Welcome back to another month of reading recommendations. Summer is quickly approaching, so I started reading a few lighter books and/or seasonal books the last few weeks of May. In turn, I actually wound up re-working this list to incorporate a few phenomenal titles that resonated with me more than the previous novels I had considered adding to this piece. This month’s genre variety proves more homogenous than the titles found on May’s Book Corner. Due to the exemplary YA books that released in May, I started favoring novels in the YA genre over the mediocre books I read weeks prior. Included in this June edition of Katie’s Book Corner are a few fabulous YA summer reads, female empowerment autobiographies by extraordinary women, and a must-read novel in verse by the one and only poetry extraordinaire, Jason Reynolds.
1. Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield
Genre: Young/New Adult Contemporary
Page Count: 376
(CW: Colorism, Death, Explicit Abuse ((Emotional, Physical, and Sexual)), Sexism, Slut Shaming, Sexual Assault, Trauma, Language)
Actress Asha Bromfield, famous from her role as “Josie and the Pussycats” drummer Melody Jones on CW’s Riverdale succeeds with her foray into novel writing. Hurricane Summer is Bromfield’s gorgeous debut novel about a young woman named Tilla. Eighteen-year-old Tilla and her slightly younger sister travel from Canada to visit their semi-absent father in his homeland of Jamaica for the first time. The island of Jamaica presents a culture shock for Tilla in multiple unexpected ways she could not have anticipated. Beyond trying to mend her broken relationship with her father in Jamaica over the summer, Tilla must survive abominable treatment from her impoverished relatives, backwards gender dynamics, and the threat of the island’s yearly, but dangerous, imminent hurricane.
Hurricane Summer is very much a debut novel, in that the flowery prose style writing can sometimes feel overwritten. Regardless, this is also an “Own Voices” book. Bromfield’s personal interconnectedness with the narrative is evident in the story’s authentic cultural nuances. The novel is not an easy read. Depictions of primarily negative experiences like classism, patriarchy, colorism, and harrowing sexual assault are difficult to palate, but vital to understand. Bromfield may stuff Hurricane Summer with conflicts — some of which may appear glossed over due to the vast amount of conflict portrayed. Yet, Bromfield’s sensory words will captivate you on every page as she draws upon her own experiences to depict one woman’s stormy summer on the lush island of Jamaica.
2. Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Genre: Young Adult Romantic Comedy
Page Count: 336
(CW: Racism, Bullying, Language)
Tokyo Ever After was marketed as Crazy Rich Asians meets The Princess Diaries, and honestly, that pretty much sums up the basic premise of this fluffy YA summer novel. Author Emiko Jean pens a lovely narrative where high school senior Izumi Tanaka expresses discomfort over her identity as a Japanese American in the tiny town of Mt. Shasta, California, and sadness over never knowing her father’s identity. After her best friend engages in some serious sleuthing, Izumi — who shortens her name to Izzy in an attempt to lessen the already obvious cultural divide in town — discovers that her father is a Crown Prince in Japan! Pulled between two worlds and split identities, Izumi reconnects with her father in Japan and undergoes horrific scrutiny as a now royal princess.
This book is another heartfelt “Own Voices” novel possessing a veritable level of genuineness. Tokyo Ever After highlights concepts such as Izumi confronting discordant feelings of being a ‘foreigner,’ experiencing cognitive dissonance between her identity as both Japanese and American, and the difficulties of a cultural (and royal) learning curve. Overall, the entire book reads swiftly while digging into intricate themes. An ‘insta-love’ romance between Izumi and her bodyguard will make any reader swoon. If you want an easy, breezy read full of humor, love, and Japanese representation coming off of AAPI month, this adorable novel will foster a perfect Princess Diaries nostalgic sentimentality.
3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Genre: Humor Autobiography
Page Count: 329
(CW: Language, Sex)
You know Amy Poehler from SNL, Parks and Rec, or all those recent commercials on cable TV. But did you know that Amy Poehler had to do live television sketch comedy while pregnant (an experience she describes as like “wearing a sombrero”)? Do you know the story of how an accidental offensive SNL sketch led Amy to a wonderful friendship? How did Seth Meyers and Amy really meet? Read Amy’s hilarious autobiography, Yes Please to learn insights into her childhood, family, career, and her feelings about technology!
