It’s been a tough year for books. Book bans surged across the nation’s school districts in fall 2022, taking 847 unique titles off the school shelves in 37 different states, according to PEN America’s Banned in the USA report. Texas and Florida districts have led the way in these campaigns, banning or removing 438 and 357 books, respectively. Maybe it’s not surprising, then, that St. Pete booksellers put banned books at the top of their summer reading recommendation lists.
This particularly applies to young adult readers, whose category occupies a whopping 56% of all titles banned this year. Some recent challenged titles include Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe (2019), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017), and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (2020). Several classics have also come under fire, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007).
Here are some more fun and fascinating recommendations to help you while away those hot summer days:
Vacationing After COVID
South Pasadena bookseller Nancy Alloy suggests Emily Henry’s Happy Place (Berkley, 2023) as her top pick for this summer’s leisure reading. After all, a vacation — specifically, a college pals (and plus-ones) reunion long delayed by COVID — is the impetus for the book’s plot. But real life nags like a mosquito on the porch of the lovely Maine summer home the friends have retreated to: Even though they’ve just broken up, leading lady Harriet and ex-fiancé Wyn resolve to pretend they haven’t. Why spoil the celebration for everyone else? Call it a post-COVID love story: a bittersweet book that asks how we begin to recover from losses both intimate and friend-imate.
EGOT to Hear This
It’s hard to beat a good memoir, and for that category, Alloy recommends Viola Davis’s candid autobiography, Finding Me (HarperOne, 2022). The EGOT-winning actor has made bold strides she has made in changing the way Hollywood imagines Black women on screen, but her fame has not come easily or quickly. Her book begins with a childhood marked by poverty, domestic violence, and racism, but also demonstrates how this remarkable artist channeled this and more into a steely persistence and some incredible performances. A great pick whether you’re an aspiring thespian or just enjoy excellent life writing.
Hot Coffee, Loud Leaf-Blowers, and Cool Iguanas
For those in a sleuthing frame of mind, Alloy suggests two titles. Tara Lush’s newest cozy mystery Live and Let Grind (Crooked Lane, 2022) takes readers back to the quirky, highly-caffeinated world of Devil’s Beach, Florida. It features consummately Florida conflict: a noisy neighbor, found dead when his leaf-blower explodes. Worse still, coffee queen Lana Lewis’ best friend (and top barista), Erika, is the prime suspect. As with all of Lush’s Coffee Lovers Mysteries, the field is loaded with boldly sketched characters, plausible (if a little wacky) motives, and plenty of fun conundrums to puzzle out.
In the slightly-less-cozy category falls Tim Dorsey’s newest installment (this takes us to 26!) in the Serge Storms series, The Maltese Iguana (William Morrow, 2023). The lovable serial killer and his perpetually stoned sidekick, Coleman, are COVID-vaccinated and ready to lead their condo neighbors on their new Florida Keys Underbelly Spy Tours enterprise. They also stalk greedy toilet paper scalpers, all with Colemans’ new iguana-festooned bong in tow. Meanwhile, a botched CIA operation in Honduras leads a local police officer and a reporter right into Serge’s chaotic path. What will happen when they collide? Best guess: zany antics (and plenty of violence and profanity).
Leave a Good Impression
Looking for a great new kids’ book? Try Florida Book Award winner Footprints Across the Planet (Reycraft Books, 2022) from veteran kids’ science writer Jennifer Swanson. As sustainability experts know, the concept of footprints can be literal, as in the marks our feet leave behind, or metaphorical, as a way to describe our ecological impact on the planet. Swanson’s book explores both through a short, evocative prose poem backed by gorgeous full-page photography spreads. The book will spark many different conversations, depending on the age of the reader. While younger children may relish the unique images of a galloping rhino or rover tire tracks on Mars, older children are likely to recognize the images of human change-makers like Rosa Parks or Greta Thunberg.
And Now for Something Completely Different
If your escapist-reading longings are steering you to toward the speculative, pick up The Network Effect (Tor.com, 2020) by Martha Wells. The novel centers on Murderbot, a self-titled part-robot, part-human construct who breaks free of its programming, flees its post as a Security Unit, and now pursues its favorite pastime —— watching soap operas. In The Network Effect, the first novel in a series of short stories and novellas featuring Murderbot, the eponymous cyborg and its human companions get mysteriously kidnapped in the midst of a research mission. While finding the culprit takes up much of the actual plot, it is equally entertaining to watch the way Wells handles her unique protagonist, as it begins to develop, much to its own chagrin, emotions, relationships, and other “icky” human characteristics. Ever wished folks would just leave you alone with your Netflix? You may be more like Muderbot than you think.
Wherever your reading adventures take you this summer, here’s wishing you happy trails!