As summer vacation draws to a close, it's time to reflect upon the books I've read this summer. I'm ashamed to admit that I usually binge-read as many young adult romance novels as I can during these summer months — but not this time. Instead, I vowed to myself that I would branch out and read some more culturally relevant books. After all, there's only so much time to read before the college grind resumes. Without further ado, here are the top five culturally significant books I've read this summer.
1. "Educated" by Tara Westover
Tara Westover's account of growing up in a deeply religious and highly isolated environment is equal parts captivating and horrifying. Her thirst for knowledge and capacity for learning inspired me to push myself to become the best version of myself that I can be. It also helps that her memoir reads like fiction — it's very accessible to the average reader because Westover doesn't saturate her writing with long passages or academic jargon.
2. "Becoming" by Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama's memoir is a surprisingly human account of how she became one of the most successful modern women from otherwise modest roots. Just like Westover, Obama's writing is easy to comprehend and insightful. My favorite part about her memoir is how relatable Obama was, as I could really identify with her feelings of uncertainty and ambition as a young adult making choices about her future.
3. "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng is known for her character portraits, and her examination of two interconnected families in "Little Fires Everywhere" is no exception. Ng wrestles with the debate over race in adoptions while also commenting on what the "ideal" life is to the wealthy and privileged. This novel raises some questions about the effect of microaggressions on timeless issues like racism and really made me reevaluate my own language when it comes to such sensitive issues.
4. "The Way I Used To Be" by Amber Smith
This novel follows a young girl's descent into self-hatred and rebellion following a traumatic rape in the supposed safety of her own home. Smith's stark, gritty language breathes life into the main character and transforms her into a flawed and relatable person that the reader wants to root for. This book was incredibly difficult for me to get through because it was so heartbreaking, but it's a necessary read because it reflects the very real threat and consequence of sexual assault.
5. "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova
"Still Alice" is a heartbreaking account from the perspective of a woman experiencing early-onset Alzheimer's disease. We follow the main character, an accomplished Harvard professor, as she begins to forget parts of her life. What made this novel so gripping was being able to experience the main character's mental deterioration from her point of view. I don't think the book would've hit as deeply had it been written from an outsider's perspective. This novel got me thinking about the effect of mental illness on not only family members and friends, but also on the individual undergoing the experience.