Yes Please is personal but detached from judgement. Respectfully, Amy remains mute on details about her divorce from Will Arnett, and this book is not a ‘tell-all, dig up all the dirt’ type of autobiography. Instead, Yes Please can almost be read as a type of advice — or for lack of a better term, ‘self-help’ book. Poehler presents an honest depiction of life in a comedy career and how she coped with misogynistic, damaging behavior as a woman in the industry. Amy’s autobiography is straightforward, contains a treasure trove of great pictures, and won’t cease in making you laugh while serving up huge helpings of wisdom.
Additional Note: I also recommend listening to the Yes Please audiobook. It features Amy laughing and riffing while she records the audiobook in her own recording studio. She is also accompanied by industry greats in the recording like Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, and Parks and Recreation co-creator, Michael Schur.
4. Becoming by Michelle Obama
Page Count: 448
(CW: Racism, Derogatory/Misogynistic Language)
Becoming is the highly esteemed memoir penned by former First Lady of the United States, the superlative Michelle Obama. The memoir surveys her childhood growing up with her family on Chicago’s South Side, and how divulging the locations of her roots affected perceptions about her even during her time at the acclaimed Princeton University. Readers learn about Michelle Obama’s formative years and will eagerly consume exclusive details about her and Barack’s relationship. Notably, Mrs. Obama relates both the privileges and hardships that ensued along with Barack’s burgeoning political career and eventual presidency.
Published in 2018 (before the newest Presidential transition but after Barack Obama’s final term), Becoming is a triumph in the memoir genre. She expresses her opinions without restraint. Becoming prevails as a serious memoir, but is also not without levity. Hearing about the hundreds of disparaging remarks said about Michelle Obama during her time in the public eye remains ghastly. Contrastingly, focusing on the profound impact she made as a woman, leader, and First lady — and her courage to always stand up for herself — is why Becoming should be required reading for anyone, regardless of political beliefs.
Additional Note: I implore you to also consider listening to the Becoming audiobook. Michelle Obama’s narration is commanding of your attention. The audiobook edition of Becoming has won several prestigious awards, including the 2020 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album, the 2020 Audie Award for Autobiography/Memoir, and was named one of the top ten Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults by the American Library Association.
5. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / Novel in Verse / Supernatural
Page Count: 306
(CW: Death, Murder, Gun Violence, Gang Violence)
Long Way Down is indisputably one of author and poet Jason Reynolds’ most famous works of literature. Written entirely in free verse poetry, Reynolds tells the heart-wrenching story of a fifteen-year-old teenager coping with the loss of his recently murdered older brother. Will, the protagonist, was taught the ‘rules’ of the streets long ago — and those ‘rules’ dictate Will’s need to seek fatal revenge on his brother Shawn’s murderer. Strapped with a gun in his waistband, Will sets out to kill the man he believes killed Shawn. Will gets on an elevator to enact revenge. As the elevator stops on each floor, Will is confronted by people from his past — people who died.
Long Way Down shows the consequences of cyclical violence, bolstered by the visual impact of Reynolds’ poetry style. Each word, each line break, each enjambment, all reach through the pages of poetry with meaning. The words ‘long way down’ intertwine themselves within the narrative literally, thematically, and metaphorically, so the meaning of the words resonate. Gun and gang violence are real. People with no connection to these issues often try to talk about the subjects myopically. Jason Reynolds purges false notions with the brutally honest poetic syntax in this narrative. Long Way Down is didactic, speaking directly to the reality (albeit, this story is fictional) of one young man’s vengeful entrance into the perpetuating nature of violence.
And that wraps up June’s reading recommendations, curated by yours truly. Remember, you can purchase any of these titles, check them out physically at your local library, or read through the Kindle/Libby/Overdrive apps available through the library as well. I will return again in July with more books for you to read, enjoy, and devour. I’ve already been making a huge to-read list of June’s upcoming titles. They say not to judge a book by it’s cover, but how can I resist such beautiful cover art? See you next month!