It’s the middle of July and here I am, sitting by the pool, reading. I know, not surprising for an English teacher, right? But at least I’m outdoors in the sunshine while my kids can splash and swim.
I’ve been on a mystery and young adult literature run lately. In the last two & half weeks, I’ve read six books and currently working on a seventh. I’m definitely what you’d call a binge reader. I go long spells without reading anything (books, that is), and then binge on a dozen or so books to make up for it. I read a mix of genres to keep myself from getting bored or burned out by any one in particular.
So far, I’ve read a mix of mystery and young adult (YA) fiction. I purposely chose these two genres because they’re so immediately satisfying in terms of plot/story. Mysteries keep me engaged and I’m always looking for YA books to recommend to my 9th graders especially. I know that it might disappoint some students (or even fellow English teachers) that I’m not at home delving into War and Peace or Anna Karenina, but after several months of doing in-depth analysis with my students, my brain needs a break. I guess you could say that I sympathize with students who say they need something light to read for the summer. I get it. And typically the summer reading we usually assign is anything but light. So save that for August (that’s what I’m doing… saving my “more literary” reads for then).
This is my side table:
(Yes, that’s a first-generation Kindle on the top! I’m feeling very 21st century!) So far from that pile, I’ve read:
Down River by John Hart
Genre: mystery. I picked this up because it won the Edgar award for best mystery novel a few years ago. Plus, the premise sounded interesting: Young man found innocent of murder five years ago now returns home after receiving a mysterious phone call from a childhood friend. When he gets home, a series of attacks begin again and the townspeople, not surprisingly, connect the crimes back to him. Not necessarily the best writing, but the plot kept moving and the characters were interesting. 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Broken Harbor by Tana French
Genre: mystery/crime fiction. Broken Harbor is the fourth installment in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series. I first came across French’s work a few years ago when I noticed that her debut novel, In the Woods, won an Edgar Award. As you can guess, her novels take place in Dublin, Ireland, and I enjoy seeing a certain Irish style come through in her writing. Each novel in the series follows a different member of the Dublin Murder squad, which makes it a little different than other mystery/crime writers who follow a single protagonist. This was probably my second favorite among her novels, with The Likeness being my favorite. In some ways, I felt like this particular book was the literary version of Law & Order (just the investigation, not the trial part). 4 out of 5 stars.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Genre: YA. I’m slightly ashamed to admit this, but… oh, how I loved this book. My snobby, English-teacher self is yelling at me right now, but this book was such a wonderful surprise. Is it high, literary fiction? No. Is it somewhat cheesy and nostalgic? Yes. But I don’t care. Two “misfit” kids fall in love on the bus as they argue over comics and listen to the music of XTC, the Smiths, and U2. Did I mention that the novel takes place in the 1986? And since I grew in the 80s, this just makes the book that much more awesome. I think I even liked this book better than that other beloved YA book Fault in Our Stars (I know, blasphemy, right?). Dialogue was spot-on and the relationship that develops between the two characters was both sweet and realistic at the same time. Just loved. If you’ve read this, please let me know so we can ooh and aah about it (unless you didn’t like it, in which case, I don’t know you). 5 out 5 stars.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Genre: YA. This book has been on my “to-read” shelf for a while now, and I’ve had several students read and love it. The premise was compelling: protagonist Clay Jenson receives a mysterious set of tapes. As he listens to the first one, he recognizes the voice of Hannah Barker, a student at his school who committed suicide recently. Every side of each tape is dedicated to a person who was in some way responsible for Hannah’s suicide, and because Clay has received the tapes, it means that he is on one of them. Like I said, very compelling premise and deals with some serious issues about teen suicide, bullying, gossip, etc. Maybe it was because I read this immediately after Eleanor and Park, but I don’t think it was quite as good as I either expected it to be or wanted it to be. While the narrative structure was interesting, the style itself wasn’t anything remarkable, which makes me appreciate YA writers like John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Melina Marchetta that much more. Still, I realize I’m probably being nitpicky in my review, so overall, I would still highly recommend it. 4 out of 5 stars.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent
Genre: mystery. Reminded me of a grown-up version of To Kill a Mockingbird. I picked it up because it won the 2014 Edgar award (yes, there is clearly a pattern here) and I wanted another mystery to add to my summer reading list. It wasn’t the fast-paced, plot-driven novel I was expecting with the genre and that was a good (and wonderfully surprising) thing. It took a little while to get settled into the book and even though I could predict the ending about 2/3 of the way through, I enjoyed the novel and thought it was well-written. Some really beautiful lines, especially those regarding the nature of faith and forgiveness. 4 out of 5 stars.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Genre: YA. I wrote a little longer review on this book over on Goodreads.com. Click on over to read it if you like. While you’re there, feel free to “friend” me on Goodreads, too! If haven’t heard of Goodreads, it’s basically a Facebook for book lover nerds where you create online bookshelves of the books you’ve read, share books, post reviews, see what your friends are reading, etc. Fun! Oh, and I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Right now, I’m about halfway through another Jay Asher YA book, The Future of Us. In the novel, it’s 1996 and two friends, Emma and Josh, log into her computer for the first time to find their future Facebook profiles. Definitely an interesting idea: after all, if you could see your Facebook timeline 15 years from now, would you want to? And then if you discovered that you could do things today to change the future (and see those changes reflected on your FB page), what would you do? How much of your future would you want to know and how much would you try to change? I think I’ll move to some of my more “literary” books on my list, probably Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah next (Adichie is also the author of Purple Hibiscus, which we read in world literature). After that, depending on how dense that read is, I may need something lighter. I guess we’ll see… and with a few more weeks of summer left, I’ve got lots of days by the pool to keep binge-reading. If you’re reading anything right now, I’d love to hear about it. 🙂 And in case you’re interested, here are the other titles on my “to-read” list this summer:
- Tinkers by Paul Harding
- I’ll Be Right There by Shin Kyung-sook
- Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King
- And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
- We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
- The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
- Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
- and because I haven’t read it since college, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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