The pandemic may still be out there, riding the viral waves, but anyone who’s stepped foot into an airport or a hot new restaurant lately knows that there’s a very different feeling in the air right now than that of the Forgotten Summer of 2021: We’re back, baby… for real this time! People are out to eat, out to travel, out to do whatever it takes to wash off the past two years—and the publishing industry has gotten the memo.
Normally, writing this list is a dream job. But this year, it felt like having to choose between an excess of friends who were all worthy of being included in the clique of “best.” The result is a bigger and better must-reads list filled with just some of the embarrassment of riches that will entertain, delight, and give you a much needed emotional release this summer. May you read our selections in health, happiness, and plenty of sand.
Trust by Hernan Diaz
Trust is one of the most universally anticipated books of the summer and it delivers. Diaz tells and re-tells a story in different forms (think an unfinished manuscript, a diary, a memoir) in a novel that unpeels like an onion, upending the story you first hear. The Pulitzer Prize-finalist explores wealth, power, the dynamics of American capitalism, and the nature of truth in an inventive way that stacks up to one engaging, beautiful whole.
The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger
If you were one of those who steered clear of pandemic novels during COVID, then this book is probably not for you as we head into what is expected to be a particularly harsh hurricane season. The eye around which The Displacements swirls is one successful Miami family whose life is upended when an unprecedented category 6 superstorm hits the South. The result is a gripping drama that reveals the very personal consequences of extreme weather disasters.
Night of the Living Rez: Stories by Morgan Talty
This inspired debut jumps back and forth in time, revealing snapshots of the life of a young Penobscot man growing up on a reservation in Maine. Talty, whose identity mirrors that of the main character, David, takes readers inside the joys and despairs, the issues of addiction, economic hardship, and lack of opportunity of both a single family and their community as the stories slowly reveal the early tragedy and close family ties that define the life of one Native man.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
It takes a lot of chutzpah to write a “sibling novel” to a Pulitzer-winning book, but Jennifer Egan has done just that. And the result is brilliant. A follow up to A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Candy House is just as compelling, inventive, and thought-provoking as it tackles the consequences of a near-future in which tech has insinuated itself into the space of our personal memories.
The Angel of Rome and Other Stories by Jess Walter
Even great short story collections normally contain a miss or two in the lot. But not this one. Every single offering in Jess Walter’s newest collection is a poignant, heart-filled gem. His subjects range from Italian actresses to besotted teachers, surprising one-night stands to overheard diner conversations. He delights equally whether bringing to life a minor moment or an epic love story.
The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad
It’s 1968 and Pakistan is in the midst of political unrest when police officer Faraz Ali is sent back to his birthplace, the red-light district of Lahore, to investigate the death of a young girl. But soon, memories and discoveries about his childhood clash with his professional duty in this engaging debut that jumps back and forth in time and will leave readers excited for whatever Ahmad has planned next.
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Korelitz is on a roll, pumping out summer hit after summer hit, and she’s back with a big, epic family novel that explores the dynamics between siblings and generations and how the family stories both performed and hidden churn below the surface affecting every relationship. Come for Korelitz’s always surprising and entertaining twists and turns and stay for her penetrating depictions of the New England set.
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson
Newson drops readers into the thick of 1980s queer New York City on the cusp of the HIV/AIDS crisis as Early “Trey” Singleton, III, comes fully into his sexual identity after escaping his tony Indiana upbringing. The book is written as a fictional memoir, hilarious footnotes and all, and brings humanity, life, and wit to the desperation and politics that besieged real lives during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Life on the Rocks: Building a Future for Coral Reefs by Juli Berwald
Climate change is now undeniable, but in the midst of the desperate news, Life on the Rocks tackles one tragic aspect of this story with some hope. The ocean’s coral reefs, one of the most vibrant ecosystems on Earth, are dying. Berwald has been enamored with these “magnificent playgrounds” since a very young age and sets out to explore the “crazy ideas” that just might be able to save them. Just as she begins this exploration, she also confronts a personal crisis—the mental illness of her daughter—which she deftly weaves into her beautiful, rigorous, and ultimately hopeful book.
Heartbroke: Stories by Chelsea Bieker
No one brings California’s Central Valley to life quite like Chelsea Bieker. Like a landscape painter, Bieker captures the region and its many characters in all of their heart and heartbreak, big dreams and utter desperation. With understated but lively prose, she shows there is a ray of light in even the bleakest of moments and for the craziest of players.
True Biz by Sara Nović
True Biz is a true gift, a novel that immerses readers into Deaf culture via lovable and complex characters at a Deaf school—the girl whose parents have finally agreed to let her learn ASL, the boy who is the equivalent of Deaf royalty, the CODA principle. Nović’s novel is smart, fast-paced, and compelling, an enjoyable read that is made even more so by the illustrated hand gesture charts sprinkled throughout the book.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
When 10-year-old Joan arrives at the Memphis family home seeking shelter with her mom and sister, she suddenly remembers a secret she buried from her younger years. And so begins a story that follows three generations of women and the traumas they endured and secrets they passed down in order to survive. This story is deep and full of heart, a celebration of both Memphis and of the strength, power, and love between mothers and sisters and wives.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel is back with another treasure, a novel organized around seemingly disparate episodes of time travel that span centuries and reach into outer space. The characters are connected by their metaphysical possibilities as well as some of the big questions facing humanity: love, colonization, survival, and art. Mandelheads will inhale the author’s latest masterpiece while lingering over the Easter eggs that point back to her previous work.
