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An Ode to the Summer That Wasn’t

Edited by: Shriya Adhikari

Summer is over, and it seems like our music playlists, TBR lists, and just about everything else from that time are caught somewhere between being stuck at home and summer break bangers. Tropical house music and upbeat pop tracks remind us of the summer days we couldn’t experience, leaving us grumbling and bitter as we trudge through Instagram aimlessly. 

In the spirit of denial and yearning for a summer that never was, I bring to you these classic recommendations. So what if they’re enjoyed in the confines of our bedrooms? Summer is a state of mind, or so I try to convince myself. I hope these help you to embrace the summer that wasn’t.

Let’s start with bawling our eyes out reading—jumping right into TBR!

  1. Normal people – Sally Rooney

(CW: sexual assault, domestic violence, bullying, suicide and suicidal ideation)

“Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it. She had that feeling in school often, but it wasn’t accompanied by any specific images of what real life might look or feel like. All she knew was that when it started, she wouldn’t need to imagine it anymore.”

— Sally Rooney, Normal People

This story is set in Ireland, about a classic will-they-won’t-they relationship between characters Marianne and Connell. Spanning from high school into their college years, Normal People shows them going to great lengths to deny their connection, all while grappling with socio-economic divisions, self-destructive tendencies, and internal turmoil. 

This story was realistic and heartbreaking for many different reasons, and I’m still trying to recover. I think the depiction of mental health, loneliness, and feeling lost can hit close to home to most people. Sally Rooney’s writing was able to make even heavily flawed characters connect with me in many ways. 

Rooney put the feelings you can’t explain into words. Once you read it, you’ll want to read everything she has ever written down!

  1. Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid 

(CW: microaggressions, racism, sexism)

“One day, when Emira would say goodbye to Briar, she’d also leave the joy of having somewhere to be, the satisfaction of understanding the rules, the comfort of knowing what’s coming next, and the privilege of finding a home within yourself.”

— Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age

Such a Fun Age is an absolute masterpiece and treasure, and a book that you should definitely consider reading. The novel is about Emira Tucker, a newly graduated young black woman who babysits for a wealthy white family, and unfolds with an instance of acute racism she faces while on the job.

Reid is an incredibly compelling writer for the way she handles her characters and their relationships. She doesn’t use her characters simply as tools to enforce a point or plot but instead frames them as unique, complex human beings with their own internal crises. 

Beyond the characters, Reid has crafted a contemporary novel with the brevity of a comedy without trivializing her social critique on what it means to be “woke” and the nuances of privilege. It’s engaging, witty, but also genuine. It felt realistic and truthful in its depiction of our current world and the nuances of how inequality is enforced and experienced.

  1. The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way, his breaths came, and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles follows the legend of Greek hero Achilles from Homer’s Iliad narrated by his closest companion Patroclus. Set in the events leading up to the Trojan War, TSOA is a coming-of-age tale of fate, youthful and unblemished love, fierce loyalty and lasting friendship—Miller’s ode to the fabled bond between the legendary pair. It is poetic and picturesque.

Miller’s retelling paints a picture of the depths of human emotion—fierce love between two heroes and equal grief that will tear your heart out. The relationship between Patroclus and Achilles can seem a bit naive at times—which, given that most of the novel takes place in their teens, makes it all the more tender and authentic. In their characterization, they’re both also extremely flawed, and that makes them all the more real and tangible.
All in all, The Song of Achilles speaks of a man destined for greatness and a man who found it unexpectedly, and I’m still sobbing over the emotional tragedy this beautiful, heartbreaking love story put me through.

Here are some other personal favourites that you can check out —

  • The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow (CW: racism, misogyny, homophobia)
  • Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia – Jean Sasson
  • Exciting Times – Naoise Dolan 
  • Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom (CW: death and sickness)
  • Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
  • The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan – Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller
  • Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens (CW: racism & racial slurs, domestic abuse, child neglect, murder)

The Hallyu wave is here, and with these K-drama picks, you cannot resist being swept underneath! 

  1. Itaewon Class 

Here we have a story of a group of social outcasts who come together to take down an exploitative business mogul. With intricate character weaving, Itaewon Class is a revenge epic, a love story and a social commentary all at once.

I particularly loved the emphasis the story puts on inclusivity. It addressed South Korea’s colorist society through Toni’s experiences and did an excellent job telling Hyun-yi’s story of being a trans woman in Korea. While I appreciated the trans storyline, I do wish they had gotten a trans actress to play Hyun-yi. Lee Joo-young did a great job, but I would’ve loved it if the same inclusivity was extended behind the scenes as well. 
The story had a good foundation, and the premise was intriguing. However, in my opinion, the ending was too predictable for it to have much of an emotional impact, and the story dragged on for longer than necessary. Some might say it’s not very realistic, but that’s just how K-dramas are. And as long as it’s fun, who cares?

  1. Romance is a Bonus Book 

This is a story of books, friendships, and second chances, tracing the journey of Kang Dan-i and Choi Eun-ho from one that’s platonic to one that’s gushingly romantic. 

The best part about this drama is that the “romance” is a bonus, not the focus. The story is about a once-famous copywriter struggling to get a job after spending years as a house-wife. It shows a woman juggling motherhood, career, and her love life after a divorce. I liked how in this way, Dan-i’s character challenged ideals of the “love interest”. The drama does a good job of exploring questions of class and women’s struggles against social stigmas and financial independence, specifically ones that come with single motherhood.

I personally also enjoyed the publishing house setting—the balance between art and business, and the importance given to the artists. The narrative is beautiful. 

