The Vanishing Half: Brit Bennett

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is a novel about the Vignes twins, who grow up together in the small (fictional) Southern Black town of Mallard, Louisiana, in which the residents of the town have been modifying the population to be lighter and lighter skinned with each passing generation. The two girls run away together at the age of 16 to New Orleans. Years later, one of the women returns to Mallard with a dark-skinned daughter, and the other disappears completely, severing the relationship with her sister and her family to live life as a white woman. Over the multiple decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, we check in with each of the women and their daughters and learn how they deal with the choices they’ve made. This is a brilliant and emotional story about racial passing and what we gain and lose with complete transformation. — Julie Travers

The Exiles: Christina Baker Kline

The book “The Exiles” by Christina Baker Kline is a historical novel taking place in the 1840s. It tells the story of Evangeline, a young English governess, and Hazel, an Irish teenager, who meet on a transport ship to the penal colony on Van Dieman’s Land, (Tasmania), along with the story of Mathinna, the orphaned daughter of the Chief of the Lowreenne tribe, who has been appropriated by the wife of the new British governor of Van Diemen’s Land. While this is a gritty, fascinating story with plenty of substance, I found it to be a quick read. Along with the strong female characters, the background of Australian history will pull you in and keep you interested. Two things I found disappointing, Mathinna’s story has a very thin connection to Evangeline and Hazel and eventually just peters out. I wish the author had given her storyline a stronger ending. Also, about halfway through the book an upsetting event occurs that almost made me stop reading the book, but the story was compelling enough to keep me reading until the end. — Denise Runyan

Luster: Raven Leilani

I highly recommend this book, and I highly recommend you read it right now. It is just a slender novel, but this book is packed with so much and the majority of it made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Edie is a 23-year-old Black woman living in roach-infested apartment in Bushwick and working at a publishing company when she meets Eric, a digital archivist who is white and more than double her age. They begin seeing each other, as he is in an open marriage, but it is not long before the stories of Edie, Eric, his wife Rebecca, and his adopted daughter, Akila are all wrapped up together tightly. My head was spinning from being depressed by Edie’s story to being completely enthralled by her story. Along the way, the reader is affronted by the way systems of race, class, and gender disadvantage some and prop others up. Leilani’s writing style might not be for everyone, but I found it fresh and intimate. — Julie Travers

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Writer Roxane Gay’s memoir, which came out in 2017, is both devastating and enlightening. In it, Gay writes about the experience of having a body that she calls “wildly undisciplined.” After surviving a violent sexual assault at age 12, she turns to food to build a fortress around her body to keep her safe. She discusses vividly and emotionally the way her body and those that have bodies like hers feels and is perceived to the world. She writes, “This is a memoir of (my) body because, more often than not, stories of bodies like mine are ignored or dismissed or derided. People see bodies like mine and make their assumptions. They think they know the why of my body. They do not.” I loved Gay’s language and voice, especially because she’s writing about something deeply personal. — Julie Travers

28 Summers: Elin Hildebrand

Like all of Elin Hilderbrand’s novels, once I picked up her most recent beach read, I couldn’t put it down again. The main character, Mallory Blessing inherits a cottage on Nantucket and spends her first summer there in 1993, which is the same year that she meets Jake McCloud. Jake is in a long term relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Ursula, who is cold but extremely professionally accomplished. Instead of pursuing a full-time relationship, Jake and Mallory agree to meet every year on Labor Day, which at the end of the novel in the year 2020 is 28 summers. Coinciding with this year’s presidential election, this novel expands smartly on some of the pressing political and social issues of today. I found it the perfect escape to the island of Nantucket, while still being grounded in today’s landscape. — Julie Travers

The Summer Demands: Deborah Shapiro

This moody novel is slightly more literary and elevated than your typical summer beach read, but it was an escape nonetheless. Right before Emily turns 40, her and her husband David inherit a summer camp owned by her aunt and uncle. They move from Chicago to Massachusetts to renovate and operate the camp for adults, although at the start of the novel, this isn’t working out for them. Emily discovers Stella, a 20-something woman, living in one of the bunks of the camp, and they develop a close relationship. Emily wavers between being a mother, lover, or friend to Stella and this relationship plays out throughout the story. — Julie Travers