At this unofficial close of the summer, I've selected three of my favorite books from this year that captured all that is fun, bittersweet, and occasionally exasperating about summer vacations.
My selections were based on their success at hitting that perfect note, with one about chaotic and crowded family vacations, one about summer camp (that turned into a longer stay), and the final one takes me right back to my high school days when I worked at a local amusement park.
So as the leaves turn and the nights get crisper, recapture your summer memories with these great reads.
by Ursula DeYoung
When you're an only child, taking a vacation with 10 older cousins sounds like the very best way to spend a summer, which means that 13-year-old Richard Killing can hardly wait to get to Shorecliff, his mother's family estate in Maine. In that summer of 1928, he's ready to throw himself into endless games of croquet on the lawn, wading into the ocean, and picking buckets of blueberries. But his older cousins aren't quite as interested in those types of games anymore, and adult feelings of love, jealousy, frustration, and a need for independence cause ripples in those halcyon days. Richard is bewildered by how his cousins have changed, and isn't entirely sure why things are so different. He listens and observes at the periphery, sometimes hearing deeper secrets than he expected. Suddenly the summer isn't all fun and games, and Richard's eavesdropping is unfortunately at the heart of what finally goes awry.
by Anton DiSclafani
As the Depression deepens in the South, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent away from her Florida family for the summer, to a riding camp deep in the North Carolina mountains. She isn't sent away to protect her from events, but instead to punish her for a horrific act that shocks her family. Away from her sheltered life and beloved twin brother for the first time, Thea is dropped into a world of girls that she doesn't understand. There are codes and rules of behavior that she hasn't learned, necessary survival skills that she must grasp quickly to fit in. As summer ends, Thea realizes that she will continue on at the year-round Yonahlossee school. Feeling ostracized from her family and hurt by the rejection, Thea finds solace in her favorite horse, and yet still searches for someone to love her as she is. A forbidden relationship helps her heal, but leads to more rejection as Thea learns that navigating adulthood is far more difficult than she thought.
Joylandby Stephen King
If you know anything about Stephen King, you know that he is not merely the master of the thriller. He has always had the innate ability to write about nostalgia and childhood in a way that transports you straight back to your own early days. In Joyland, that wistfulness is back again, this time capturing the feeling of that first job that you really loved, of early romance, and of summer trips to amusement parks. This gentle (and fantastic) ghost story is more like The Body than The Shining, telling the story of a young man who finds a summer job in 1973 at a possibly-haunted amusement park on the North Carolina coast. Having spent three summers working at the same sort of park in my youth, King's attention to detail took me right back, with the secret passages for employees, the smell of grease and salt early in the morning, and the crazy costumes and games. Luckily, I never had the same experiences as King's hero, 21-year-old Devin Jones, who contends with ghostly capers, a dying boy with a special talent, and an unsolved mystery at Joyland.