To be honest, I could just be biased because I’m particularly fond of friendship being the only lasting form of love trope, but it is still worth the watch!

Others honorary mentions on my list – 

  • Start-Up
  • Crash Landing on You
  • It’s Okay To Not Be Okay (CW: suicide, flashbacks to violence and murder)

Do you always have your headphones on? Or are you normal? Here are the TOP 10 songs on my Rot Girl Summer playlist!

  1. Blue & Grey – BTS

I feel Blue & Grey like the world has lost all colour. I wake up tired, fall asleep full of regret, and hold on so desperately to the idea of a distant future where I can live a life of happiness and meaning. These have to be the most commonly felt emotions throughout the pandemic. But that’s when this song feels like a comforting warm hug.

BTS’s V, the main songwriter on this track, captures the feelings and experience of depression  through the language of colour—blue and grey, and their endless associations to symbols, words, and expressions. He wrote the song with his burnout in mind, which could explain why Blue & Grey resonates with so many of us given our collective reality currently. 

There is also a beautiful line towards the end, “I’ll tell you when I smile in the distant future”. It serves as hope through the gloom or the gloom itself. Whoever it is addressed to, it is for them to know that I will be happy in the future, and I will smile. 

The sincerity, the thought, and the hope put into this song hit too close to home!

  1. Exile – Taylor Swift ft. Bon Iver

As much as I might try to explain it, no words can do this masterpiece justice. The more I listen to the album Folklore, the more it feels like returning into the arms of someone I love, cozy blanket in tow and mug of warm tea cradled in my hands. Folklore is an emotional examination of what it means when a relationship ends. Loaded with metaphors and symbolism, each song looks at the end of a relationship from a different angle. My particular favorite on this album—though many of the songs made me emotional—was “Exile”, featuring indie favorite Bon Iver.

The song is particularly memorable because it is a duet, written so that each of the two singers embodies how the end of a relationship feels from either side. Swift is not just interested in taking out her anger or sadness but honestly portrays the many coexisting emotions found on both sides of the failing relationship, which is rare to find in pop music.

Even if you are not a Taylor fan (but really, why on earth wouldn’t you be?), do yourself a favor, and let her music transport you to the forest of stories within her mind. I promise you won’t regret it.

  1. Photos from When We Were Young Nana Grizol

Nana Grizol is always about a message so wholesome, chords so wistful, and lyrics so earnest, that they become near irresistible. In this song, they narrate the story of a childhood friend who dealt with homophobic parents, how that impacted their youth, and how despite everything, things worked out. It radiates warmth, empathy, and compassion while talking about how despair is constructed through a living context that one can never free themselves of. It’s a really sweet song touching on a very serious issue that impacts a lot of people. Personal hardship is something Nana Grizol isn’t afraid to talk about, and as with this song, they typically do it in an inspiring and encouraging way.

Other songs that you can find on my playlist – 

  • “NFWMB” – Hozier 
  • “In and Out” – ANIMA!
  • “prom dress” – mxmtoon 
  • “Bird Song” – Florence + the Machine
  • “Bad Friend” – Rina Sawayama 
  • “You” – J_ust 
  • “Waste of Time” – Lostboycrow

You want wholesome vibes? You want sad vibes? You want sad wholesome vibes? Come on over to the top 5 Anime Recs for the Summer!

  1. Violet Evergarden 

(CW: flashbacks to blood and war scenes)

The titular character Violet Evergarden is a former child soldier who works as an ‘Auto Memory Doll’, who are ghostwriters of sorts. They are hired to help people write letters for others, either because they don’t know how to write or because they might have trouble expressing their emotions in the form of words. She does this in order to figure out the meaning of the last words her mentor and father figure told her in the middle of a battlefield: “I love you”.

Had a couple good cries to this one, gang. The animation by industry stalwarts Kyoto Animation is nothing short of breathtaking. The visuals are stunning and the movement of the characters is so lively, you’d think they were living, breathing people. Even though Violet might be a bit confused by affection—due to having been thrust into war from an incredibly young age—she is a super sweet and nice person. You’re invested in her journey right from the beginning. Violet goes above and beyond what is expected of her in trying to help her clients out in any way possible,  leading to some very touching character set-pieces as she learns what it means to love and be human. We might consider ourselves lucky to be able to follow her on this incredible journey. 

  1. 5 Centimeters per Second 

This was one of the very first anime movies I ever saw, and I was at a loss of words by the end. Frankly speaking, the escalation to the anime’s ending and its delivery absolutely ripped my heart out.

It’s a story about two childhood lovers whose bond eventually fades over time. The emotions strike a chord with everyone, be it in terms of lovers or friends, how we grow distant not only geographically but emotionally so much so that someone you addressed letters to in the sixth grade might not even be on your contact list. All that remains are probably torn yearbooks and faint memories of people that meant the world to us even if that was for a second. 

The title “5cm per second” itself signifies separation with the passage of time, as the girl mentions; it’s the speed at which a cherry blossom is separated from its tree. All in all, the beautiful cinematography, the heart-wrenching plot have me sobbing days after. 

Pro Tip: Have a set of tissues and ice cream handy! (You will thank me <3)

Other titles worth mentioning –

  • A Place Further than the Universe
  • Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop
  • Great Pretender

I’ll now go back to playing the anime theme song “One More Time, One More Chance” and crying a little more. Hope you enjoy the recommendations!

Simran Simran

Manipal '23

Sophomore at MIT,Manipal
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