May 17, 2021, by

Are you struggling to find that perfect book?

As the warmer months approach, avid readers dream of long summer days, sunny weather, and a good book. For many students, though, independent reading may not be at the top of the list for summer activities. If your child struggles to find a book to hold his or her interest, we’ve compiled a list of promising reads to consider over the summer months. Some of these books are written or presented in non-traditional formats such as verse or graphic novels which might appeal to less enthusiastic readers. The list includes books published since 2000, many of which are award-winning and come highly recommended from our own clients.

As you peruse the list below, please keep in mind that not all books will be suitable for all readers. If a particular book sounds like a good fit, we encourage you to read reviews for any content warnings in order to ensure that the book is appropriate for your child. Common Sense Media offers detailed book reviews with parents in mind. The website includes recommended reading ages as well as content ratings for each book.

If you’d like additional book recommendations or summer reading support for your child, consider enrolling him or her in our 2021 Summer Reading and Writing Program. This 12-session program offers students one-on-one reading and writing support with an emphasis on reading critically and exploring a variety of rich texts, including novels, short stories and essays.

For the Outdoor Adventure Seeker

If your child is drawn to adventure tales, the novel Peak by Roland Smith could be a great choice. Peak features fourteen-year-old Peak Marcello, a New York City teen with a love for climbing, who endeavors to be the youngest person to summit Mount Everest with his estranged father. While the novel presents plenty of adventure and real-world challenges on the mountains to keep readers on their toes, it also considers the meaning of family and friendship. Furthermore, Peak details the cultural traditions of the Sherpa communities on Everest, as well as tensions between local Tibetan and Chinese communities. Written from a first-person perspective in the form of Peak’s diary, readers find the language both accessible and relatable.

A Novel in Verse

Though young readers may not be drawn to traditional forms of poetry, a contemporary novel in verse can be a great way to access a story, particularly for readers who prefer short chapters or who have short attention spans for reading. To this end, we highly recommend the recently released Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, which features Nima, a first-generation Muslim American who struggles to find her identity between the United States and her mother’s country of origin (never named, but hints at being Sudan). While Nima experiences the usual coming-of-age difficulties, like wanting to fit in socially and act more confidently, she also deals with racism from her classmates and narrates the difficulties that her family has experienced since arriving in the US. As Nima imagines the life she might have had under different circumstances, the story takes on a magical realism element to show Nima more about her family’s past. Though Home is Not a Country doesn’t shy away from difficult themes such as racial violence or police violence, the overall tone is hopeful, emphasizing the importance of family and community.

As a bonus recommendation in this category, a similar choice without the magical realism element is the award-winning The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, which tells the story of Xiomara, a Dominican-American teenager who struggles to find her identity through her love of poetry. The Poet X won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018. (We do offer a content warning for mature themes, so this novel may be best suited for older teens.)

For Sports Lovers

Black and White by Paul Volponi* features Marcus and Eddie, two high school basketball players and best friends from Queens. As high school seniors and stars of their basketball team, Marcus and Eddie (nicknamed “Black and White” for their respective skin colors) have grand plans for impressing the college scouts and earning basketball scholarships, but a get-rich-quick scheme gone wrong puts both of their futures in jeopardy. Basketball features heavily in the novel alongside themes of friendship and coming-of-age. The novel also presents themes of racial injustice and violence and considers how each boy will fare within the American justice system. Black and White offers good opportunities for discussion on explicit and implicit racism in the United States, as well as class privilege. (*We do offer a content warning for brief gun violence in this novel, although it is in no way glorified).

A Modern Take on Pride and Prejudice

While many AP Literature syllabi include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, there are numerous modern adaptations that are more easily accessible and relatable for today’s readers. One such adaptation is Pride by Ibi Zoboi. This 2018 release features Zuri Benitez and her Haitian-Dominican family who reside in a rapidly gentrifying modern-day Bushwick. When the wealthy Darcy family moves into a renovated townhouse across the street, Zuri clashes immediately with the standoffish older son, Darius. Pride features the usual hate-to-love romance and drama of Pride and Prejudice, but also incorporates contemporary themes of cultural identity, class, and gentrification. This could be a perfect summer read for a student preparing for an AP English class in the fall.

Stories in the form of Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are an excellent format for comic book lovers or readers who enjoy more visual storytelling. On a Sunbeam, by Tillie Walden, is a science fiction fantasy adventure featuring Mia, a young woman on a reconstruction crew in space. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, including LGBTQ and nonverbal characters. This could be a great choice for readers interested in love stories, space adventure, or all of the above.

For nonfiction readers and history buffs, Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin authored the three-part graphic novel series called March, which details Lewis’ experiences as a civil rights and human rights activist. The first book focuses on Lewis’ childhood in rural Alabama, his conversations with Martin Luther King, Jr., and his participation in the beginnings of the broader civil rights movement.

Similarly, short story collections can also be appealing to students with shorter attention spans or who appreciate a broader range of content within one text. Fresh Ink, an anthology edited by Lamar Giles (co-founder of We Need Diverse Books), includes ten short stories, a graphic novel, and a one-act play. Featuring popular young adult authors such as Jason Reynolds and Nicola Yoon, these stories include a diverse cast of teenage characters, both in terms of race and sexual identity. The narratives are primarily realistic contemporary fiction focused on the teenage experience, though the collection also includes some science fiction along the way.

For Mystery Lovers

For true crime or mystery fans, we recommend Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. Set within the prestigious Ellingham Academy, the novel opens with the historic unsolved mystery of the murder of the founder’s wife and daughter. When Stevie Bell arrives for her first year at the school, she makes it her mission to solve this cold case, just as tragedy strikes again at Ellingham Academy. Truly Devious is the first book in a three-part series, so interested readers will have the opportunity to continue following Stevie’s quest if they so choose.

For Non-Fiction lovers

Finally, for nonfiction readers with an interest in science and technology, we recommend The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez. Winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Young Adult Books, The Alchemy of Us explores eight inventions from clocks to silicon chips, and details how they have shaped the human experience with intended and unintended consequences. Ramirez makes a point to tell inclusive stories about often overlooked inventors (particularly women and people of color) and explains scientific concepts in widely accessible language.

We hope that this list inspires your young readers to pick up one of these books this summer. If you’d like additional recommendations or more information about the 2021 Summer Reading and Writing program, please contact our offices for further information.

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