Presenting my three favorite books for June (and possibly the whole summer...)! Here's the thing though. Most of the books I read are by women, about women. It's just my style. So the fact that these three books are by women about women isn't so much a theme as business as usual with me. I should probably break out of the cycle, but I don't want to. And you can't make me!
You Are One of Them by Elliot Holt
This is a fantastic novel. It's about that peculiar brand of childhood friendship between girls, the kind that is fast and furious in elementary school, then fizzles out in middle school when it turns out that one of the girls isn't quite as cool as the other girl (raise your hand if that was you). It's devastating and confusing and sad. This particular friendship, between mousy Sarah and brilliantly blond Jenny, is complicated when Sarah writes a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (this is during the 1980's when the whole world was complicated by Cold War tension) and Jenny, thinking it sounds like fun, decides to write her own letter. When Jenny is chosen to visit Russia, because of the letter she wrote, Sarah feels betrayed and heartbroken with that acute sense of unfairness that hits so hard at that age. When Jenny returns from Russia, she's different. She's cool. The girls' relationship never really repairs, and Jenny later dies in a plane crash with her family. Ten years later, Sarah gets a message from a Russian woman about Jenny-- could she still be alive? Fresh writing, memorable characters (especially Sarah's mother, an activist turned agoraphobe obsessed with the idea of nuclear winter) and a unique take on the Cold War make this a great debut novel.
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly
This novel is a crazy mix of super nostalgic, golden-tinged, 1970s-era coming of age story with a dark, spooky Gothic mystery haunting the background, plus larger-than-life characters (wait till you meet Riddle's mother, oh my Lord), hilarious dialogue, and yearning, oh so much yearning. Riddle is 12 years old, and prepared for one of those candy-sweet summers of childhood where lounging around her Cape Cod home is her only MO, while her father runs for Congress and her mother chain smokes cigarettes and gossips with her best friend Gin Whiffet. All that changes however when Riddle stumbles on a terrible crime being committed in Gin's horse barn across the street, a crime that Riddle chooses to keep a secret. As the summer progresses, holding on to her secret becomes more and more serious for Riddle, for her family, and for the older boy down the street she's impossibly in love with. Camperdowns is great story to get lost in for the summer.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I beg you: don't read any summaries or reviews of this book. Just open it up and start reading. There's a twist that's not given away for the first 75 pages or so, and the twist really makes the book work. So that's my advice. But on to what I can tell you. This is a perfectly plotted, crisply written coming of age story (my favorite kind, clearly) about a girl and her dysfunctional family. Sure, most families are dysfunctional. Rosemary's family is different though. Trust me. Something terrible happened when she was young and the whole family refuses to talk about it. It's like it never happened. Except that it did, and it tore the family apart. Rosemary's brother ran away and hasn't been heard from in years (well, they do know he's on the run and the FBI is looking for him). Rosemary herself is a changed person-- when she was a kid, she was open and talkative. Now, in college, she's quiet and turned inward, protective of her past. When a free spirited girl arrives in her life and shakes her up, she begins to realize the part of her she has been hiding. This is the story of the damaging power of innocent mistakes, the way we paper over our identities to protect our tender parts, and the understanding and redemption that can come from time and forgiveness. It's a wonderful story. Karen Joy Fowler has a true gift.