Published on June 27, 2019

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imagery by aaron bengochea

There’s something special about reading in summer. Maybe it’s the (somewhat) slowed-down pace of work that makes it easier to slip into a different world, or perhaps it’s the time when our desire for a vacation, physical or emotional, is at its highest. That’s why, when figuring out exactly which books to put on our summer reading list, we looked for the ones that would make us really feel something, really think, really laugh—sometimes all at once. 

Of course, the fictional journey you crave will be different from someone else’s—which is why we rounded up 20 of the most exciting, thrilling, thoughtful, hilarious, and gripping new books and organized them by those feelings. Find your perfect match (plus our recommendation for the best spot to immerse yourself in its pages), below.

The Ones That Will Keep You Guessing

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Elevator pitch: A tragicomedy about marriage and divorce, with a few twists in the mix.
Ideal reading scenario: On a shady bench in a sprawling city park. You’ll surely want to do some people-watching on the side.
The gist: The protagonist of Brodesser-Akner’s first novel may not be likable, but he makes for an unexpectedly interesting character. Stick with it—soon you’ll be turning pages at a rapid pace.

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Elevator pitch: A mystery that unravels family secrets.
Ideal reading scenario: Somewhere beautiful—and a bit mysterious—in the Netherlands (where the book is partially set).
The gist: Told through the shifting perspectives of two sisters and their mother, this novel has the pacing and intrigue of a thriller, combined with the heart and stakes of a family drama.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Elevator pitch: A look inside a competitive arts high school in the ’80s that turns out to be a meditation on memory, perspective, and unreliable narrators.
Ideal reading scenario: Somewhere far away from home, where you can fully get out of your own head.
The gist: This novel is divided into three sections, each of which challenges everything you read in the pages before. It’s not so much a mystery but rather a thoughtful coming-of-age story that will leave you questioning the truth long after you’ve set it down.

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Elevator pitch: After two young girls from the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia disappear, a community has to reckon with the fallout.
Ideal reading scenario: In a cabin tucked away in a dense forest. You’ll feel cozy and secure inside with plenty of blankets and snacks.
The gist: This novel spans the course of a year, drawing readers into varied, vibrant landscapes. Suspense is high and descriptions entirely engrossing.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

Elevator pitch: Years after three sisters run away from home, one childhood friend confronts what happened.
Ideal reading scenario: Under a massive umbrella on a quiet beach, where you can be alone with your own theories.
The gist: Unsolved mysteries make for great page-turners. This story, though set in Australia, a place known for its sunny skies, is thoroughly gothic.

Oval by Elvia Wilk

Elevator pitch: A Brave New World–esque dystopian novel with a sense of humor.
Ideal reading scenario: In a chic, eco-friendly resort where you consume only farm-to-table food and fresh spring water.
The gist: Disparities between sustainability and income are at the core of society’s problems in this futuristic book. But when emotions get involved, some lines get blurred.

The Ones That Will Make You Laugh

Stay Up With Hugo Best by Erin Somers

Elevator pitch: A funny yet critical look at what happens when an aspiring comedy writer and industry veteran come face-to-face one long weekend.
Ideal reading scenario: On one of those large pool floats that has a drink holder for your equally bubbly seltzer.
The gist: Come for the comedy, stay for the surprising plot twists. The coming-of-age slant of this story gives it plenty of heart, too.

Bunny by Mona Awad

Elevator pitch: The M.F.A. program at a prestigious university is understandably competitive, but you know something’s off when its dominant clique seems to be full of clones.
Ideal reading scenario: In the library of your alma mater (or really, any impressively old building full of books), with a cup of coffee within close reach.
The gist: Heathers meets The Secret History in a twisted tale of friendship.

How Could She by Lauren Mechling

Elevator pitch: In the cutthroat worlds of New York art and media, a group of three friends starts to feel the pressure.
Ideal reading scenario: While doing your best Carrie Bradshaw impression—cosmopolitan in hand, sporting a killer outfit.
The gist: This novel is pure satire, following a trio of 30-somethings as they work their way around podcasters, writers, and others who might just be all talk.

