If You’re Only Going to Read One Novel in June, Make It This One

updated Jun 9, 2020
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This summer may be the perfect time to actually start reading all those books you thought you’d get to once the COVID-19 shelter in place restrictions started. Even though you may be feeling all-time high stress levels (not to mention hot and sweaty all the time), there’s something about the warmer months that makes me feel like gravitating toward a book, likely because it’s usually vacation time.

This June, you have a lot of new releases to choose from. However, there is one book that everyone seems to be talking about: The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett, a Black woman author whose first book was “The Mothers,” another magnificent read. Here’s what you need to know about this literary standout.

“The Vanishing Half” is about a pair of twin sisters raised in a small, tight-knit Louisiana town called Mallard. The town’s origins begin with a freed slave whose white father owned the land. After he died, it was passed down to his son, who gave it its name as well as its legacy. When he married, he married a woman with skin lighter than his; he “imagined his children’s children’s children, lighter still, like a cup of coffee steadily diluted with cream.” Alphonse Decuir manifested his great-great-great granddaughters, twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, who are born into a Black community that places overwhelming value in light skin. However, the town’s fear of Blackness doesn’t protect them from the brutalities of racism and socioeconomic inequality in the ‘50s. The Vignes twins’ own father is lynched in their home, leaving them traumatized and forever changed. When the girls turn 16, their mother is forced to take them out of school so that they can work and help her pay the bills. Instead of going to class, they clean the home of an affluent white family. 

Desiree always fantasized leaving about Mallard, and one day, she and Stella decide to leave for good. Understanding the toxicity of the town and its lack of opportunities, the twins run away to New Orleans. It’s there that Stella abandons Desiree and heads West, embracing a white life and creating a white family that has no idea about where or who she comes from. Desiree, on the other hand, ends up in Washington D.C. with a dark-skinned man who becomes abusive. After deciding she needs to run away for not only her safety, but her daughter’s, Desiree realizes she has nowhere else to go but back to Mallard. 

“The Vanishing Half’s” story starts in the 1950s goes through the ‘90s, giving readers a powerful view into the sprawling lives of two women of color who grapple with their identities in different, heart-crushing ways. If you’re looking for an enthralling, intense, and thought-provoking novel that examines race, identity, and family, “The Vanishing Half” is a literary gift that you’ll end up devouring. 

Here are some other new releases if you’re looking for something a little different:

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Exciting Times” follows Ava, an aimless young woman who moves to Hong Kong from Dublin to teach English to affluent young students. She struggles with finding her calling and truly understanding who she is and what she wants out of life. She’s also lonely and broke. When she meets Julian, a rich British banker, she easily slips into the role of a “well-kept” woman, accepting indulgent gifts and eventually moving into his apartment. But when Julian has to leave to go back to London, Ava decides to stay—which is when she meets Edith, a strong-willed, ambitious lawyer. Ava falls in love with her, but when Julian tells Ava he’s coming back, Ava needs to make a choice. Does she stay with Julian and live the life of luxury and comfort? Or does she take the unknown path to be with Edith? “Exciting Times” is cleverly and beautifully written. Going so far as to call it a modern-day Edith Wharton novel wouldn’t be far off at all.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

A quirky and hilarious coming-of-age novel, “Pizza Girl” will tug on your heartstrings as you dive into the world of an 18-year-old living in the Los Angeles suburbs who works as a pizza delivery girl. Trying to forget about her “situation” as well as the death of her father, the protagonist becomes obsessed with one of her customers. Jenny is a stay-at-home mom who always gets pizzas with pickles on top. She globs onto Jenny as a way to grapple with her feelings about becoming a mom, and things get weird and complicated. “Pizza Girl” is funny, smart, and heart wrenching in all the ways books should be. 

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

A Burning” is about Jivan, a Muslim girl raised in poverty who wants more out of life than the one she was given. But everything changes when she’s accused of committing a terrorist attack on a train because of a comment posted to Facebook. Meanwhile, ultra conservative gym teacher PT Sir uses Jivan as a way to climb to the top. And then there’s Lovely, a charming loner who has the ability to help Jivan escape these gruesome charges, but something terrible holds her back. “A Burning” is not only a breathtaking page-turner, but a beautifully sculptured story that examines religion, gender inequality, oppression, and socioeconomics in the nuanced way we deserve.