I hate summer. The heat, sweat, traffic, crowds, murderous seat belt buckles, and hot leather seats are just a few of the sins I won’t forgive the season for. If I had to name one redeemable quality, though, it would definitely be freedom. Whether you’re working a full-time job or spending all day with your kids, we can all agree that everything’s a tad more easy-breezy in the summertime. Freedom allots time to do the things you love. If you’re anything like me, one of those things is reading! So if you need a little help gathering some good reads for family road trips, time you have leftover on your lunch break, or when you sneak inside to get away from everybody at the cookout (introverts, holla!), let me assist you! You’re welcome.
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
This book actually deserves its own post. I get emotional even talking about it. It was THAT good! With a title adapted from Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (I’m all about anything involving Pac), The Hate U Give tells the story of 16-year-old Starr Carter after she witnesses her unarmed childhood best friend Khalil get murdered by a white police officer. Being the sole witness, Starr is immediately placed into a sticky situation that forces her two worlds to collide: one at home in the projects with her and Khalil’s families and community and one at her predominately white private school across town, where she often covers up most traces of her personal life. Will she continue denying her community or speak out for Khalil? This debut novel from Angie Thomas takes the Black Lives Matter movement and gives it a fresh fictional spin, excellently tackling privilege, race relations, identity, poverty, and activism in a way that requires nothing but empathy. THIS IS REQUIRED READING!
The Mothers – Brit Bennett
I was dreading the end of this book after the third chapter; I did not want it to end! Brit Bennett’s beautifully haunting debut novel primarily takes place in a black church and community in Southern California. Distraught after her mother’s suicide the summer before her senior year, beautiful yet misunderstood Nadia Turner starts a fling with her pastor’s handsome son, ex-football hopeful Luke Sheppard. When the affair results in a pregnancy, she decides to go through with an abortion which ultimately damages her and Luke’s relationship for several years. After losing Luke, Nadia befriends quiet and plain Aubrey Evans, who is motherless as well and seeks solace and a sense of community from the church. The two remain best friends as Nadia leaves for college, but as Aubrey and Luke grow closer, old feelings of regret, loss, and secrets resurface to change everything. The Mothers is a story of friendship, acceptance, loss, and community that will break your heart in the best way possible. Read it!
Girls Like Me – Lola St. Vil
I believe YA fiction can be read at any age, so here ya go. Shay Summers is 15, overweight, and left to live with her stepmother who she hates after her father dies unexpectedly. Her bright spot comes when her best friend, Boots, convinces her to check out an online chat room. Not taking it seriously, Shay unwittingly strikes up a conversation with and subsequently falls for a user named “Godotwait4me.” Insecure about her size, Shay refuses to meet with him when he initially wants to. She’s even more hesitant once she learns his true identity. Will Shay continue to hide behind her computer screen, or face her fears of acceptance and receive the fairy tale she so rightfully deserves? Hilarious one minute and heartbreaking the next, Girls Like Me is a relatable story about high school and all the strife that comes along with it. Written in quirky verse and DM style messages, it also makes for a quick, light read!
Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult
I’ve loved Jodi since high school and her latest project, Small Great Things, did not disappoint. Cashing in on the current hot topic of race like The Hate U Give (see above), Small Great Things tells the story of black labor and delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson after two white supremacists accuse her of murdering their newborn son as he awaits his circumcision. As with most of Picoult’s books, this novel shifts from past to present, documenting Ruth’s complicated relationship with race over the course of her life and how she ultimately views its role in her current dilemma at the hospital and the impact it has on her teenage son, Edison. With this novel, Picoult tackles race, prejudice, privilege, and colorism among other topics so well that she’s earned herself a spot at the cookout.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling
I decided that Mindy and I could be best friends after reading this. In a series of hilarious, relatable, and sometimes awkward essays, Kaling shares her experiences and gives advice on friendships, relationships, standing up for yourself, and how to be a successful working woman. You’ll put this down saying, “I am Mindy. Mindy is me.”
Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward
Jesmyn Ward is one of my favorite storytellers in literature today (It’s not included on this list for sake of length, but please read Salvage the Bones!) In her 2013 memoir Men We Reaped, Ward recounts the deaths of five men close to her who died four years within each other in their small Mississippi hometown. With causes of death including accidents, drugs, and suicide, the deciding factor in all of these lost lives comes down to two factors: racism and poverty. Ward’s heartbreaking and enlightening tales of these men’s lost lives causes you to pause and think about how our environment truly shapes our outcome.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – Issa Rae
First off, if you’ve never watched Issa Rae’s old YouTube series Awkward Black Girl, stop scrolling through this list and check it out now! Are you back? Ok. Issa Rae’s collection of personal essays will have you laughing out loud in relatability whether you’re a fellow awkward black girl or just fall under at least one of those categories: black, a girl, or just plain awkward.
I Don’t Belong to You: Quiet the Noise and Find Your Voice – Keke Palmer
Don’t let her age fool you. At 23, Keke Palmer drops wise gems on an array of topics including purpose, passion, spirituality, body image, and relationships in I Don’t Belong to You. She also places a large emphasis on mental health and self-care, a big campaign going on here at Black & Gifted right now. *Fair warning to my fellow Grammar Nazis* Palmer has self-described this book as a “group text message,” so it’s written in a series of run-on sentences, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling errors, fun bold colors, and sprinkled with emojis (like, legit Apple emojis). But if you’re able to get past the informality of it all, it’s a fun read and reminder that my generation has something valuable to add to society. Yay for youth! *cues “We Are Young” by Fun.*
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
Even though it was released before Lemonade, Milk and Honey is basically Lemonade in poetry form…even though Lemonade is kind of Lemonade in poetry form. Anyway, broken into four sections (“the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” “the healing”), Kaur examines different types of pain we encounter in life and how sweetness can be found in all of them if we look hard enough. This can be finished within an hour, but keep it around for whenever you need a quick pick-me-up or Instagram caption.
salt. – Nayyirah Waheed
Nayyirah Waheed’s poetry in salt. was so good I had to put the book down every now and then to get myself together (that and I’m just extra). Short yet striking, Waheed’s poems force you to think about identity, love, and healing in a way you never have before. Hit up her Instagram to see what I’m talking about.
Hopefully my list did something for you. Even if it didn’t, I’m begging you to read something other than Twitter this summer.
Happy reading and x’s and o’s!