Normal People by Sally Rooney

Ok, yes, I finally caved to the hoards of Glossier-wearing, Man Repeller-obsessed NYC cool girls and picked up Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy it just for the gram (but I did post a picture of it, in case you’re curious), I bought it for “research,” which is code for “Dad, I really want to visit Ireland.” Plus, when an author is called “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I feel an obligation, as a member of said generation, to give it a chance.

When Rooney’s editor called her “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” I think they were referring to the fact that reading Salinger feels like a status symbol. It says, “See? I’m cultured. I only checked SparkNotes once during 10th grade English.” I’ve only read Nine Stories and my biggest claim to fame is that he mentioned my school by name in Catcher in the Rye. I’m not any sort of literary expert, but I think calling people phonies and posting your vacation read on Instagram is pretty much the same thing.

Here’s the best part: Rooney’s characters mock this cultural charade in their very book. When discussing book readings, protagonist Connell says, “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.” I have a feeling he and Holden would be two peas in a pod.

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The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

I’ve grown as a reader since the time I read Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. This bittersweet realization came to me while reading her latest, The Gilded Wolves. Fantasy novels have always been a favorite of mine because of the vivid worlds they allow me to dive into, which is why I loved Chokshi’s debut. Unfortunately, three years later, her fifth novel falls flat.

“History is a myth shaped by the tongues of conquerors.” 

I am not a fan of overly-poetic prose, especially when it’s hiding simple meanings. It leads me to skim and takes me out of the story because the writing feels juvenile. For instance, the sentence above basically expresses the common saying “history was written by the winners,” but wraps it in overly loquacious phrasing (see- I can write with SAT words, too!), which makes it feel like the writer is trying to prove their skills. I wish they would display their story-telling abilities in ways other than whipping out a thesaurus, because everyone can do that. Writers I love tend to show their skill instead of telling us all about it. As a thirteen year old, I appreciated the vocabulary practice. As a sixteen year old, not so much.

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The Power by Naomi Alderman

The first half of Naomi Alderman’s The Power reads like a feminist revenge fantasy. Teenage girls suddenly have the power to electrocute people through touch. Even better, they can transfer this power to older women. The societal tables have turned and women now hold power over men. This flip, especially in a reality where my fundamental rights, such as access to healthcare, are being stripped away by sexist politicians, feels scarily gratifying. Alderman leans into this feeling to weave a story about gender that, despite the wealth of great feminist novels, has never been told before.

“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.” 

I am sixteen, the same age as one protagonist, Allie, at the start of the novel. I found myself salivating over descriptions of men being afraid to walk alone at night. I cheered when women took to the streets blowing up cars they were not allowed to drive. When women leered at men and men lamented this unfairness, I thought, it’s about time. The sane part of me knows that men do not deserve to be punished for society raising them to be assholes. But, the part of me that Alderman manages to catch in a rush of “equality” relished the flipped script. Maybe this is what makes The Power so captivating. Contrary to contemporary feminist novels where women are stripped of their voice or bodily autonomy, women gain power and use it to punish men.

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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

st“Please,” my roommate begged as we packed our bags, “take it. I can’t even look at it. I want to love it. But I just- ugh!” She threw her hands up and collapsed onto her bed.

The “it” she was referring to is Swing Time by Zadie Smith. We were packing our carry on bags and she was desperately trying to make the 50 pound limit by  giving me books she had read (or in this case, attempted to read). I took the book, partly because I had heard that Zadie Smith was an incredible author, and partly because I had nothing to read on the immenent thirteen hour flight.

For the first half of the flight, I thought my roommate was right. Zadie Smith is an extremely talented writer. Every sentence, deliberately constructed, presents interesting ideas in beautiful ways. But every sentence. It was exhausting. Even selecting quotes for this review was difficult. So many amazing sentences! How could I chose?

“Sometimes I wonder if people don’t want freedom as much as they want meaning.”

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

craThe first time I felt rich I was ten and I had just won $70 at the Del Mar Horse Races. I pocketed the cash proudly and my family and I drove directly to the bookstore, where I bought seven paperbacks, each $9.99. The rush I felt when I held that stack of books, books I bought with my money, was exhilarating.

This made picking up Kwan’s debut seem like a natural occurance. I thought I knew all about American rich- time to move onto Asian rich.

Although Crazy Rich Asians appears to be a novel about clueless Rachel Chu traveling to meet her boyfriend Nick Young’s mysterious family, Crazy Rich Asians is really a novel about dynasties. Nick’s family embodies the idea that it’s lonely at the top. The only people they let into their circle are people who have the right parents, go to the right preschools, study in the right bible groups, attend the right boarding schools, and contribute the right charities. Rachel has done none of these things. But, she loves Nick. Nick loves her. It comes down to this: what is more valuable, family or love?

Crazy Rich Asians opens at a posh hotel in London. When Nick’s family is refused service by a racist hotel clerk, his family buys the hotel. This sentiment- that money is everything and everything is accomplished through money- that sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

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Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

I have found the ultimate end-of-summer read, Finding Audrey by British author, Sophie Kinsella. Now, you’ve probably heard of Kinsella, her Confessions of a Shopaholic is an adult rom com turned movie in 2009 starring Isla Fisher. She’s also written more than 20 adult books, but this is her Young Adult debut.

First things first; no, this is not a romantic comedy like Kinsella’s other novels. Instead it’s the charming, uplifting story of Audrey Turner, a girl with an extreme anxiety disorder. Extreme meaning she won’t go outside, runs away when someone tries to talk to her, and won’t even make eye contact with her own family. Get the gist? One day, while Audrey’s brother is having a friend over, not knowing Audrey has the disorder, he tries to talk to her. She is terrified, but over the course of multiple visits, Audrey begins to communicate with her brother’s friend, Linus. Soon, an unlikely friendship is formed. With the help of Linus, her therapist, and her video camera (she’s creating a documentary about herself/her family) Audrey finally begins to open up. But is she ready to face the world again?

Funny, quirky, and perfectly happy, Sophie Kinsella’s YA debut is the perfect book to finish off your summer.