moriarty, is a well-known author, and you may well have read some of her more popular books (or seen the movies/mini-series based on those books), such as: Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers, or What Alice Forgot.  These are all fantastic books (and she has many more), and if you haven’t already done so, I would recommend that you read them all, but I think Apples Never Fall is my favorite.

Apples Never Fall is about the Delaney Family, which runs a tennis school and is well-known and well-loved and respected by just about everyone in their small community. At first blush, it seems as if the Delaney’s have it all:  a perfect marriage, great kids, a successful business, and the respect and admiration of the community in which they live.  However, when, one day, a seemingly-perfect stranger shows up on their doorstep asking for help, and then, soon after, the matriarch of the Delaney family, Joy Delaney, vanishes without a trace, the real lives of the Delaney’s start to reluctantly reveal themselves.  As the police investigate Joy’s disappearance, we learn more about each of the Delaney clan and the secrets that no one knew, or would have ever suspected, of such a seemingly perfect family.

This book is fifty-percent murder-mystery, fifty-percent sociological dissertation, and one-hundred percent good!  If you pick it up, I guarantee you won’t want to put it down.  And, before you give it to your partner or spouse, be warned, the reading light may not go out for a very long time. 

So, there you have it.  My top five recommendations for your summer reading list.  If you read any of these books, please let me know your thoughts; and, if you happen to have read something really good lately yourself, please pass it on, as I am always looking for new books and very much appreciate a good recommendation.