Arts and Entertainment picks out a few books for your summer reading list.
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
Through dual perspectives, Simone Elkeles breathes life into the classic tale of star-crossed lovers by adding the fresh spin of Chicago’s outskirts. “Perfect Chemistry” is a passionate story about looking beneath the surface of suburban bliss. In it, two teenagers at opposite ends of the social spectrum prove strong enough to rise above their stereotypes. At first, Britanny Ellis embodies the clichéd blonde cheerleader dating the quarterback while Alex Fuentes lives up to his label as a dangerous gang member from the wrong side of town. Brittany and Alex loathe each other at the start but as their contradicting lives blend seamlessly into one another, they find out how similar they truly are. At its core, the characters in “Perfect Chemistry” are dynamic, real, and anything but contrived. Elkeles builds an emotional roller coaster, waiting for someone to step aboard. Sexual tension permeates Britanny and Alex’s relationship through charged encounters and tight banter, but their connection on an emotional wavelength fuels their relationship even more. “Perfect Chemistry” is a poignant story about the inspirational search for one’s identity, and demonstrates that love knows no boundaries.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Beloved young-adult author John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” describes the tragic reality of teenage cancer patients through the voice of 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sufferer of stage-four thyroid cancer. At first, Hazel thinks of herself as living on “purchased time,” but then she falls for Augustus Waters, a boy in remission who teaches her the real importance of life. The title is actually a reference to a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar—“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars,/ But in ourselves”—but in Hazel’s case, the fault lies more in the science. With a blend of melancholy, humor, honesty, and intelligence, Green attracts readers to his unique characterization and inspiring lessons, showing us through Hazel just what inner strength and courage are.
Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
More than just an engrossing read, “Desert Flower” is a documentation of Dirie’s life. It depicts her sordid path from living in a nomadic African tribe where she suffered through rape and genital mutilation to working as a model in the Big Apple itself. The book puts readers on the edge of a real-life adventure that highlights the sorrows of young girls in Africa through the eyes of the intelligent and courageous Dirie, who is able to fight through her demons as she makes her way from Somalia to London, and finally New York. Though this stands on the basis of life’s horrors, Dirie’s natural quirky personality and humor make it readable and are a testament of her ability to survive.
Panther in the Basement by Amos Oz
In this novel, Israeli author Amos Oz has crafted what might be the perfect autobiography not only for himself, but also for an entire generation of Israelis. From a political standpoint, Oz eschews all references to the current conflicts, focusing his attention instead on the Israeli independence movement and the early ideals of Zionism. Narrated by the protagonist’s adult self, the novel depicts a child growing up in British-occupied Jerusalem during the 1940s who forges a unique friendship with an English soldier. Beyond personalizing the political, Oz presents a nostalgic look at a childhood surrounded by history, creating a poignant, often tragic, and surprisingly gentle tale of youth.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
A tiger, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a 14-year-old boy walk into a bar—or rather, a lifeboat. Adrift at sea after the boat carrying his family and his father’s zoo animals sinks, Pi Patel tries to survive day to day amid the feeding frenzy of his fellow passengers. Full of the semi-philosophical debates a teenaged boy would consider, Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” follows Pi from his childhood through his life on the boat. Pi’s chances of survival narrow as the tiger, whom he names Richard Parker, begins to devour the other animals, saving him for last. It is in the moments in which Pi reflects on his quickly approaching death that beauty of his life finds its way to the reader.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
For his second book and first novel, Díaz fuses SAT vocabulary and perverse bilingual slang into thrilling prose that sails miles above the highest levels of modern literature. His protagonist is Oscar de Léon, an obese “ghetto nerd” who spends his time poring over sexually charged science fiction and role-playing scenarios, all the while falling passionately in love with a slew of girls way out of his league. Díaz extends the coming-of-age story into a multigenerational saga as it follows Oscar and his family on their journey from the Dominican Republican to New Jersey and back again. Ever-present is the “fuku,” a familial curse that haunts and guides the story, infusing the roughness of Oscar’s reality with wild Caribbean fantasy. If you’ve already read this Pulitzer Prize-winner, then stay tuned for September’s “This Is How You Lose Her,” Díaz’s first short-story collection in over 15 years.