I’ve always been the type of person who enjoys reading. Sadly, as I’ve grown older I’ve found it increasingly hard to find time to read for pleasure. I really never read for fun during the school year because, by the time I’m done with homework, I don’t have the energy to crack open any more books. This summer I took the opportunity to read in my free time and I want to tell you about all the books I read.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky- 5/5 Stars
I know, I know, I’m late to the game on this one. Pretty much everyone and their dog has read this book and loved it by now. Admittedly, I had seen the movie many, many times before picking up the book and I love it so much that I consider it my favorite coming-of-age movie. I’m not sure why it took me so long to try out the book.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told from the perspective of Charlie, an anxious teenage boy just starting his first year of high school. As his story progresses, he makes friends with two free-spirited seniors who help to pull him out of his shell. We learn more about Charlie, his friends, his family, and the past traumatic experiences underlying all of his actions/behavior until it all comes to a head near the end of the book.
In short, I loved this book, and I feel about it much the same as I feel about the movie. It’s an essential read for teens/young adults, as it deals with extremely serious as well as everyday issues in a realistic and relatable way. It’s tragic and heartbreaking, but ultimately inspiring, leaving you with a feeling of hope that even if things aren’t okay now, someday they will be. Someday things will get better. And it manages to do all of this without being cheesy, at least in my opinion. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi- 5/5 Stars
Shifting gears entirely, Persepolis is a graphic novel and the memoir of Marjane Satrapi, detailing her experience growing up during the Iranian Islamic Revolution of the 1970s as the great-granddaughter of the last emperor of Iran and the daughter of Marxists. I found it to be not only extremely informative but extremely entertaining. I had previously learned about the Iranian Revolution, but the story would be just as easy to understand for someone who knows nothing about it. In fact, I think it would be a great place to start for someone interested in learning about the topic. Satrapi is incredibly witty which made it a very fun read as well. Most of all, it was a really moving story about the struggle that Iranian people have had to go through told through the lens of just one woman and her family. I encourage everyone to read this book especially because I feel like it’s not something most people will have learned about in school.
- Women Race & Class by Angela Y. Davis- 5/5 Stars
My next read has become my favorite piece of theory that I’ve ever read. Women Race & Class is a highly informative historical look into the intersections of gender, race, and class in the United States. It specifically focuses a lot on the American feminist movement and the racist aspects of it that you probably didn’t hear about in school. This book was insanely informative, but it was also captivating and digestible. It isn’t full of complicated language and difficult to understand sentences like some works of political theory are. I truly believe that any of you could easily understand and enjoy it too. I recommend it because it’s sure to get you thinking about aspects of American history you never have before.
- Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe by Fannie Flagg- 4/5 Stars
Fried Green Tomatoes is about a depressed middle-aged woman who befriends an elderly woman in a nursing home who tells her the story of the tiny town she grew up in. She specifically tells her about the Whistlestop Cafe and the lesbian couple, Idgie and Ruth, who owned it. It was a perfect summer read and I fell in love with most of the characters and the town. As I came closer to finishing the book, I found that I didn’t want it to end, that I wanted more time with each character. Additionally, as a queer woman myself, I really appreciated the representation in the story. Although it’s set in a small southern town in the 20s-60s, Idgie and Ruth’s relationship seems to be understood by everyone in the town. It’s never questioned, and any struggles that they have to go through are not related to their sexualities or love for one another. I guess you could argue that this is unrealistic, but I just found it refreshing. My favorite genre is historical fiction and it’s always been a struggle to find historical fiction with queer representation where the characters aren’t suffering due to their sexuality throughout the story.
The reason I can’t rate this book a 5/5 is because of one aspect: race. The author is a white woman and to me, the way that she wrote the black characters seemed somewhat stereotypical. The black southern characters all fit the extremely harmful “happy servant” stereotype. There were also some white characters stated to be in the KKK who were still portrayed as overall good people. These aspects weren’t in the book enough to ruin it for me, but I definitely understand how it could for some. That being said, it’s still worth a read so long as the problematic aspects are kept in mind.
- She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen- 5/5 Stars
After being broken up with by her girlfriend, basketball player Scottie gets into a car accident that results in her having to carpool to school with her sworn enemy, head cheerleader Irene. This leads to the pair cooking up a plan to pretend that they are dating. I adored this book. It was the first YA book I had read in a long time, and I forgot how nice it can be to have an easy read. It was very tropey in the best way (enemies-to-lovers, fake dating, etc.) and I loved every second of it. If you’re in the mood for some cheesy sapphic romance, I definitely recommend it.
- Aimée and Jaguar: A Love Story, Berlin 1943 by Erica Fischer- 2/5 Stars
I’m going to say this now: If not for how well the author handled the subject matter, I would’ve rated the book much lower. Aimée and Jaguar is the true story of two women, one Jewish (Felice Schragenheim) and one non-Jewish (Lilly Wust) who fell in love during the Holocaust. They lived together for a while as Felice was living “underground” and using false papers, but she was ultimately discovered by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where she perished. Because of this, the story is told largely from Lilly’s point of view. I found that I grew to strongly dislike Lilly, as she very obviously downplays the antisemitic attitude she held before she met Felice and the ways that she contributed to the harm done to Germany’s Jewish community. I found most of her actions to be selfish. She was constantly doing things that put Felice and Felice’s other Jewish friends (they were all living “underground” as well) in grave danger but talked about herself like she was just as much a victim because she loved Felice. After Felice’s death, Lilly suddenly decided she was Jewish without going through any conversion process or studying the culture, or taking any steps to rectify the harm that she had done. She decided she was Jewish simply because she loved a Jewish woman.
The only reason this book is rated 2/5 and not lower is that the author acknowledges all of this and doesn’t make any excuses for Lilly. I really appreciate this, but I still didn’t find it an enjoyable read. However, it does contain valuable interviews with some of the other members of the Jewish underground and I think it’s informative if you want to learn about the Holocaust as a process from start to finish. But there are better books for that.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker- 5/5 Stars
If I could give The Color Purple book more stars, I would because it has become my favorite book I have ever read. It’s set in the American South from the 1910s-the 1940s and details the life of a queer black woman named Celie, her struggles, and her journey learning to love life and herself. In the preface of the copy that I had, Walker describes it as a story about “the journey from the religious back to the spiritual.” Even though I’m not religious at all, this part of the book really stuck with me. Celie grows up seeing God in a traditionally Christian way– as a big white man in the sky. But as she grows and changes, she learns to see God in everything, including herself, and this plays a big part in her learning to love herself. Despite what the people in her life have told her, what society is still telling her, she learns to truly value herself. The book deals with so many heavy topics like intergenerational trauma, colonization, imperialism, etc. all wrapped up in one woman’s story and it does it so masterfully. The Color Purple is hands-down the most inspiring, eye-opening book I have ever read in my life. It made me look at life in a way I never had before. Even though my experiences have been very different from Celie’s, I felt like I was coming to new realizations about life and myself as I was reading about her doing so. If you read any of the books from this list, please make it this one.
- Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown- 4.5/5 Stars
The last book I read this summer was Rubyfruit Jungle which is partially based on the life of the author, and tells the story of a young lesbian who grows up dirt-poor in a tiny southern town in the 1950s/60s but moves to New York City to pursue her dreams of filmmaking. Overall, it was a really entertaining and interesting read especially because it felt like an authentic look into the queer experience at that time. The only criticism I have is that the book seemed to take on a very strange attitude about incest. Yes, you read that right. It’s not that prevalent of a storyline, so don’t let it deter you from reading, but it was often enough that it knocked it down half a star for me. Other than that, I liked the book.