This is the first installment in my summer reading series, which will include books that define summer for me based on their seasons, settings, or themes. Most young adult books, or any books involving teenagers, are centered around coming of age, and summer is the quintessential time to do so. Below, reviews of four very different coming of age novels by female authors.
The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
The Moon by Night is the second novel in the Austin Family series by Madeleine L’Engle, the authoress who brought you the famed Wrinkle in Time series. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Vicky Austin, the oldest sister in a family of six, the novel explores the Austin family’s cross-country summer road trip before they move from an idyllic East Coast town to New York in the fall. There are new characters at every campsite they settle down at, and a mysterious boy named Zachary Grey tags along throughout it all. Complete with the fluid nostalgic narration of Vicky Austin as she recounts her memories and tries to imagine her new hometown, it is truly a timeless representation of teenagehood and summer.
In my opinion, L’Engle’s works can be very confusing, in that most of them somehow relate to each other. I think The Moon by Night is a good one to start with as far as the Austin Family Chronicles go, and then I also like A Ring of Endless Light (#4), which focuses on Vicky again. For example, A Wrinkle in Time‘s Meg Murray’s daughter Polly O’Keefe appears in the L’Engle novel A House Like a Lotus with A Moon by Night‘s Zachary Grey.
Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
A spirited and bookish girl with magic in her veins. Meet Wink. A malicious and capricious girl with half the town wound round her finger, whether they love her or fear her. Meet Poppy. A manipulated boy blindingly in love with a cruel-hearted girl. Meet Midnight. Told in lyrical prose is a beautiful book narrated by this trio of complex characters, each giving their accounts of the summer when everything happened. Add in a rambling farm across the way, a pair of Gothic graveyard girls, a story within a story, a cabin in the middle of the woods, tarot readings, whimsically-named potions, a multitude of roaming brothers and sisters, and you have this wonderful novel that borders on poetry. I wouldn’t peg it as realistic fiction, or a mystery, or a romance, or a fantasy, because it is all these things, and when I finished it, I still wasn’t quite sure! The three character narration definitely made me lose track of time, but it is that loose way that all of the stories weave together that produces the spellbinding effect you feel when you close the book. It almost makes you breathless, as though you too are among these characters in this disturbing town. Alabama.
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
The coming-of-age graphic novel This One Summer could only have been written by cousins. Main character Rose visits Awago beach every summer with her parents (very Junonia), but this summer is different. She is growing up, and so is her summer friend, the slightly younger Windy. Both girls are entranced by the beach town’s teenage population, but Windy’s fascination with the teens feels immature to Rose, who doesn’t want to acknowledge her interest in an older boy named Dunc. Rose also begins to notice her and Windy’s age difference when she begins to observe the subtleties in the relationships around her: those close to her and those she wishes she were closer to. It’s the summer of change for the people Rose loves as she becomes more aware of the many sub-plots of their summer. With no true peers but Windy, the purple, blue, and grey tones in the illustrations give the story a distinct mood of isolation, as well as the coziness of an innocent-at-first-glance summer, one to be cherished forever. If you’re unsure about reading a graphic novel like I was, go ahead and pick this one up. It’s truly perfect for all age ranges middle school and beyond. This One Summer is the freedom of running on the beach and the comfort of building a fort on a blustery day, it’s the bath water running and riding bicycles in the rain.
Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
I was wary of this book at first–of its ambiguous book flap and its fantasy elements–but I am so glad I decided to read it. Teenager Lucas Knight visits Puerto Rico every summer with his wealthy hotel developer father. Although he and his father are shunned for being white and building on top of the island’s beautiful beaches, Lucas has a small group of consistent summer friends, and himself states that the apple falls very far from the tree with him and his culturally insensitive father. He also possesses the attentions of many of the island’s girls. Following the disappearances of multiple teenage girls and a rekindling of Lucas’s interest in the myths surrounding the greenery-decorated house at the end of Calle Sol, where the daughter of a hideous white scientist is rumored to reside, Lucas is in for his most magical, heartbreaking summer yet. With lush green tropical leaves curling around the edges of the book, I felt completely immersed in Lucas’s world.
The way it is set in a sort of fantasy-reality is very similar to Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke and Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, and this makes me wonder whether this new trend in YA books will continue on into a whole new genre. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy fantasy, this is a welcome idea.
Thank you for reading, and I hope this post has inspired you to add some new books to your summer reading list. I know these are all marketed towards teens, but some young adult literature is truly literature, and I think everyone should appreciate it for that.
Book cover images courtesy of goodreads.com. All other photos were taken by me.