If ever there was a time for reading, it’s summer. Whether it’s a far-flung getaway or a staycation in the garden, longer days and lovely weather mean that you might just find the time to make a start on this year’s top page-turners.
The biggest theme of this year is powerful female characters — especially those from diverse backgrounds. Your first stop should be An American Marriage, which recently bagged author Tayari Jones the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction, and centres around young newlyweds Roy and Celestial who are ripped apart by a heartbreaking wrongful conviction. WPFF founder Kate Williams describes it as a tale of ‘love, loss and loyalty’ that shows ‘the resilience of the human spirit’ – and she’s not alone in having loved it.
Diana Evans’ novel Ordinary People – a story about two black and biracial couples at a monumental time in history – has also received endless buzz after being named one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, New Statesman and Financial Times. Other titles such as Jean Kwok’s Searching for Sylvie Lee and Miriam Toews’ Women Talking shine a light on complex sisterhood and female relationships.
Overall, this year’s summer reads feel like a breath of fresh air with new stories by women, about women. So we’ve picked some of our favourites…
Newlyweds Roy and Celestial represent both the American dream and the New South in Tayari Jones award-winning bestseller, An American Marriage. The novel, which explores themes of love, loyalty, race and justice, follows the young couple who live in Atlanta, Georgia but embark on a trip to Louisiana to visit Roy’s family when their lives are turned upside down. After Roy is wrongfully convicted of a rape and sentenced for 12 years in prison, the two are ripped apart and Celestrial struggles to keep their bond alive.
Ordinary People by Diane Evans has not only got a host of celebrity fans – including YOU‘s very own columnist Elizabeth Day who described it as ‘utterly exquisite’ – but it was also crowned the book of the year by some of the biggest titles in the world such as The New Yorker, New Statesman and Financial Times. Set in London, the book focuses on two black and bi-racial couples at a monumental time in their lives. The novel is a study of identity and parenthood, sex and grief, friendship and ageing, and the fragile architecture of love.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Red
New York Times bestseller and top of Reese Witherspoon’s summer reading list, Daisy Jones & The Six is a gripping story about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, Daisy, revealing the mystery behind their infamous breakup. Think sex, drugs and rock and roll at its prime.
The Handmaid’s Tale fans, rejoice. Margaret Atwood is back with a sequel to her renowned 1985 novel – which has since been adapted into a hit TV series. Set 15 years on from the last scene in the original novel. The Testaments will be narrated by three different women from Gilead and promises to finally answer all the burning questions we were left with at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Announcing the novel, Atwood said:’Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.’
In Women Talking, Miriam Toews tells the story of eight Mennonite women who climb into a hay loft to conduct secret meetings after suffering from years of abuse and violation by the hands of the men in their community. Despite being illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in, the women make a pact to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm – but will they be able to?
Writer Ali Pantony’s debut novel Almost Adults is a story about female friendships and the importance of them – especially when you’re in your twenties and trying to navigate ‘adult’ life for the first time. Mackie, Edele, Alex and Nat all have their own chaotic schedules with jobs, bills to pay, break ups to get through and major life decisions to make, all while trying to get the hang of being a ‘grown up.’ Luckily, they’re in it together.
To outsiders, Adèle is living the dream. She’s got a successful career as a journalist, lives in a gorgeous Parisian apartment and has a surgeon husband whom she shares a young son. But underneath her ‘perfect’ life, she’s totally and utterly bored. And on top of that, she’s got a wild sex addiction that she struggles to contain which quickly spirals out of control as she begins to schedule her life around her endless one night stands extramarital affairs. Written by Leila Slimani, the author of best-selling novel Lullaby, Adèle explores addiction, sexuality, and one woman’s quest to feel alive.
Jean Kwok’s Searching for Sylvie Lee untangles the complicated ties binding three women – two sisters and their mother – in one Chinese immigrant family. The novel explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears and some well-kept family secrets begin to unravel. Overall, Kwok’s book is a story of sisterhood, identity and longing.
The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto
Fatima Bhutto’s novel The Runaways is a timely story about modern Muslim identity. It centres around protagonist Anita Rose, who is living in poverty with her mother in one of the biggest slums in Karachi, Pakistan but aspires for a better life and an education. On the other side of town, Monty, whose father owns half the city, is sick of the fast cars and glamour of his life. However, his life changes when he meets the rebellious Layla at school. Meanwhile in Portsmouth, Sunny fits in nowhere and struggles to find his purpose. In a turn of events, the three cross paths in a desert, where their closely guarded secrets will force them to make a terrible choice.
Queenie Jenkins simply can’t catch a break. Her work life is frustrating with a boss who doesn’t see her, her Caribbean family won’t listen to her and her boyfriend has dumped her. In Candice Carty-Williams’ novel, named after the protagonist, Queenie struggles to rule her own life in this hilarious, heart-warming and utterly relatable story. The Mail on Sunday called it ‘perfect for anyone who loves Fleabag.’