If You Only Read One Book in August, Make it This One

published Aug 2, 2021
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Credit: Andrii Kobryn

By the time August rolls around, you’ve eaten peach pies and popsicles, RSVP’d to barbecues, and watched several summer blockbusters. While those who don’t mind the hot weather continue to hit the beach, you might be at the point where you’re tired and want to chill out in the A/C to escape the summer heat. Good news: August is filled with many books that can keep you company.

This month’s must-read book is “The Turnout” by Megan Abbott, who’s known for her cheerleading psychological thriller “Dare Me,” which was adapted into a Netflix show in 2019. This time, Abbott takes readers inside the world of competitive ballet with sisters Dara and Marie Durant, who run a ballet studio they inherited from their parents after they passed away in a tragic car accident.

Dara teaches older students, Marie teaches the little ones, and Dara’s husband Charlie — who was also their mother’s former star student — oversees the finances, and they all live in the Durant sisters’ family home where a tight ship is run. But as Dara and Marie begin to prepare for the annual “Nutcracker” performance, the most important event of the year, one of the studios is set on fire during the night.

The Durants are forced to call a contractor named Derek, who promises to use their insurance money wisely and rebuild an even better ballet floor. They end up hiring him, but Dara distrusts Derek from the get-go, thinking that he’s unreliable and seems dangerous. However, Marie disagrees, and Dara notices a change in her as she moves out of their home and spends more time with Derek. She begins acting strangely, as though she’s under some kind of spell.

With clever storytelling that slowly and deliberately unspools, Abbott tells a tale about an unconventional family that holds on to generational trauma. This trauma shapes them as children, and continues to impact their adult lives until they’re forced to come face to face with their ugliest truths. Like any good firework show, Abbott creates a number of small explosions until the grand finale — and you’ll never see it coming.

Here are some other great books to read this month:

Paula Hawkins, the author of “The Girl on the Train,” is back with another murder mystery. This time, it centers around a young man who is killed on a houseboat. The key players are Carla, his aunt, who’s already in mourning after her sister is found dead at the bottom of the stairway in her home. There’s Miriam, the man’s neighbor, who clearly knows way too much. And there’s Laura, the woman the victim slept with just hours before he was murdered. Though she claims not to have been involved in the death, she also can’t remember much about that night.

It’s hard to know who committed the murder — Hawkins knows how to make it seem like anyone could have done it. Every single character is unlikable and unreliable in their own way, and what connects them all is possibly even more shocking than the murder itself. If you’re looking for a page-turner, this one is it.

Another novel to get excited about is “All’s Well,” which follows Miranda Fitch, a former actress whose career was cut short thanks to an accident that left her with severe chronic back pain. After her marriage crumbles, Miranda finds herself more and more reliant on painkillers and alcohol to get through the day, since her pain is so severe. More frustratingly, her doctors don’t believe her.

Soon after, it becomes clear that she might lose her theater director position at the local college. Although she resents her students for showing the promise she once had and also having no interest in her vision for the Shakespeare play she’s running, “All’s Well That Ends Well,” she knows she can’t lose yet another thing.

One day, she meets three strange men who know her past as well as the future she could have. Smart, hilarious, and completely unexpected, “All’s Well” is a story about pain — both emotional and physical — what happens when our dreams are taken from us, and what we would do to get them back in our grasp.

“Afterparties” is a weighty, tender book of short stories that’s already generating tons of buzz and praise. Focusing on generational trauma and how it shapes families and communities, these stories follow Cambodian-American characters who pave new lives for themselves in the U.S. 

One story is about a tech CEO’s plan to launch a “safe space” app and his unexpected queer affair with a young teacher who can’t stop talking about “Moby Dick.” Another follows a young child who learns his mom survived a racist school shooter, a horrific tragedy that molded her life and the ones she created.

Anthony Veasna So, who sadly passed away in early 2020, proved himself to be a dazzling writer who had a raw talent for capturing the complexities of overlapping identities with nuanced, gritty, and beautiful storytelling.