My Summer Reads

By Carolyn Lyon James

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. For the last month, I felt as if I had been holding my breath, unable to completely relax. Every year, I tell myself that I will not get stressed out during the last month of school. And every year, I become completely stressed out during the last month of school. But now, the classroom is cleaned out and closed up for the summer months. The alarm is turned off. And I can take as long a lunch break as I want. So now I turn my attention to my summer reading list.

I went to the Hiawatha Public Library with a few books in mind, but I was only able to find one of them. The others were either checked out or not carried at the library. So I perused the fiction section and found two alternate books to read; one I picked because I was intrigued by the title, and the other because I recognized the author.

The first book on my list is Nothing More Dangerous, by Allen Eskens. Eskens is the bestselling author of The Life We Bury, a novel so popular, it’s been translated into 26 languages. Nothing More Dangerous takes place in rural Missouri in the 1970s and is a coming-of-age story, a murder mystery, and a social commentary all rolled into one. It centers on Boady Sanden, a 15-year-old high school student trying to cope with small-town life and grappling with the stark reality of the deep divide of race and class in his small world. Eskens originally began the novel in 1991 “as a way to explore my own failing regarding prejudice and racism.” Unable to finish it at the time, he wrote five more novels before he was ready to continue and finish Nothing More Dangerous.

The next title on my list is the novel The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Set in Paris in 1878, The Painted Girls is based on the real-life ballerina featured in the Edgar Degas sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The van Goethem sisters are forced to find work after the sudden death of their father. Living just a few blocks away from Degas’ studio, Marie van Goethem becomes the artist’s model for numerous paintings and sculptures. Fascinated by the story behind Degas’ work, Buchanan tried to stay true to the actual life of the van Goethem sisters while weaving in other historical events of the final decades of 19th century Paris.

My final selection for the month is Terry McMillan’s Who Asked You?, which takes place in a mixed-race neighborhood in Los Angeles. The story’s main character, Betty Jean, “has her hands full picking up the slack for her other kids, coaching her best friend Tammy through her own tribulations, and dealing with two feuding sisters – all while holding down a job delivering room service at a hotel.” McMillan is the best-selling author of Waiting to Exhale and delivers unforgettable and engaging stories with characters who are relatable in any city, town, or neighborhood. I was drawn to this book from page one and had read half of the first chapter before I even left the library.

No matter what plans you have for this month, take some time to settle in and read a book. Choose from one of my suggestions, or find something that speaks to you. Find a quiet corner, a shady bench, or a comfy beach towel and take this time for yourself. Breathe in. Breathe out. And lose yourself in a good story.