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

published Jul 1, 2021
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It’s officially summer. That means peaches are in season, shorts and sunscreen are integral parts of warm weather uniforms, and the perfect lazy day involves a pool and a really good book. If you’re in the market for a tote bag-friendly novel that’ll keep you company, there’s a handful of great July releases.

Out of the bunch, the novel to pick up first is “Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead” (it sounds more ominous than it is). In her debut novel, Emily Austin introduces Gilda, a 27-year-old young woman who has anxiety. After getting into a fender bender and realizing she can’t keep going back to the hospital every time she’s having a panic attack, Gilda starts half-heartedly looking for a solution.

That solution comes to her in the form of a Catholic church pamphlet that advertises free therapy. “Do you need someone to talk to? Come to 1919 Peach Tree Crescent for free mental health support,” the pamphlet reads. Gilda isn’t totally sure why she thinks this is a good idea: She’s an atheist, and the Catholic church is generally not known for welcoming lesbians with open arms. Gilda goes anyway, and is surprised when Pastor Jeff mistakes her for a job applicant for an open receptionist role.

Gilda really needs the money, so she takes the job. However, she soon discovers that the receptionist before her died, and the police think the circumstances around her death are suspicious. Gilda’s anxiety takes on a whole new level as she pretends to be a heterosexual Catholic, and her fears only deepen when a church-goer sets her up with an obnoxious male YouTuber and she keeps having to hide things from her new girlfriend. Also, she begins investigating the death of the former receptionist, because why not?

“Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead” isn’t exactly a lighthearted read, but Austin’s deadpan humor and tenderness is what makes Gilda so lovable and relatable. It’s difficult to capture anxiety, depression, and the unbearable ways people-pleasing is detrimental to our mental health, but Austin does it well.

Here are a few other books to add to your summer reading list:

“China Room” follows Mehar, a teen bride who lives in rural Punjab, India. The year is 1929, and she and her sisters don’t know who their husbands are — they were married off to three brothers in one ceremony. The young women are subjected to oppressive traditions and quite literally kept in the dark. Their sole purpose is to please their husbands and bear sons, and their mother-in-law, Mai, makes sure of this. 

The novel switches over to 1999 and introduces readers to Mehar’s great-grandson, who grew up in a small town in England and remains unnamed. He grapples with addictions and has experienced racism and violence. And while this man divorced himself from his family and culture, he yearns to understand where and who he comes from. 

Inspired by Sunjeev Sahota’s own family history, “China Room” is just as beautiful as it is heart-shattering. But coming from an author whose second novel, “The Year of the Runaways” was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015, it’s no surprise.

“She Who Became the Sun” is being described as “Mulan” meets “The Song of Achilles.” Parker-Chan’s highly anticipated novel — which reimagines the rise of the emperor of the Ming Dynasty — begins in 1345: the Zhu family, which lives under oppressive Mongol rule, welcomes their eighth son, Zhu Chongba. It’s prophesied that he will one day be great, whereas the Zhu family’s strong-willed second daughter was told she has the fate of “nothingness.”

A merciless attack by a criminal leaves Zhu Chongba and his sister orphaned. However, as days go by, the boy perishes. The girl who was told she would amount to nothing disguises herself as her brother in order to survive, and she becomes part of a monastery under the guise that she’s a young boy. 

This novel is much more than a familiar-sounding story — it’s heavier and more complex, as the main character is unapologetically motivated by power. She’s ambitious, cunning, and she’s also queer. There’s a lot of death and violence in “She Who Became the Sun,” which revolves around resilience, fate, and war. This is the first of Parker-Chan’s duology, but it’s magnificent enough to work as a standalone.

Many new parents feel disassociated from their physical bodies after giving birth, but what about a mother who literally turns into a dog? “Nightbitch” is about a mother who essentially hits the “pause” button on her successful art career to become a mom and stay home with her son. However, two years later, she begins to notice that her body is changing, from a random patch of hair on her neck to her canine teeth feeling extra sharp.

Hoping to find answers in literature, the mother goes to the library and buries herself in mythology. This is where she meets a group of moms who have seemingly been brainwashed by a multi-level marketing scheme. Things get weirder and wilder as the book goes on, but at the heart of “Nightbitch” is a story of motherhood, the sacrifices so many women make in order to have families, and the pursuit of happiness.