The Girls of Summer
These sweet-tea days and full-moon nights are drawing to a close, but we have a few more weeks left to lie on a porch swing and read as if we were 12-year-old girls again. Remember when you immersed yourself in a book, lived in it, swam reluctantly out of its pages to make your bed or set the table? Those books took you to a foreign landscape or psychological territory you’d never experience otherwise. Here are some of my old favorite novels that might encourage lazy August to last a little longer. None of the books are new, but they’re all guaranteed to take you on a road trip of the mind. Pick one of these or one of your own and become one of the Girls of Summer again.
The Bean Trees
Kingsolver’s first novel and my favorite of everything she’s written. It’s the story of Taylor Greer who sets off to escape her Kentucky roots and the constrict life she’d have there. Along the way on her road trip to nowhere in particular, she “inherits” Turtle, an abandoned three-year-old Native American. How they end up in Tucson and the life they create there has stayed with me for years. It’s a book I just recommended to my own daughter and will be rereading again soon myself.
The House at Riverton
Amazon describes this as “the story of an aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever, told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.” It’s a great plot — part upstairs, part downstairs — and it’s no surprise that it’s been compared to Daphne du Maurier’s novels. You’ll be telling the kids to get their own dinner so you can keep reading.
The Whistling Season
Set in rural Montana in the early 1900s, The Whistling Season has a cast of unforgettable characters in the homesteader town of Marias Coulee. When a widower with three boys to raise hires a housekeeper, the intriguing Rose Llewellyn, sight unseen from an ad in a newspaper, he didn’t expect to also get her scholarly bachelor brother, Morris Morgan. When the local teacher elopes, Morris, with no teaching experience, takes over the one-room school, and the inspiration he brings to the job forms the joyful core of the book. This is a book to re-read and to foist on your friends to their everlasting delight.
The Light Years (Vol 1 of The Cazalet Chronicles)
Elizabeth Jane Howard
Howard was married to literary lion Kingsley Amis, but I didn’t know that when I discovered The Cazalet Chronicles in a little bookstore in Highlands, NC, one summer day. I was hooked and tore my way through the five volumes like a starving woman. It was the perfect summer book because it’s one of those family sagas that move slowly and deliberately through time. About three generations of an upper-class family on an English estate from the late 1930s to the 1950s, it was deliciously addictive. You can rent the Masterpiece Theatre production if you don’t have the patience for the full read, but be warned that it ends halfway through the story.
Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail
When I read this tiny jewel of a book, I couldn’t believe it was a first novel. Set in the tobacco country of depression-era North Carolina in 1937, the story is told by Roxy Walston, the 20-year-old daughter of the town undertaker. She’s also the wife of a struggling tobacco farmer and the mother of a two-year-old. When drifter Jack Ruffin comes to town looking for work and is sent out to the farm to help Roxy’s husband, events are set in place that will change Roxy’s life forever. Shivers died this year at her home in Augusta, Georgia, but her book will live on.