Although the summer of 2020 was long and often boring, it did provide me with a rare opportunity to do nothing but read for five months. Within the first month, I had depleted the supply of all the interesting TV shows Netflix and Hulu had to offer, so books became my endless source of entertainment in a world where we rarely got to leave the house. Out of the books I read, my favorites were modern and mostly realistic novels about families, relationships, and new experiences.
Normal People by Sally Rooney was easily my favorite read this summer. It takes place in Ireland, and follows two extremely intriguing characters, Marianne and Connell, through their lives during the end of high school and throughout college. As they fade in and out of one another’s lives, they struggle to navigate not only their complicated relationship with each other but also with their individual identities, passions, and futures. If you like minimalistic writing styles that still manage to capture intense emotions so vividly, you won’t be able to put Rooney’s novel down. Both the author and the characters manage to say so much in so few words, and the awkwardness and self-discovery that encompasses that transitional period in our lives is reflected so perfectly in every page. If you haven’t read this book or seen the amazing Hulu adaptation, I recommend you add both to your list.
Everything I Never Told You
Celeste Ng, the author of Little Fires Everywhere, does a phenomenal job of depicting the complexity of family relationships in her novel Everything I Never Told You. I read this book for one of my classes as we wrapped up over Zoom after being sent home, but it truly stuck with me even months later. The novel begins in a way sure to catch our eyes: with a mysterious death. Throughout the book, we follow two timelines: before and after the tragic passing of one of the members of the family the books revolve around. We’re given deep insight into five different characters, the two parents and three children, and learn about their complicated and often frustrating family dynamics. The children grapple with the racism they experience growing up Asian-American in a predominantly white town, working and sometimes failing to meet their parents’ expectations, and trying to be someone whom their family and themselves can love. This novel was heartbreaking but important. I feel like I walked away with a greater understanding that perspective is everything and you never truly know what is happening inside the minds of even those closest to you.
Nine Perfect Strangers
After reading one of Liane Moriarty’s fascinating and mysterious novels, I couldn’t stop, and I’m now working my way through everything she’s written. Her book-turned hit TV series, Big Little Lies, is quite well known, but she has so many other amazing novels worth investigating. Most recently, I read Nine Perfect Strangers, which took me on a completely unexpected and jaw-dropping journey that left me, at times, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Like all of her novels, you get perspectives from a very wide variety of characters: in this case, nine perfect strangers. The novel takes place at an extremely interesting wellness/mental health retreat that brings struggling families, partners, and individuals knocking at their door. The setting alone was enough to intrigue me, but the odd techniques used by the leaders of the retreat are what really got me hooked. Just like her other novels, I was on the edge of my seat trying to put all the pieces together for the entirety of the book, yet it still managed to shock me. While it was not my favorite of her books that I have read (that goes to What Alice Forgot and The Husband’s Secret), it was absolutely entertaining and worth reading.
When I picked up Amanda Ward’s The Jetsetters after deciding with a few friends to read it together, I did not expect it to have as much to say as it did. The premise is intriguing, if not a little silly: a semi-estranged family wins a European cruise and has to confront all their issues while confined on a boat for a week. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and in many respects it is, but just like Ng’s novel, it discusses a lot of enlightening topics about familial relationships and people’s inability to see what is going on behind the scenes in other people’s lives. The novel deals with jealousy, failure, alcoholism, homophobia, history, loneliness, and many other important issues that can contribute to families falling apart or coming back together. The novel definitely had a combination of shocking and heartwarming moments, and I was often torn between loving the characters and hating their decisions. Overall, it was an interesting novel to read during quarantine since many of us were with only our families for months.
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