Arts and Culture

Summer Reading Recommendations

By Kaleigh Steigman

It is almost summer. This is an extremely exciting fact. Summer is not only a time to relax, but an opportunity to read as many books as you possibly can. If you are accustomed to traveling with a suitcase  that is 50% literature and 50% actual traveling necessities,  you know that nothing is better than starting a series over break and actually having time to finish it. Below are some of my own favorite series that will grip you from beginning to end, so you don’t have to waste any time this summer deciding what to read next.

Mara Dyer Trilogy, Michelle Hodkin

The Mara Dyer Trilogy is a rare breed. It is a wonderful mix of unreliable narration, a descent into madness, and horror-esque tendencies; all of which converge at the place between fantasy and science fiction. It is gripping without being overdone. It is horror for those who may or may not have a nightlight, but still like the occasional adrenaline rush. The first installment, the Unbecoming of Mara Dyer begins by introducing its namesake, Mara, at a time in her life when everything has gone wrong. The novel is her reflection of her life up to this point as she tries to pinpoint the moment when everything changed, becoming the detective of her own tragedy. Her story is filled with characteristics of a typical teen life: a loving family, insecurity, and love, but it becomes so much more when it is intertwined with suspense, secrecy and danger.

This trilogy is vastly unpredictable, complete with constantly raised stakes, new characters, and so many moving parts it’s a wonder each instalment is not a thousand pages. From the first page of the Unbecoming, a reader expects a somewhat vanilla story with a paranoid protagonist and mysterious badboy. By the middle of the Retribution, it is impossible to imagine the characters as even fragments of what they used to be. These novels will keep you up at night, either for their enrapturing ability that makes you forget you are reading them, or for their haunting combination of realism and a psychiatric ward gone wrong.

The Darkest Minds Trilogy, Alexandra Bracken

The Darkest Minds Trilogy is, without a doubt, one of my favorite dystopian series of all time. It has all of the post-apocalyptic glory, death and teen angst of the Hunger Games, but is free from the over dramatized feeling that comes with the tyrannical hold of Hollywood. Bracken’s first trilogy follows Ruby, a girl who has grown up in a labor camp, less brutal than those of the Holocaust but still terrifying and full of unimaginable torture, after a plague kills the majority of  the world’s youth. The survivors are left with strange abilities ranging from telekinesis to pyrokinesis, deemed unsafe by the government. When she is given the chance to escape, Ruby does so in a heartbeat, but is still faced with an insurmountable list of obstacles to face before she will have a chance  to search for the remnants of her old life, and the opportunity to make peace with who she is. Throughout her journey, she meets a group of ragtag kids who, like her, have escaped the government. She joins them as they take a cross country trip in a beat up old car in order to scour the nation for anything salvageable that remains, and a safe place to lay low in until the world gets back on its feet. Together, they face the politics of this newly ruined world, and the pain of all that has been taken from them.

This trilogy is, in my book, a winner for its characters. Everyone in these novels is complex. The antagonists are disgusting and hateful, but they are not without cause. Ruby’s friends quickly become the best part, enhancing the plot with opportunities for both tears and laughter. Ruby herself constantly battles her desire to be loved and to trust, and her hatred of herself and her ability. The Darkest Minds is a trilogy for those who crave a story set in a corrupted world, but want to take a break from some of the characteristics of mainstream novels. There is still a large amount of blood, romance and rebellion, but Bracken promotes a powerful emotional side to this story that is arguably more powerful and gripping.

The Raven Cycle, Maggie Stiefvater

   This quartet is the story of Blue, the youngest of a family of female psychics, and a ragtag group of Aglionby boys, a group of unlikely friends who attend the local prep school known for its rich students. Blue, despite her deep dislike of anything ‘money,’ gets to know the group of boys and immerses herself in their life. There is Adam with his two faced demeanor; constantly altering between tranquility and uncontrolled rage, a boy who fights to gain his worth as a poor boy in a world for the rich. There is Noah, who, though seemingly normal, disappears for long periods of time and seems to have little connection to anything. There is Ronan with his rock hard persona who has both a mysterious aura and an affliction for danger. Finally, there is Gansey, a boy who comes from wealth, which is synonymous with ‘fake’ in his book, who carries himself like royalty while working to find value in the world outside of his materialistic origins. Combined with Welsh mythology, witty dialogue and haunting subplots, the Raven Cycle will quickly become a favorite of anyone who chooses to give it a chance.

 Fangirl and Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

For the reader whose attention span won’t allow them to plow through a series of eight books, but still desires for quality in their life, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and its spin off Carry On will hit the spot. Covering two drastically different genres but still surprisingly connected, these two books offer a way to prolong your stay in a story without being bored. Fangirl follows Cath, a girl who is relatable without trying to be, as she struggles to find her place in a college atmosphere, and everything new and daunting that comes with being away from home. Her story primarily circles around relationships: the falling one between her and her twin sister Wren, who now wants ‘space’ after eighteen years; the changing one between her and her father, who she can’t bare to leave alone; the nonexistent one with her mother that now seems to be attempting to exist; the new and confusing one emerging between herself and a new acquaintance, Levi, and, most importantly, the long-held one between Cath, Simon and Baz- characters of a Harry Potter-esque series. It is a truly delightful read for the person who wants to read about a main character who isn’t leader material or incredibly courageous, but still manages to be powerful. Fangirl not only brings up important messages about mental health and family values, but it leads readers to question the role of fictional worlds in our own lives, and how we are better and worse because of them.

Carry On is Cath’s novel, the one she dedicates a large part of Fangirl to writing. While reading it, it was often hard to remember that the story was penned by Rainbow Rowell and not Cath, which shows true talent: Rowell not only wrote a vivid novel, but she wrote is as if she were Cath. It is the story of Simon Snow, a wizard and ‘chosen one’ who can barely cast a spell, in his final year at Watford School of Magics. He is simultaneously working to help save the world from a creature absorbing the magic from scattered places across the globe while following around his roommate Baz under the guise of suspicion. At first, I had no interest in this story; it seemed like a wanna-be Harry Potter, and Fangirl had an excerpt of Cath’s writing before every chapter. The second I picked it up, I knew that I had been wrong to judge is so quickly. Carry On does echo Harry Potter, but in the same way that most dystopian novels have parallels: they have the same general premise: an orphaned wizardly chosen one fighting to save the world from danger with the help of his friends, but that is where the line is drawn. It would be worth reading this book just to realize how two different authors, Rainbow Rowell and J.K Rowling, manage to make magical universes with governments and wizardry school so incredibly unique. In many ways, Carry On is the diversified and more magical Harry Potter, yet, while this story covers LGBTQ and mental health themes, it is truly fantasy at heart. It is not an ‘LGBTQ book’even though it contains sexually diverse characters. Rainbow Rowell does what all writers should do: make normal things normal by treating every gay or interracial couple in her books exactly as she would treat one that was herterosexual and white. Outside of this, Carry On is just a fun story. I read it in one day, as I did Fangirl, even though it spanned over five-hundred pages, and was still left wanting more.

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