This was supposed to be The Summer of the Pleasure Read. After a few years of working in publishing and having my primary job be reading and assessing manuscripts, I was really looking forward to reading whatever I wanted. And enjoying it in the way I used to, before words became my career.
I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that, exactly, but I’m working on it. In between beta-reads and re-reading my own books and reading pages for critique group, I’ve managed some actual, honest-to-goodness pleasure reads.
The top top top of my list for this summer was Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s an absolutely fabulous middle-grade novel that blew my MIND. I started it over a glass of wine on Monday night, and finished it with some tacos Wednesday. About a boy who is entering the school system after years of homeschooling, Wonder is a kind of middle-grade Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian — HUGE praise, because that is one of my all-time favorite YA novels. The protagonist Augustus was born with a facial deformity that astounds even the kindest, least judgmental adults and children. When he enters an actual school for the first time, he has to combat bullying, complicated friendships, and his own fears. Told through multiple perspectives, Wonder is somehow both introspective and a page-turner. Augustus is that perfectly flawed kind of narrator, and those around him are nuanced, complicated, and trying their best as well.
It is gorgeous writing, and really showed me what great (contemporary! non-fantasy!) middle-grade can do. I was totally inspired and excited as I come back for my second attempt at writing a middle-grade novel, after a never-finished failed first try. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you liked Sherman Alexie’s well-loved novel, you’ll love this, too.
I also read and enjoyed Siobhan Vivian and Jenny Han’s collaborative novel, Burn for Burn, which is also told though multiple narrators. (Is this a trend? Because attempting this a few years ago was one of the hardest things I ever did.) The three girls are really different, and their struggles feel particular and just heavy enough to carry the book forward in a can’t-put-it-down way. This passed the airplane test. (Which is: will I read more than half of the book on an airplane? If yes, It’s good.) And it made me love both these authors even more. I especially appreciated the world they built — a high school I understood but that also felt fresh and unique and specific. I don’t think enough about Place in my novels, so it was exciting to be reminded how big an impact it can make on the overall reading experience.
Lastly, since it’s me, I’ll mention one of my non-YA/MG reads, a really exciting non-fiction gender examination called Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Oh man, I loved this book. Orenstein plunges into the way Disney princesses, American Girl Dolls, and other girl-friendly toys have shaped young girls. I love nothing more than thinking about how gender influences the world we live in, and I especially love it when I get to think about how gender plays a roll in the lives of children and teens. Reading outside of our given genre, and especially really sinking our teeth into excellent non-fiction, is a great way to deepen our own novels, and I think this is an important read for children’s book writers, teachers, parents, women, men, you know, basically everyone.
So no, I haven’t read forty books or escaped the curse of Reading As Work, but I’ve had some great reads this summer, and have a big pile of books to tackle in August!