I read a ton of great books this past summer, and while I’d ideally liked to have kept this list to 10, it’s just not possible. In fact, this list got so long that I’ve decided to split it in two. I promise I read more than just romance, so keep reading for my favorite YA and nonfiction reads of this summer, and then stay tuned next week for my favorite romances of the season.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
YA romance between a bisexual boy who has embraced his identity and a gay boy who struggles being gay in a Mormon community.
Autoboyography has been on my shelves for ages. I picked it up during a sale at Barnes & Noble because I’d heard Joss at Squibbles Reads and Cait at Paper Fury rave about it, and then proceeded to never read it because I just haven’t read much contemporary YA in a while. But I finally picked it up as part of my push to get to a zero TBR (I’m so close!), and I’m SO GLAD that I did! I really, really loved Tanner and Sebastian and seeing their different experiences being bi/gay and watching them slowly fall in love and struggle to figure things out. It was so heartwrenching and funny and adorable, and I loved it so, so much. I will say, I don’t fully agree with all of Tanner’s decisions in the book — there’s definitely a big one that icked me out. But I do think it was true to character and worked as part of the story, so I’m not complaining too much. I just could have done without it. But seriously, I adored this book and highly recommend it.
The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin
Nonfiction history book detailing American history through 101 objects in the Smithsonian’s collection.
The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects took me forever to read, but it’s actually a really cool book. Kurin does a great job of identifying different objects in the Smithsonian’s collection to walk you through the gamut of American history and attach them to significant historical moments. It’s really well done, and I loved getting a thorough look at American history. It just feels more tangible when you have actual objects to attach history to. Plus it got me super motivated to visit the Smithsonian again, so my brother and I drove down to DC and happened to be there during the Apollo 11 anniversary and got to see Apollo 11 projected onto the Washington Monument, which was pretty awesome. I don’t think this book is for everyone, but it’s a great intro to American history and the Smithsonian’s collection.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
YA novel about an aspiring rapper who goes viral.
Like everyone else, I was incredibly impressed by Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give. But I didn’t seem to love it as much as everyone else and put off picking up her sophomore novel, On the Come Up, for a long time. I’m an idiot, though, because I think this book is even better than the first one. It took me a while to get into, but Thomas just does such an amazing job weaving in insightful commentary and touching on tough topics without losing sight of the characters and their story, and it’s so impressively done. And I really liked how those issues affect a lot of kids, as opposed to THUG where only so many will find themselves in the same situation as Starr. It made for an interesting contrast. On the Come Up is a book that really touched me and stayed with me for a long time after I read it, and I had to put it on this list.
Also, I highly recommend checking this one out on audio! Bahni Turpin is an incredible narrator, and I especially enjoyed hearing Bri’s rapping instead of just reading it.
Naturally Tan by Tan France
Celebrity memoir by one of the guys from Queer Eye about his experiences growing up Muslim and gay in the United Kingdom and his path that led him to the show.
I’m so weird, because I picked Naturally Tan up despite having watched only one or two episodes of Queer Eye. But I really liked Tan and thought he had an interesting story to tell based on what I already knew of him, so his memoir seemed like a good one to listen to on audio. I wasn’t prepared to be quite so blown away! Tan just has a really interesting story about what it was like for him growing up, between being gay in a conservative community and being Muslim after 9/11. Plus it was really cool learning more about his fashion career and how he got to where he is career-wise. And of course, I loved learning more about his relationship with his husband, a Mormon from Utah. It really helps show how important it was for gay marriage to be legalized so the two of them could work out their visa issues and be together. I wouldn’t say this book is necessarily the best written memoir ever, but I think it tells a really powerful story and I was really impressed.
I’m on the fence about recommending this on audio. I felt like Tan obviously didn’t have any reading or acting experience, though he got more comfortable as the book went on, and there were a lot of parts where they clearly recorded at a later date and poorly merged with the original recordings. But Tan is delightful and I love his accent, and it’s always cool to listen to people tell their own stories.
They Called us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
Graphic memoir by renowned Star Trek actor about his time in a Japanese internment camp as a child during World War II.
It’s been a while since I read a graphic memoir, and I’m so glad I saw They Called Us Enemy and picked it up because it was excellent. I think there’s come to be an increased awareness about the Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II, but Takei’s memoir makes that knowledge of history personal. You not only hear his experience of soldiers sending him and his family to these remote camps, but you get to see it through the art in this graphic memoir, and it makes for an incredibly powerful medium to tell Takei’s story and help readers really see what an ugly piece of history it is. And I especially like how Takei points out the relevance of this story today, and how a lot of the same rhetoric used to justify the internment camps is being used to support the Muslim travel ban. This is such an important part of history and an incredibly well done memoir that I had to include on my list of favorites.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Nonfiction book about female desire.
I think everyone should read this book. The metaphors are definitely overdone, but I think American sexual education is deplorable, and Come As You Are is a really good book to help correct that. I learned a lot about female anatomy and desire that I didn’t know and that common knowledge frequently gets wrong. And I love reading romance, where female desire is front and center! Sex is such an important part of our lives, and I think it just makes sense to understand it better than we seem to. This book is a great place to start!
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King
Nonfiction book detailing what happened to the Groveland boys, four black men who were accused of raping a white woman in rural Florida in the 1950s.
Devil in the Grove was such an incredible, heartbreaking book. Like, I know a decent amount about history and how horribly black people have been treated in the United States, but it’s one thing to know that as a fact and another to see it in action and see how little power men like the Groveland boys had in the face of a white man on a power trip. It was infuriating to see how unfair the entire situation was and how extensive the conspiracy against these men was, and while at times this was an incredibly difficult read, it was also an incredibly important one. This book does an excellent job looking at this particular story in rural Florida in depth while also tying it into larger pieces of history, like Thurgood Marshall’s arguments before the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education. It’s an awful part of our history, but it’s important to know and understand it, and I highly recommend this book.
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
Iconic YA novel about a teenage girl who finds out she’s the princess of Genovia.
How was I not obsessed with these books as a kid?!! I loved a ton of Meg Cabot’s books growing up, but I never really cared for The Princess Diaries. I know I read the first one, but I think I was disappointed by the lack of romance in the first book and generally preferred the movie. Wow was I an idiot, because these books are amazing. They’re so funny; I was literally laughing out loud for almost the entire book, and I kept interrupting my husband when he was reading his own book in order to read excerpts out loud to him. He was so entertained that he even picked the series up himself! And I especially enjoy how very New York they are. I wouldn’t have caught on to that the first time I read them, but having lived in New York for five years, there are a lot of great comments that are very true to what it’s like to live in the city. There’s literally nothing else like it. Also, these books are a really fun trip down memory lane. Mia would have been several years older than me, but I remember a lot of the pop culture and lifestyle references that she keeps making in the book. I haven’t thought about dial-up internet in ages! I have no idea if a young reader just starting the series would still enjoy these books, but as a millennial who gets a lot of the references and has lived in New York where the books are set, I’m enjoying them immensely, and I fully plan to make my way through all eleven books.
Like I said, I read some really amazing books this past summer. Have any of these been on your radar? Do you have plans to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for part two next week!