Written by Writer’s Corps member Jess Costello
Depending on where you live, social distancing restrictions might be easing up, but you may find yourself with hours to fill as the weather warms (not to mention distractions from the constant COVID updates). But even if you can’t get to a beach, who doesn’t love a good summer read? Here are some (mostly new) books that promise to be entertaining while still giving us food for thought in terms of the various relationships they portray.
In most cases, I’ve linked to the book’s Amazon page, but please feel free to seek out these titles at your local indie bookstore or library.
You’ve seen the Hulu series, now read the novel where it all started for Marianne and Connell, an on-and-off couple dealing with class differences, mental health issues, and the search for identity so crucial in our college years. Even as time and place separate them, you’ll be entranced, for better or worse, by how they keep coming back to each other.
Nandan has never hooked up with a guy–he doesn’t even know if he’s gay–but Dave is the only person who seems to understand him. Will he choose their budding relationship over feeling “normal?”
The main relationship in this book addresses concerns unique to the LGBT community, like how to be with someone when you aren’t sure of their identity, and how someone can feel pressured by a partner to come out before they’re ready.
This short story collection was born out of Levithan’s tradition of writing a story, poem, or even a song for his family and friends every Valentine’s Day, but it works year-round too. It’s a perfect book for teens and adults looking for varied depictions of healthy love in all its forms, across different types of relationships and seasons.
After growing up in his rock star dad’s shadow, Luke wants nothing to do with fame. He’s happy recording his podcast in his bedroom and crushing on music blogger, Veda, from afar. Until she catches him singing about a mystery girl and wishes it was her. How can they navigate a new relationship while balancing each other’s wants and needs?
If country music is more your jam, check out Hahn’s Cash-Carter-style debut, You’d Be Mine, featuring a leading couple who are like a whole case study on the ways we portray intensity, honesty, manipulation, and taking responsibility.
Thinking she’s asexual, Alice ends things with her girlfriend. But when she meets Takumi while working her summer job at the library, she has to rethink her plans and priorities, as well as everything she thought about herself.
This sweet and swoony read about exploring conflicting identities is sure to provoke lots of conversation as it “explores the line between friendship and being something more.”
In this boarding school romance, two friends confront their desires and identities and learn to lean on each other to figure it all out.
Everyone thinks best friends Sage and Charlie will end up together, even though he’s secretly drawn to the new kid, Luke, and Sage has been hanging out with Luke’s brother, Nick. Here we see characters grappling with how to set a comfortable pace in your own relationship while your partner, family and friends, and society at large pressure you to be something “more”, even if that’s not at all reflective of how you really feel.
Perfect for setting those summer camp vibes everyone is missing right now, Camp tells the story of Randy, who loves putting on performances for his fellow queer teens at Camp Outland. But he’s starting to fall for Hudson, who only likes macho, straight-passing guys. As Randy tries to get Hudson’s attention, he starts letting his love of acting fall by the wayside. How much is he willing to give up for a chance at love–and is it even worth it?
This premise already has a lot of conflict around the unhealthy atmosphere belittling your partner for not meeting your expectations or fitting into “type” can create. Everyone, but especially LGBT individuals who are vulnerable to extra stereotypes and pressures, deserves to feel respected by their partner and comfortable in their truest identities.
Laura has tried to put her failed music career behind her, but her teenage daughter Marie is a constant reminder of her short-lived fling with a mysterious musician. She has to decide if she really wants to give up on that dream.
Perfect Tunes explores the power of music and motherhood and how our lives and relationships can get a little off-key but still ring true. In addition to asking how much you’re willing to give up for a “normal” life or the sake of someone else, this book also explores setting healthy boundaries between parents and children and cultivating independence in the entangled world of music.
Another look into the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship, Jessica and her daughter Emily are crossing the East Coast touring colleges. Emily is excited for a new start and new friends, but Jessica desperately wants to rebuild the bonds she lost with her daughter, even as Emily’s leaving home. Along the way, they meet up with old friends and family and uncover secrets that transform everything they know about each other and remind each other to cultivate strong bonds while remaining independent.
At 31, Casey has been writing her novel for six years and watching her friends give up their passions for a “normal” life (seems to be a theme here). As she falls in love with two different men and navigates life transitions, she has to figure out how to create the most authentic story for herself.
This book portrays a woman looking for a fulfilling relationship that gives her space to pursue her art and feel respected and independent. It’s a good reminder that no matter how great your relationship might be, the most important person to be honest with as you navigate life’s challenges is yourself.
These contemporary reads promise to be both entertaining and compelling. As you dive into these fictional worlds, think about what characteristics and elements of the relationships you can tie back to reality. What rings true? Is the ending as romantic or uplifting as the author intended? And be sure to share your impressions. You can start a conversation in a review of the book, or start a mini book club with some friends, discussing and debating what you see on the page.