Happy childhood memories pretty much fall into a few categories: holidays, birthdays, and summer. Some of the best moments in life happen before the age of 18 and between the months of June and August. There's no going back in time, unfortunately, but you can bury yourself in
books that'll remind you of childhood summers... especially if you spent your summers reading.
My own memories of summer days are punctuated by the feeling of the searing hot leather seats against my skin as I snapped the seatbelt in my mom’s 1994 Volvo station wagon so we could head to the bookstore. See, my folks had a rule. There were two things they would always let us have as much of as we wanted: fruit and books. Naturally, I took advantage of the latter and that meant we spent a lot of time visiting Sunshine and Wisteria Bookstore (where I later worked over Christmas break). Books in general remind me of summer, but the books on this list are particularly summer-centric.
In fact, you might remember reading some of these books during a childhood summer (or teenage summer), because the YA genre has given us so many summer reading classics — and they're 100% worth revisiting. (Be prepared to feel like you're a tween again, lazing in a lounge chair with a popsicle.) Others on this list are more "mature," but they're all equally compelling. So pull up a hammock, because this is the best summer reading list of all.
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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
If you went to summer camp, then you’ll probably appreciate Meg Wolitzer’s
The Interestings. This book looks at six privileged kids who meet at a creative arts camp in the 70’s. From there, the plot follows their friendships as they grow up and how they evolve from the bright kids they once were. Might make you look back at your own childhood dreams and wonder what happened.
Summer Sisters: A Novel by Judy Blume
If you're dreaming of spending the summer curled up with a Judy Blume book just like when you were a kid (and aren't we all?), this Blume novel for adults will send you right back in time: Caitlin Somers and Victoria Leonard meet as kids on Martha's Vineyard in 1977 and with each summer after that, the friends get closer... with Victoria pretending to be part of the same privileged social set as Caitlin. The two grow apart as adults — and then, Caitlin asks Victoria back to the Vineyard to be her maid of honor.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
New York Times No. 1 bestseller was later made into a movie — an obvious choice considering the all the drama between these characters: a mother-daughter duo wrestling with their relationship and a group of wild best friends who were rejected for a Shirley Temple look-alike contest as children. The sultry Louisiana summer plays a supporting role throughout.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Sue Monk Kidd’s beautiful book,
The Secret Life of Bees, takes place in 1964, and the summer vibes are thick as honey: bees are most active in the summer, and there are even two characters named after summer months (June and August). Lily, the star of the book, is haunted by her mother’s killing. The jacket description says it best: “When Lily's fierce-hearted Black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free." After escaping to Tiburon, South Carolina, the women are taken in by a trio of black beekeeping sisters. The book's look at feminine power speaks to the relationships between mothers and daughters, blood-related or otherwise.
What fun is swimming in the ocean if you can't pretend to be/see a shark and freak out all your friends? (Kids even try that one in swimming pools, come to think of it.) All those shark-related hijinks were inspired by one movie,
Jaws — a film that wouldn't have existed without the book by Peter Benchley. (Maybe don't read this one while the kids in the water.)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
A Newbery Honor novel by a
NYT bestselling author, this story of three sisters traveling to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them is ideal reading for a summer road trip. While the girls hope to visit Disneyland, their mother has other plans (a day camp run by the Black Panthers). Yes, this is technically a YA novel, but — like so many YA novels, including the ones below — it's worth re-reading as an adult, especially during the summer.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
"Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold." "Things are rough all over." Over 50 years ago,
The Outsiders gave us these classic quotes (and many more), and it reminds you of childhood summers because you know you watched Francis Ford Coppola's film version over and over again at summertime sleepovers. The book is just as compelling as ever, a reminder that "nothing sparkly can stay"... much like summer.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn may be 77 years old, but its story remains just as compelling to readers nearly a century later. Francie Nolan is growing up in the tenement houses of Williamsburg, Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. Her dad hits the bottle too much, her aunt has a seemingly revolving list of beaus, and drama follows the family like a shadow, but summer romances still manage to bloom (much like a tree in city). As a young reader walking in Francie’s shoes, I remember being shocked by how our different lives were but also in awe of our similarities, the universal truths of childhood that transcends time.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Another book which later became a movie, this one's primary plot device is fairly unrealistic: The same magical pair of jeans somehow fits four teenage girls. But hang on, it gets better! Even though the four friends are all shapes and sizes, the pants fit each of them perfectly and travel with them as they experience the highs and lows of the summer before junior year of high school. Driving home all the feelings of summer teenage-dom, it still strikes a chord.
Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
You'll feel like you're knee-deep in an Alabama summer when you read this one (also made into a movie). Told in flashback, it's the story of two women — Idgie and Ruth — and their little coffee shop, known for its stellar Southern barbecue (with a side of murder).