The CBC Books summer reading list
Looking for a new read? Here are 21 books you need to read this summer.
Boundless by Jillian Tamaki
What it's about: In this series of graphic short stories, the line between our real and virtual lives becomes increasingly blurred. Among the stories: a "mirror Facebook" appears online, showing our alternative, more glamorous selves; a cult forms around a mysterious music file on the internet.
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
What it's about: The Last Neanderthal tells the story of two women whose lives are intertwined — though they live thousands of years a part. Girl is the future matriarch in the last living family of Neanderthals on Earth. Her remains are discovered by an archaeologist named Rosamund Gale, who is navigating the politics of academia while pregnant with her first child.
From the book: "It was the warmth that Girl would remember. The night, the specific one she often thought about later, the one that turned out to be among the last they had together, had been filled with warmth. Spring was in the night air, though the ground was still hard with frost. Cold nipped at exposed skin."
Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
What it's about: Hernandez's debut novel, Scarborough, is a multi-voiced story about a Toronto neighbourhood that refuses to fall apart in the face of poverty and crime.
From the book: "Mama forced me into double-time walking, which I didn't mind because I was wearing my favourite dark brown corduroys. She said each one of her steps equalled two of mine, which meant I had to walk twice as fast. Mama wanted to make it to the shelter before five o'clock so that she could have the kitchen in peace. She had scored a can of beef gravy and a box of Hamburger Helper at the food bank, but in order to brown the meat properly she had to call dibs on the better stovetop and the better frying pan before Mrs. Abdul 'took over the whole goddamn show.'"
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
What it's about: Muslim American teen Janna Yusuf is a high school sophomore struggling to balance her family, friends, school and her crush on a boy who isn't Muslim. When a respected member of her community attempts to assault her, Janna must face her rage and confusion.
Excerpt: "I'm in the water. Only my eyes are visible, and I blow bubbles to ensure the rest of me stays submerged until the opportune time. Besides the lifeguard watching from his perch, there's a gaggle of girls my age patrolling the beach with younger siblings in tow. They pace in their flip-flops and bikinis, and I wait."
The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan
What it's about: A small community closes in around one man after a middle school student is found dead in her science teacher's backyard. The book is narrated by an anonymous psychopath.
From the book: "Though I am not afflicted by it, I wonder about guilt. When I was a child, I would crouch on the cement floor of our basement, building elaborate contraptions, and thinking, Which piece of this system is culpable? Sometimes a slender knife would fly forward and mar the wallpaper, or a needle would live and destroy a balloon. Once I even built a system where the sharpened legs of scissors closed on photographs of my father. Straight through his skinny neck. As the grainy image of his face drifted left, and his suited body drifted right, I questioned what part of my machine was responsible for that destruction."
- The secret to a successful story for novelist Nicole Lundrigan? 'Love, authenticity and (a bit of) madness.'
Hunger by Roxane Gay
What it's about: In her book's opening lines, Roxane Gay describes Hunger as "a memoir of my body and my hunger." As personal as it is critical, Hunger is an exploration of being overweight and overlooked.
From the book: "The story of my body is not a story of triumph. This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book's cover, with me standing in one leg of my former, fatter self's jeans. This is not a book that will offer motivation. I don't have any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites. Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story."
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
What it's about: Arundhati Roy's first novel in two decades — following her Booker Prize-winning debut The God of Small Things — The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is sweeping in its reach. Through the eyes of a transgender woman named Anjum and her former sweetheart Tilo, the story of India's recent political and social turbulence unfolds.
From the book: "She was the fourth of five children, born on a cold January night, by lamplight (power cut), in Shahjahanabad, the walled city of Delhi. Ahlam Baji, the midwife who delivered her and put her in her mother's arms wrapped in two shawls, said, 'It's a boy.' Given the circumstances, her error was understandable."
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
What it's about: In 78 poems and 78 essays, Sherman Alexie composes an emotional elegy to his mother, who died at the age of 78. Alexie was raised amidst poverty and addiction on Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington.
From the book: "My late mother, Lillian Alexie, crafted legendary quilts and was one of the last fluent speakers of our tribal language. She was small, just under five feet tall when she died. And she was so beautiful and verbose and brilliant she could have played a fictional version of herself in a screwball Hollywood comedy if Hollywood had ever bothered to cast real Indians as fictional Indians."
Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker
What it's about: Writer and book reviewer Carleigh Baker explores failing relationships, challenging family dynamics and mental health in her debut short story collection.
From the book: "The people on the train are staring. My phone is buzzing in my front pocket, and limp balloons hang from my braids. The heat is cranked and my feet are sweaty from two pairs of socks. The train pulls into Columbia, the stop closest to home. The doors open and close, but I'm still riding."
Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jonny Sun
What it's about: An lonely alien is sent to Earth to study its residents. Among many creatures, the alien encounters a wise tree that teaches him about friendship and a bear that wishes he wasn't so scary to others.
The Clothesline Swing by Ahmad Danny Ramadan
What it's about: Hakawati, a storyteller, prolongs the life of his dying partner by telling story after story about his childhood in Damascus. Death joins the couple, eavesdropping on the series of cruel events that have brought Hakawati to love and to Vancouver.
