It’s possible for summer reading to be entertaining without being fluffy and complex without feeling like homework. These young-adult titles take on weighty topics — an interracial relationship in Great Depression-era Seattle, the timeless beauty and significance of spirals — while delivering romance, humor, and endings that linger like August sunsets.
The Game of Love and Death
By Martha Brockenbrough (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine, 352 pp., $17.99)
Love and Death have been playing the game for centuries: Each picks a human player and then they wait and see which immortal force will prevail. At the beginning of Brockenbrough’s rich novel, Love chooses Henry, a white boy from a wealthy family, while Death goes with Flora, an African-American jazz singer and aspiring pilot. Both are 17. When Henry and Flora first see each other, they feel an indescribable connection, and the game truly begins. The setting, Seattle during the Great Depression, is the perfect stage for an epic romance.
The Tightrope Walkers
By David Almond (Candlewick,
336 pp., $17.99)
Informed by Almond’s own childhood in northern England, this raw and lovely novel explores the self-actualization of a boy who feels torn by conflicting desires about his life’s direction. Part of Dominic Hall wants to escape his shipbuilder father’s world and to spend his time with the wonderfully strange Holly Stroud. Yet another part of him, a dark part, is drawn to the violent and gritty bully Vincent McAlinden. An atmospheric and powerful read.
Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights
By Ann Bausum (Viking, 128 pp., $16.99)
On June 28, 1969, police made a business-as-usual raid on a gay club in New York City’s West Village. However, this particular event became historical when patrons — tired of persecution — fought back, launching the Stonewall riots and what many consider to be the start of the gay rights movement. Bausum’s powerful work of nonfiction grounds events in both historic and contemporary context. Photos and first-person accounts add dynamism to the well-researched text.
Charlie, Presumed Dead
By Anne Heltzel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 272 pp., $17.99)
Is charming, wealthy Charlie Price really dead? After his two girlfriends meet at his memorial service in Paris, they band together to find answers and make sure their individual secrets remain hidden. This globe-trotting adventure/mystery is guaranteed to inspire travel lust.
Proof of Forever
By Lexa Hillyer (HarperTeen, 352 pp., $17.99)
Hillyer’s YA debut, an earnest ode to summer camp and friendship, reveals what caused the sister-like bond among Zoe, Luce, Tali, and Joy to come apart two years ago. When the four teens meet for a Camp Okahatchee reunion, an episode in a photo booth sends them back in time, giving each girl a chance to meet regrets head on, rediscover their friendship, and become “unstuck” in the future.
There Will Be Lies
By Nick Lake (Bloomsbury, 464 pp., $17.99)
Seventeen-year-old Shelby Jane Cooper is forced to question everything she thought was true when her mother takes her on an abrupt road trip and she begins getting drawn into a mystical world called the Dreaming. This superbly written story interweaves Native American mythology with thrilling mystery.
Kissing in America
By Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 400 pp., $17.99)
Sixteen-year-old New Yorker Eva reads romance novels to distract herself from her pain over her father’s death in a plane crash. Her reading choices dismay her women’s studies professor mom, who tells Eva, “Real love is a mess. Complicated.” Through the crazy adventures Eva and her best friend experience on a cross-country journey, the grief-stricken teen is able to create her own understanding of love. “Kissing in America” is a road-trip story with humor and heart.
The Ghosts of Heaven
By Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook, 368 pp., $17.99)
The newest novel from the Printz-Award winning author of “Midwinterblood” is, in a word, gorgeous. The four episodes that make up this title are united by a common motif, the shape of a spiral. Haunting descriptions and characters take readers from prehistoric times to a medieval witch trial to a Long Island asylum and, finally, to space and the distant future.
The Alex Crow
By Andrew Smith (Dutton, 336 pp., $18.99)
Smith is a maestro of blending philosophical zingers with absurdist humor. His latest novel manages to meld the narratives of a teenage refugee trying to survive American summer camp, a man who hears Joseph Stalin in his head, and a member of a failed 19th-century Arctic expedition. An absolute must-read for anyone who loved Smith’s Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winner “Grasshopper Jungle.”
The Walls Around Us
By Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers, 336 pp., $17.95)
“We were alive. I remember it that way. We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.” Suma’s elegantly written ghost story centers on two best friends, both ballerinas: Violet, who’s bound for Julliard, and Ori, who is convicted of an unimaginable crime and sent to the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. Through alternating narratives — Violet’s and Amber’s, Ori’s cellmate at Aurora Hills — the well-paced plot reveals guilt, innocence, and dark truths that will not stay hidden. Suspenseful, grotesque, and unputdownable.
Chelsey Philpot’s YA debut, “Even in Paradise,” was published in October 2014.