Corrections in Ink by Keri Blakinger
When Blakinger’s professional figure skating career abruptly ends while she’s in high school, her life spirals out of control as she faces the increasingly dire consequences of a drug addiction that ultimately lands her in prison. Blakinger’s memoir is raw, unflinching, and brutally honest about the privilege, pain, and choices that led to her incarceration and the injustices she saw while behind bars. But it is through this experience that she also finds a new single-minded passion to replace what she lost in figure skating: becoming an award-winning journalist and exposing the deep abuses of the American prison system.
My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi
The premise of My Volcano is weird and wonderful: one day in 2016, a growth sprouts up in Central Park. Over the next few weeks, it gets bigger and bigger and is ultimately determined to be a volcano. Against this backdrop, Stintzi weaves a kaleidoscope of stories showing the mundane, momentous, and increasingly bizarre ways Manhattan’s newest resident creeps into the lives of a variety of characters.
Secret Identity by Alex Segura
Segura has crafted a captivating thriller centered around a protagonist immersed in the world of comics in the 1970s. When Carmen’s boss is murdered, she sets out to not only to solve the crime, but also to save her literary creation, a superhero named the Lethal Lynx. This gripping noir is extra dazzling thanks to the actual comics Segura has sprinkled throughout the book.
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Nobel Prize-winning Gurnah is out with a gorgeous, heartbreaking multi-generational story of three young people in East Africa whose lives are upended and intertwined by the powerful forces around them. Afterlives is epic in scope and human in concern, revealing the impacts of love, violence, and, most viscerally, colonialism on the lives of ordinary people.
Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang
In this expansive and propulsive debut, Zhang travels from China to San Francisco in the late 19th century following a young girl who is buffeted by the winds of tragedy, fate, politics, and racism. Zhang has a talent for immersing readers into a variety of colorful, historical worlds—a Chinese calligraphy school, an American brothel—and to leave them rooting for Daiyu to maintain hope and survive her circumstances by continually reinventing herself.
Easy Beauty: A Memoir by Chloé Cooper Jones
At the opening of Easy Beauty, Jones is witness to a conversation in which two of her friends question the value of her life. This honest and bare memoir doesn’t pull any punches from there as the writer embarks on a journey around the globe, through time, and across cultural references, from Bernini’s sculptures to Beyoncé in performance, to consider her experience living with a painful disability and how it clashes with and challenges accepted cultural ideals of beauty. Like all the best books, Easy Beauty forces readers to look more deeply and to see the world in a slightly different, but even more beautiful way.
Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch
Born into a world after political collapse that is beset by massive flooding, Laisvė discovers as a young girl that she is a “carrier,” able to travel back in time via the water and special objects. This wholly original premise spins out into wild, thoughtful, and powerful threads that result in a stunningly beautiful novel about the power of storytelling to make sense of the world we are living in and the one we might just be barreling towards.
Serious Face: Essays by Jon Mooallem
Whether Mooallem is writing about a farmer who runs a bird-breeding scheme or a rash of monk seal murders, his own life or that of the ugly 1940s Spanish bullfighter who happens to be his doppelgänger, he proves he is one of the best storytellers and observers in the form. He conjures his characters and their lives, whole or just a moment, with such vivid and precise detail that ultimately lends even the most particular a universal meaning. This collection is for anyone who loves a good story, both the real and the real that reads like fiction.
Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders by Kathryn Miles
What would summer (or winter or spring or fall) be without some true crime? Kathryn Miles spent four years investigating a harrowing cold case—the 1996 murder of two young, experienced female hikers in Shenandoah National Park—for Trailed. What she uncovered led her to believe that this might not have been the one-off crime of convenience or hate that it was initially ruled, but possibly the tragic work of a known serial killer.
Honorable mentions: The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monae (Now) gives readers a dazzling and inventive Afrofuturist album of hits; Lucky Turtle by Bill Roorbach (Now) takes us deep into the Rocky Mountains and the Romeo and Juliet romance between a reform school inmate and a young, offbeat employee; Miss Chloe: A Memoir of Literary Friendship with Toni Morrison (Now) explores the decades-long literary mentorship and friendship between two strong Black women; First Time for Everything by Henry Fry (Now) is a big-hearted debut centered around a young, gay man coming of age in London; You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi (Now) spotlights a woman trying to overcome grief only to find herself in a very complicated love affair; This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub (Now) is the delightful, literary cousin of 13 Going on 30; Ordinary Monsters by J.M. Miro (June) introduces the next dark, epic fantasy series; Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta (June) sees the protagonist years older, but still in high school vying for her next big promotion; Kismet by Amina Akhtar (July) trains its sights on the poseurs of the wellness world with very comedic and deadly results; Joan by Katherine J. Chen (July) brings one of history’s most iconic heroines to life.