Check out what other OPL readers are loving this summer, part 2!
Each summer, readers from all over Oakland join our Summer Reading Program and submit reviews of everything they're reading for a chance to win prizes. Here are a select few of the most beloved titles, with an additional, longer booklist here. Check out Part 1 here and here.
Circa by Devi S. Laskar
Growing up in 1980s Raleigh, Heera longs to be a normal American teenager. But her Bengali parents are strict and unyielding...unwilling to adapt any more than they must to the country they immigrated to before Heera's birth. Heera rebels with her best friend, Marie, and Marie's older brother, Marco, her crush. The siblings look out for Heera, helping her sneak out and claim small victories in her quest for freedom. But when a drunken driver kills Marie while the three are leaving a party, Heera struggles to find the comfort she needs from her parents until further tragedy strikes the family and their close-knit community... This tight, insightful novel is built on familiar themes of struggles in immigrant families between first-generation children and their parents. But the author eschews simple, binary answers to the challenges Heera and her family face. (Kirkus Reviews)
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
For Kiara Johnson, life in her family’s studio at Oakland’s Regal-Hi Apartments might be bleak—mattress on the floor, cackling crack addict next door, bags of dog poop bobbing in the complex swimming pool—but it’s all she knows, and she’ll do what it takes to preserve it... If the rich language occasionally tips toward impenetrable...so too does the hard trap Kiara can’t escape, the engineered tragedy of intersectional poverty, racism, and misogyny. The acute observations are more remarkable still considering the author is herself a promising Oakland teen...Plot, shmot—the real story here is lush, immersive writing and a relentless reality that crushes a girl’s soul. (Kirkus Reviews)
His Name Is George Floyd by Robert Samuels
An intimate look at the life of the Black man whose murder sparked worldwide protests and a reinvigoration of the movement for racial justice... A brilliant biography, history book, and searing indictment of this country’s ongoing failure to eradicate systemic racism. (Kirkus Reviews)
Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Chronically ill Chloe Brown’s near-death experience is the catalyst for a thrilling, life-altering adventure that will keep readers riveted. Chloe, living but not thriving in present-day England, is on her daily walk when a car just misses crashing into her. Realizing life’s too short for her to settle for her boring routine, she creates a list of ways to change her life... Enter her new building superintendent, Redford “Red” Morgan, a tough guy with a heart of gold and a hidden artistic talent... A revelation. Hilarious, heartfelt, and hot. Hibbert is a major talent. (Kirkus Reviews & Publishers Weekly)
When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
It’s indecent to speak about dragons, just as it would be indecent to talk about, say, menstruation or the burning, building rage that so many women feel day to day. Because it’s such a forbidden topic, to the extent that scientists who study the dragon transformations are silenced by the government, no one really understands why “dragooning” happens or how it works... In lesser hands the dragon metaphor would feel simplistic and general, but Barnhill uses it to imagine different ways of living, loving, and caring for each other. The result is a complex, heartfelt story about following your heart and opening your mind to new possibilities. (Kirkus Reviews)
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya V. Hartman
In this lyrical and novelistic speculative history, Hartman... reconstructs the lives of unknown black female urban rebels from the early 20th century, everyday women whose existences are hinted at by court records, social workers’ notes, and photographs and who she heralds as “radical thinkers who tirelessly imagined other ways to live.” The photos (taken between 1890 and 1935) inspired the book, and each chapter is anchored by one, around which is woven a vignette about the inner experience of the woman depicted, sometimes zooming out to encompass whole parties or streets or neighborhoods, sometimes intersecting with historical figures of note... This passionate, poetic retrieval of women from the footnotes of history is a superb literary achievement. (Publishers Weekly)
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published in 1959, Jackson’s resulting novel has defined the haunted house story ever since. Stephen King, in his history of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, said The Haunting of Hill House is – along with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw – one of “the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years”, while Ramsey Campbell called it “the greatest of all haunted house novels, and arguably the greatest novel of the supernatural... I know of no other writer in the field who conveys paranoia and spectral dread with more delicacy than she. Who else could terrify with the sight of a picnic on a lawn?” he said. “Like the best of Lovecraft and Machen, her work is a peak we lesser writers try to climb.” (The Guardian)
Bunny by Mona Awad
Samantha Heather Mackey is the single outsider among her fiction cohort at Warren University, which is populated by Bunnies. “We call them Bunnies,” she explains, “because that is what they call each other.” The Bunnies are uniform in their Bunniness: rich and hyperfeminine and aggressively childlike, fawning over each other... wearing kitten-printed dresses, frequenting a cafe where all the food is miniature, from the mini cupcakes to the mini sweet potato fries. Samantha is, by definition, not a Bunny. But then a note appears in her student mailbox, sinister and saccharine at once: an invitation to the Bunnies’ Smut Salon, one of their many Bunny customs from which Samantha has always been excluded... Wickedly sharp, if not altogether pleasant, it’s a near-perfect realization of a singular vision—and definitely not for everyone. (Kirkus Reviews)
Brian Blomerth's Mycelium Wassonii by Brian Blomerth
Brian Blomerth first fused his singularly irreverent underground comix style with heavily-researched history in 2019’s Brian Blomerth’s Bicycle Day, a Technicolor retelling of the discovery of LSD. Now, the illustrator and graphic novelist continues his wild and woolly excursions into the history of mind expansion with Mycelium Wassonii, an account of the lives and trips of R. Gordon and Valentina Wasson, the pioneering scientist couple responsible for popularizing the use of psychedelic mushrooms. A globetrotting vision of hallucinatory science and religious mysticism with appearances by Life Magazine, the CIA, and the Buddha, Mycelium Wassonii is a visual history and a love story as only Blomerth’s Isograph pen can render it.
“We need the truth that fiction offers us,” writes Nafisi in this stunning look at the power of reading. Written from November 2019 through June 2020 as a series of letters to her late father, Nafisi’s reflections grapple with literature’s ability to counter oppression—as she writes, “Fiction subverts the absolutist mindset by defending the right of every individual to exercise their independence of mind and of heart.” Nafisi’s prose is razor-sharp, and her analysis lands on a hopeful note: “I really believe that books might not save us from death, but they help us live.” This excellent collection provokes and inspires at every turn. (Publishers Weekly)