There is no feeling that compares to hearing that final bell ring on the last day of school. Sure, there are plenty of things adult life has over childhood (alcohol, no curfews, alcohol), but that feeling of finally having three months all to yourself just can’t be matched. Alas, that time is over. May summer break rest in peace.
To say the 10 books below are just as sweet as hearing that final bell would be a blatant lie, but they do get you pretty damn close. And reading them is far more emotionally healthy than going to adult sleepaway camp, which, yes, is a thing.
This novel will resonate with anyone who has ever been to — and been changed by — the weird world of sleepaway camp. It tracks the lives six teenagers who meet at an overnight camp for the fine arts during the summer of Nixon’s resignation, following them from age 15 to 30. If you’ve ever shared deep, dark secrets with a bunkmate after lights out, be sure to pick up The Interestings.
Straub’s latest novel tells the story of the Posts’ two-week stay on the island of Mallorca to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, as well as the high school graduation of their daughter, Sylvia. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as anyone who has ever been on a family vacation knows, even the most stunning locations can’t stop ugly secrets, rivalries and resentments from rising to the surface. By the time you reach the last page, you might just find yourself grateful that you actually don’t have to endure any more family vacations.
3. If the part of summer vacation you miss most is a getting to go to super amazing places like Disney World, read All Families are Psychotic by Douglas Coupland.
Even as an adult, it’s easy to see what enchants and excites kids about Disney World. There are rides! And fireworks! And parades that happen for no apparent reason! It’s also just as easy to view your own childhood trips to Disney World through rose-colored glasses. Compared to your current life of bills and relationship stress, the idea of spending a weekend with a Mickey ice cream in hand while you wait to ride Space Mountain sounds pretty dreamy. But here’s the thing: Disney World sort of sucks. It’s humid, the lines are long, the food is overpriced and often themed. Coupland’s novel looks at the Drummond family, reunited for the first time in years. A large chunk of the book takes place in Disney World, and it will remind you that, no, you don’t really want to ride It’s a Small World again.
When you’re a kid, any location can be magically transformed into the Amazon rainforest. Or the Wild West. Or outer space. Or literally anywhere you want to go, because imaginations have no boundaries. Russell’s Swamplandia! tells the story of 13-year-old Ava Bigtree, who has grown up in Swamplandia!, the gator-wrestling theme park owned by her family. Ava’s adventures will remind you of how magical ordinary places can feel when you’re a kid.
5. If the part of summer vacation you miss most is being a teenager and having three whole months to do nothing except get high and hang out with your friends, read And Every Day Was Overcast by Paul Kwiatkowski.
For some, sleepaway camp was boring and family trips always sucked. But what was great about summer vacation was having three months to do absolutely fucking nothing except be a teenager. Kwiatkowski’s photo-illustrated novel captures a brief, perfect, messy moment in adolescence.
6. If the part of summer vacation you miss most is the sense of possibility, read This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki.
When you’re younger, that idea of endless possibility defines summer break. Relive that excitement with this graphic novel by cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. It tells the story of Rose, who, at 11 years old, is not quite sure where she stands in life. She’s starting to be interested in boys, but her best friend remains more concerned with “kid stuff.” The book tells the tale of how Rose deals with being on the cusp of her teenage years, straddling a line between childhood and something larger, something both scary and exciting. It will remind you of how formative this particular season can feel.
Yes, this book is targeted for young adults, and, yes, it’s about “a summer that changes you forever” (a vomit-worthy phrase that pops up in just about every YA book that takes place during summer break), but to reduce Madison’s novel to its target audience or basic plot line would be a mistake. September Girls is, in fact, an imaginative and poignant book, more than worthy of adult readers. It tells the story of Sam, whose father whisks him and his brother away to the strange beach town of Outer Banks after Sam’s mother leaves the family. There, Sam finds himself surrounded by a town full of beautiful blonde girls, all of whom are inexplicably attracted to him. But the girls harbor a deep secret, and when Sam falls for one of them, he makes it his mission to learn exactly what that secret is. Madison’s language is lyrical and poetic, ideal to get lost in during a lazy summer day.
8. If the part of summer vacation you miss most is going to the beach — the real beach, not some off-the-subway, rocks-instead-of-sand, completely polluted “beach” — read Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan.
Maine is about three generations of women who have come to the family beach house in — you guessed it — Maine. What unfurls is an equal parts hilarious and achingly sad novel about sibling rivalry, family secrets, alcoholism and Catholic guilt. It will make you nostalgic for the days of beach trips that left your car, shoes and body sandy for months. And it will probably make you want to call your mom.
9. If the part of summer vacation you miss the most is traveling, read We Were Flying to Chicago by Kevin Clouther.
When it comes to vacations, the process of getting there can be just as much fun as arriving, especially when you’re a kid. If you’re in a car, you get to play the license plate game (humble brag, but I once spotted three Canadian license plates on the same road trip), and if you’re traveling via airplane, you get to look down at the clouds, which, come on, is actually pretty awesome. The stories in Clouther’s short story collection largely center around traveling and are sure to give you flashbacks of summer trips.
10. If the part of summer vacation you miss most is the sense of freedom that it brings, read Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead.
When you’re a kid, summers feel like you have all the freedom in the world. As far as you’re concerned, the first day of school in September might as well be decades away. In his novel, Whitehead tells the story of brothers Benji and Reggie Cooper, who say goodbye to their almost entirely white Manhattan prep school every summer and head for Sag Harbor, a small beach town where they feel far more at home. The novel tackles issues both big and small (though, let’s face it, small issues feel huge when you’re a teenager), from terrible haircuts to questioning your own identity and place in the world. It harks back to when summer was a window through which you could leave the halls of your high school and finally go to a place where you could just be yourself.
Michelle King grew up in South Florida and now lives in Brooklyn. Her contributions have appeared on BULLETT, Refinery29, xoJane and The Huffington Post. Harriet M. Welsch is still her role model and probably always will be.
(Image Credits, from Top: Flickr, GoodReads, Publisher’s Weekly, Wikipedia, Barnes and Noble, Black Balloon Publishing, Hero Complex, GoodReads, J. Courtney Sullivan, Black Balloon Publishing, Keep Your Bridges Burning)
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