It’s finally summer, and with everything going on in the world right now, you could probably use a little escape. As many of us retreat to beaches and pools to catch a break from the heat, here are eight books from the summer edition of NPR’s Books We Love that you can take with you.
The exact definition of a beachy read depends on who you ask. But hopefully, you’ll find something that suits your tastes in our picks below — whether you’re in the mood for some light romance, short fiction or a thriller.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Shara Wheeler kissed Chloe Green and then had the nerve to vanish. Thankfully, Shara has left behind a trail of pink-enveloped clues and a pair of whodunit high school boys whom she also kissed. The ragtag trio tear apart their small Alabama town in search of Shara – but what they find reveals just as much truth about themselves as it does Shara. This is a teenage Harriet the Spy – complete with romance, angst, rebellion and Taco Bell. In a year when LGBTQ youth and their families have faced intense political attacks, this book feels like a warm embrace.
— Lauren Migaki, senior producer, NPR Ed
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
In Julie Otsuka’s new novel, The Swimmers, a ragtag group of regulars shows up every day to swim laps in a university pool. One day, a crack appears at the bottom near the drain, then another, reproducing in spiderlike clusters. When the pool is shut down for safety reasons, the daily rhythm of the swimmers’ lives abruptly stops. The Swimmers is a slim, brilliant novel about the value and beauty of mundane routines that shape our days and identities. Jump in and soak up Otsuka’s distinctive style, which has all the verve and playfulness of spoken-word poetry.
— Maureen Corrigan, book critic, Fresh Air
Book Lovers by Emily Henry
In someone else’s rom-com, literary agent Nora Stephens is the villain — a city-slicker-workaholic the hero dumps for a small-town love. That script is flipped when Nora’s sister drags her to Sunshine Falls, an idyllic, small town in North Carolina. Nora’s vacation is off to a great start, until she runs into cold-hearted New York book editor Charlie Lastra, whose family owns the failing local bookshop. Their chemistry crackles as they try to outwit each other with taunts, teases and maybe flirts. Between laugh-out-loud exchanges about Bigfoot erotica, they consider what “happily ever after” looks like for two rom-com “villains.”
— Lauren Migaki, senior producer, NPR Ed
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
If you’ve ever wanted to read a love letter to friendship, this is it. All This Could Be Different follows Sneha, a 22-year-old consultant in Milwaukee who is building a life for herself in a new city. From dating women to navigating financial anxiety to finding an unlikely group of friends, the novel explores the tenderness and troubles of Sneha’s first few years of adulthood. Through exquisite observations, Sarah Thankam Mathews reflects on the gift of having people you can count on, who anchor you through new chapters.
— Nayantara Dutta, freelance writer
The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo, translated by Chi-Young Kim
The opening of The Old Woman with the Knife – 65-year-old Hornclaw hunts her mark in a subway car while riders avoid offering her a seat – sets its gripping, bone-dry tone. Originally titled Pagwa (bruised fruit), the novel is by turns a character study, a One Last Job thriller, and a dark comedy about the indignities of aging and work (her mom-and-pop assassin business is, like everything else around her, being gentrified). But some of its best moments make a poignant register of life’s little stings; rarely has a peach forgotten in the kitchen been so keenly felt.
— Genevieve Valentine, author and book critic
The Novelist by Jordan Castro
Jordan Castro is a novelist, and also a supporting character in The Novelist, a novel about a would-be novelist trying to write a novel. Got it? Sure, Castro’s fiction debut is as meta as it gets, but that’s part of its immense charm. The narrator of the book, which takes place during one morning, is determined to work on his novel but keeps getting distracted by making tea, the Internet, and his need to go to the bathroom. Castro’s book is odd – that’s undebatable – but it’s also sweet, funny and beautifully written.
— Michael Schaub, book critic
Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
When you save someone’s life, do you become responsible for them? This is the question that propels Mouth to Mouth forward. Set in the moneyed art world of Los Angeles, a young man with a secret seeks his fortune by attaching himself to a wealthy but cruel and duplicitous dealer. It’s a lean, existentialist drama, and capped with a satisfying twist ending.
— Anya Kamenetz, correspondent, NPR Ed
Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated by Sophie Hughes
In Gunnhild Øyehaug’s playful yet poignant novel, a mother misreads a word as her young daughter plays nearby – a mistake that splits the mother’s world into two parallel universes, irrevocably erasing her from her daughter’s life and vice-versa. From then on, mother and daughter continue to exist as thinkers and artists – but in their own worlds. Each woman’s identity reflects the novel’s central duality: To be a biological mother is to be divided by gestation and birth, yet to be a creator is to assume an eternal, genderless and indivisible presence. By rejecting the classical concept of tragedy, Øyehaug’s modern Genesis story beautifully unifies life and art.
— Thúy Ðinh, writer and book critic