Supper Club by Lara Williams

Elevator pitch: Modern, stress-outed women use a bacchanal as a cure-all.
Ideal reading scenario: In a wine bar by yourself—so you don’t have to share your charcuterie board with anyone else.
The gist: Two women decide to start a supper club where others can come and satisfy their metaphorical and literal appetites. But when will they be full?

Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno

Elevator pitch: A combination of short stories and cutting essays that look at famous artistic figures both historical (think: Susan Sontag) and contemporary (e.g., Amal Clooney).
Ideal reading scenario: On a big velvet sofa with some artisanal soda and a fresh batch of buttery popcorn.
The gist: We consume so many movies, TV shows, and pop culture—so what do the people in and around them say about us? These snack-like stories are totally bingeable.

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

Elevator pitch: After a tragedy, a taxidermist’s daughter cleans up the broken pieces of her relationships.
Ideal reading scenario: Somewhere hot, with an ice-cold Arnold Palmer always in reach.
The gist: Of course, the family of a taxidermist would have a dark sense of humor—and that’s what makes their conflicts equally hilarious and subversive. 

The Ones That Will Put Things in Perspective

The Travelers by Regina Porter

Elevator pitch: A sweeping picture of America, from the 1950s to the early 2000s, through the eyes of some very different people.
Ideal reading scenario: A greasy-spoon diner, with some slightly burnt coffee and a generous slice of apple pie in front of you.
The gist: Porter’s expansive novel takes readers on a journey from Georgia to Berlin, New York, L.A., and more, with plenty of twists (and heartbreaks) throughout.

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen

Elevator pitch: A comedy that starts with wedding planning and ends with a satirical commentary on timely topics.
Ideal reading scenario: On the plane headed to what seems like your 12th wedding of the summer.
The gist: Every family has its quirks, and things always get a little more complicated when wedding celebrations are under way. This narrative might get tense, but you’ll walk away with plenty of good vibes.

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Elevator pitch: When a Jamaican woman gets her long-awaited American visa, she finally moves forward. But the things she leaves behind—and the things she finds—aren’t necessarily what she expected.
Ideal reading scenario: Under a pillow fort—ideally sharing the space with someone you love.
The gist: This story, told from the shifting perspectives of a mother and daughter, is all about hard choices and consequences. Be prepared to be moved.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Elevator pitch: A son’s deeply emotional letter to his mother, examining his own life and family history.
Ideal reading scenario: In the bathtub, with a hot cup of herbal tea nearby. You’ll want the space to get in touch with your emotions, of course.
The gist: Vuong is a poet—literally—so chances are you’ll want to underline each and every beautiful line of his debut raw and compelling novel.

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Elevator pitch: When a woman’s sister goes missing and authorities don’t seem to care, she takes matters into her own hands.
Ideal reading scenario: On a big, cushy sofa with an afghan for when you get a bit chilly—you won’t want to move from your spot once you start.
The gist: This fast-paced story is lyrical and blood boiling all at the same time. This isn’t your typical thriller, but rather a tale that goes deeper into the root of the problem: our society.

The Ones That Will Teach You Something New

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

Elevator pitch: A collection of essays on how we fool ourselves in the age of the Internet.
Ideal reading scenario: A staycation, during which you give into your desires for food delivery and lounging all day.
The gist: Tolentino is one of the most whip-smart writers covering popular culture right now, and in her first book, she emerges as a modern-day Joan Didion, tackling Internet culture, productivity, religion, and gender. 

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Elevator pitch: A guide to putting your phone down a bit more—and an exploration of why you should.
Ideal reading scenario: A technology-free refuge in a beachside location.
The gist: According to Odell, attention—not time—is our most valuable resource. She examines why doing nothing might just be the very thing that can help maintain your sanity.

More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth

Elevator pitch: A memoir of a former Domino cover star’s rise to the top of the media world, fueled by her resilience and passion.
Ideal reading scenario: In your home office, when you’re in need of a little motivation. The coffee maker should be at the ready.
The gist: If you’re looking for job advice, Welteroth has it. In this chronicle of her career, she drops plenty of wisdom alongside anecdotes from her journey. Her goal, above all, is to not just forge her own trail but to help others do so, too.

See more book recommendations:
The Best Books on Love, According to Author Blythe Roberson
I Read 60-Plus Books Every Year. Here’s How I Do It
These Are the 13 Books I’m Most Excited to Read in 2019

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