From the book: "The sweetest kisses are the ones we share in forbidden places. The kiss I stole from you in the back of a dark cab roaming Damascus, while the driver was cursing at checkpoints and wars; the time I pulled you back into the changing room in H&M in Beirut and printed my lips upon yours; the one you gave me as we hid in the depth of tall grass on Vancouver's Wreck Beach."
Be Ready for the Lightning by Grace O'Connell
What it's about: Veda leaves her home in Vancouver after a violent incident involving her brother. While on a bus in New York City, she watches helplessly as a man murders the driver and takes passengers hostage.
From the book: "I've never been shot. I've never even seen a gun up close, other than my father's hunting rifles up at the cabin. And those old .22s, with their wooden stocks, are more like something from Davey Crockett than Quentin Tarantino."
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire
What it's about: After many years apart, a brother and sister reunite under grim circumstances. Derek is an alcoholic and former hockey player, whose career ended in disgrace. Beth is hiding from her abusive ex-boyfriend. The two end up retreating to an isolated hunting camp in the woods.
The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
What it's about: Two teenagers, one scholarship to art school. Clothes-obsessed Charlie Dean and metal sculpture maker John Thomas-Smith go head-to-head in a fashion competition for a chance to go to the school of their dreams.
From the book: "I don't mean to brag, but I'm talented enough to be in the fashion program, even though it's so far beyond competitive it's like etitive or maybe just ive. The problem is the cost of Green Pastures and our current economic status, which is best described as extremely depressed."
The Only Child by Andrew Pyper
What it's about: Dr. Lily Dominick, a psychiatrist in New York City, takes on a patient who makes several outlandish claims, including: he is 200 years old, he's the inspiration for writers like Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley and he's Lily's father.
From the book: "She was awakened by the monster knocking at the door.
"Lily knows better than most how unlikely it is that this is real. Through her years of training and now her days in the courtroom providing expert testimony on psychological states of mind, she has learned how shaky the recollections of children can be. And she was only six when it happened. The age when certain things get stuck in the net of real memory, and other things you try to sell yourself on having happened but are in fact made up, turned into convincing bits of dream."
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose
What it's about: Inspired by a 1931 Virginia Woolf diary entry, this essay collection examines issues regarding identity, culture and the intricate process of writing.
From the book: "There's an emoji on my phone that I've never used, of a shell-pink tower-block building with blue windows. Smaller than an apple seed, crumb-sized — if that — it stands six stories high. Six windows going up: three square, three rectangular. I counted them and double-checked because extra-small things bring out the extra-small person in me who sometimes even triple-checks things; who still chances certainty might exist in asking, 'Promise me?'"
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
What it's about: The true story of Christopher Knight who, in 1986 at the age of 20, drove to Maine, walked into the forest and didn't meet another living human for 27 years.
From the book: "The trees are mostly skinny where the hermit lives, but they're tangled over giant boulders with deadfall everywhere like pick-up sticks. There are no trails. Navigation, for nearly everyone, is a thrashing, branch-snapping ordeal, and at dark the place seems impenetrable."
Baseball Life Advice by Stacey May Fowles
What it's about: Stacey May Fowles uses baseball as a springboard to talk about gender stereotypes and mental health. She also shares her story on how baseball helped her through depression.
From the book: "In 2011, at the age of thirty-two, I suffered my first full-blown depression, the kind that made the contents of my fridge confusing and made it impossible for me to want to do anything other than stay in bed. I'd experienced mental illness before, having been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in my mid-twenties, but the irrational fear of dying that was always present in my buzzing, twitchy brain, suddenly gave way to a terrible, terrifying desire for it."
What Remains by Karen von Hahn
What it's about: Style maven Karen von Hahn pays tribute to her mother Susan, a fiercely glamorous woman who always the life of the party and had a trained eye for luxury goods.
From the book: "The last word I ever heard from my mother was "pearls". Though I didn't actually hear it; rather, the letters P-E-A-R-L-S were slowly spelled out, with much effort, by pointing her index finger at the letters on a white card printed with the alphabet that was supplied for this purpose by the nursing staff in the ICU. My mother had a giant clear plastic tube attached to a breathing machine stuck down her throat and couldn't speak."
Injun by Jordan Abel
What it's about: Jordan Abel searched for the word Injun in 19th century western pulp novels and cut up sentences containing the word into a 26-part visual poem. The book is deconstruction of Indigenous representation in media.
From the book:
"he played injun in gods country
"where boys proved themselves clean
"dumb beasts who could cut fire
"out of the whitest¹ sand
"he played english across the trail
"where girls turned plum wild
"garlic and strained words
"through the window of night
"he spoke through numb lips and
Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont
What it's about: A series of short stories about four friends, Everett, Nellie, Julie and Nathan, who are the first of their family to live off reserve. Set in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the four navigate the trials of family heartbreak, racism and isolation.
From the book: "This time they didn't want her to have one of the video game controllers and one ot them tugged on it in her hand while the other pushed her from behind. She was smaller than them but she could fight better. But if she punched one of them, they would scream until their mom came and then she'd be in real trouble. So she dropped it on the floor with a bang and walked out. One of them called out, 'Mom!' She she picked up speed, across the linoleum, through the back door. In a flash. So fast, superfast. The door banged behind her."