So, it looks like we’re going to be facing a summer stuck indoors. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to start thinking of things to do to pass the time! Of course, you could always spend your days endlessly scrolling through TikTok, but I think we all know that that can get old pretty fast, not to mention the headaches you can get from staring at your screen for too long. So, why not turn to the age-old pastime of reading? There are thousands of books out there for you to discover, and as a voracious reader myself, I’ve racked up quite the recommendation list. My list has something for everyone: adult fiction, YA fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction! So, without further ado, here are four novels that you should read this summer, all picked from my list of personal favorites.
1 ) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Originally published in French, The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of two women in a Parisian hôtel particulier (a luxury mansion split into penthouses) who are more alike than they both believe themselves to be. The first is middle-aged Renée, the hôtel’s live-in concierge. To an outsider, Renee is your average working-class woman: she’s boisterous, she loves soap operas, and is devoted to her cat, Leo. But unbeknownst to the wealthy residents of the building, she has also become a fierce autodidact, or self-taught scholar: a connoisseur of art, literature, and culture. The second is 12-year-old Paloma Josse, a resident of one of the building’s enormous penthouses. Extraordinarily intelligent, her academic prowess exceeding even that of her university-student sister, Paloma has come to the conclusion that life is inherently pointless, and has thus resolved to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. In order to keep a low profile until she takes her life, Paloma hides her intelligence from the rest of the world, getting average grades in school, and disguising herself as a pre-teen immersed in Japanese manga and subculture. When a wealthy Japanese man named Ozu moves into the building, the two women find their paths crossing in increasingly meaningful ways, and discover that there is perhaps more to life, and to the world, than they thought. This novel is by far one of my favorite books of all time. It’s moving, it’s funny, and while the vocabulary can get a bit complex in parts, I found myself unable to put it down the entire time I was reading it. Clocking in at 323 pages, it’s a longer read, but it’s a wonderful one nonetheless.
2 ) Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Recently adapted as an Amazon Prime original series starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, Good Omens is perhaps the only time that the prospect of Armageddon will have you rolling on the floor laughing. The novel follows two main characters: Aziraphale, the angel who guarded the doors to the Garden of Eden, and Crowley, the snake demon who tempted Eve to eat the Apple. Despite being destined to be enemies, Aziraphale and Crowley have formed an unlikely friendship that has lasted since Adam and Eve left Eden. Unfortunately, it won’t last much longer. According to prophecy, the world is set to end next week, meaning that Heaven and Hell will go to war for the last and final time. But Aziraphale and Crowley have lived on Earth amongst humans since biblical times---and despite the wishes of their divine superiors, they’re not exactly thrilled to see it be destroyed. Together, they set out to find the missing son of the Antichrist and stop Armageddon---but things don’t exactly go as planned. Add in a group of deranged witch hunters, a bizarre countryside town, and a book of scarily accurate prophecy, and you have a recipe for disaster---and hilarity. I am not exaggerating when I say that this book had me in absolute stitches the entire time I was reading. From the fact that Crowley somehow managed to misplace the son of SATAN, to the scarily accurate modern depictions of the Four Horsemen, never once did I get bored or tired of either the story or the characters. So, if you’d like to take your mind off of our current crisis by reading about a fictional (and much more comedic) one, Good Omens is the book for you.
3 ) The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Volume One: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus
At 7:44 p.m. on May 7, 1896, boastful and egocentric 17-year old gangster Zebulon Finch is shot and killed on the shores of Lake Michigan. Seventeen minutes later, at 8:01 p.m., he is resurrected by an unknown power. His life will never be the same again. Stuck at age 17 for the rest of eternity and his body now a decaying corpse, Zebulon travels throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century. From his first gig as an exhibit in a traveling freak show, to the blood-soaked trenches of World War One, to the desperate streets of Depression-era New York City, to the arms of one of the most sought-after women in 1940s Hollywood, Zebulon finds himself searching for the true meaning of humanity in a world in which not only society, but God Himself, has forsaken him. Now, first things first: this book is criminally underrated. Why it isn’t on the list of venerated YA classics like The Hunger Games, Six of Crows, and The Raven Cycle, I’ll never know. This book is by far one of the best YA novels that I have ever read in my life, specifically because it breaks the classic YA formula. Zebulon is perhaps one of the most nuanced characters in YA fiction today: he’s pretentious, arrogant, insightful, self-deprecating, witty, and deeply, deeply existential. He’s not a villain, but he isn’t a hero either. And I think that calling him an antihero completely oversimplifies his character. The only true way to understand is by reading the book yourself, and I highly encourage you to do so. The book itself is a big read: at 642 pages, it’s the longest book on this list. But I assure you, it is completely worth your time. Besides, it’s not like we’re going to be strapped for time this summer.
4 ) The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
If you love historical fiction, excellent writing, or strong female characters, then The Hired Girl is the book for you. Beginning in 1911, The Hired Girl is the diary of fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, a steadfast, creative young girl with a passion for art and literature, both of which she nourishes at school. Unfortunately, Joan’s mother has recently passed away, causing her father to pull her out of school so that she can take over her mother’s duties, essentially working as an unpaid housekeeper for him and her three brothers on their rural Pennsylvania farm. Joan, while devastated that she will no longer go to school, finds solace in the books gifted to her by her schoolteacher, Miss Chandler. So when she finds that her father has destroyed all of her books, the only possessions which Joan can truly say are hers, she formulates a plan. Under the guise of going to visit her aunt (whom her father absolutely cannot stand,) Joan disguises herself as an 18-year-old, changes her name to Janet Lovelace, and sets out to find work as a live-in “hired girl” for a wealthy Baltimore family. She eventually gets a position as a maid, but it’s not quite what she expected. Joan, a Catholic, finds herself in the employ of a wealthy family of German Jews. As a Jewish person myself, I love this novel. The way in which the family is portrayed is unlike any other book featuring Jews that I have read, and the relationship between “Janet” and the children of the family is amazingly developed. Janet herself is a fantastic narrator for the book. She’s funny, she’s devoted, and unlike many other YA protagonists, she provides a truly realistic portrayal of a teenage girl, from her personality to her dreams. All in all, The Hired Girl is a wonderful story of independence and tolerance in an era of American history in which neither women nor Jews experienced much of either.