Whether you’re hitting the beach or hanging at home this summer, there’s always a need for a good read. Here are theGrio’s picks for the best books to get you through the dog days of summer.
Bitch is the New Black, a memoir by Helena Andrews (Harper, $24.99)
Young, gifted, black — and fabulous. It should be the recipe for success, but of course, by now, we know better. In her first book, a series of tell-it-all essays, Andrews, a 29-year-old Ivy League educated journalist, offers an all-access pass into the lives of twenty-something successful, single African American women as they navigate the big wide world of careers, men, and the meaning of life.
Raised by a pot-smoking lesbian mother on California’s lily-white Catalina Island, (with necessary TV escapes to the “normalcy ” of the Huxtable family), Andrews’s unique point of view and whip-smart humor add a new dimension to the usual urban single black girl genre.
Whether she’s riffing on the Michelle Obama effect on young black women, “We’d lain awake nights wondering if our Wonder Woman acts would ever get found out. Then suddenly there was proof we could be everyday and superhuman. But where were the instructions?”; talking about tortuous internships with a famous interior designer, “In our Ivy League remix of Cinderella, answering the phone by the second ring would someday transform us into CEOs.
Glass ceilings were involved! She would be our fairy godmother. When the dust settled, we devolved into dum-dums every time someone forgot to turn the answering machine on,” or giving us crazy-in- love moments involving cryptic IM exchanges and G-chats, Andrews shows herself at turns to be vulnerable, brutally honest, tough as nails, and outrageously funny—the girl truly has a way with words. She gives a fresh young voice to that generation of women who seem so together, but are occasionally falling apart at the seams.
The author, who has written for Politico and the New York Times, is currently at work on the film adaptation of Bitch is the New Black with Grey’s Anatomy creator, Shonda Rhimes. Fabulous indeed.
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter (Amistad, $24.99)
Hans Christian Anderson’s Ugly Duckling’s transformation has nothing on Ernessa T. Carter’s character, Davie Jones, whose metamorphoses is truly the stuff of fairy tales. There is no peace for young Davie. At home, her mother, the heartless town hussy, beats Davie so badly that the child takes a vow of silence; then, at school, cruel classmates nickname her Monkey Night and make her life a living hell. Davie escapes to her rich fantasy world in which she imagines herself in a Sixteen Candles-like romance with the wealthy and well-connected town hottie, James Farrell, who is barely aware of her existence.
When a nasty prank at a school party proves to be the last straw, Davie runs away to Los Angeles where she finally finds her “voice,” as a sultry chanteuse in a club. Slowly she starts to become what we think is a more confident young woman, but when a chance encounter reconnects her with James Farrell, a complicated love story evolves, and Davie’s past anger and hurt threaten to destroy the happiness she has found.
With rollercoaster- force plot twists and turns, Carter crafts and engaging story with a feisty and endearing heroine making this a sparkling debut novel.
One Flight Up by Susan Fales Hill (Atria, $25)
Oh, what a tangled web they weave, the women in One Flight Up, as they try to balance out their lives while being tempted by the fruits of others.
The four best friends, now at the top of their game in New York , were all the self-proclaimed “Misfits of Sibley,” an exclusive Manhattan school where they were drawn together in part by their diversity in an “an overwhelming population of Aryan princesses.” In this lineup is biracial India Chumley, an unmarried, highly driven divorce lawyer who got burned by her fiancé years ago. She is slowly trying to let love back into her life by moving in with her boyfriend, but has secretly decided to keep an empty apartment, just in case; then there is Esme Sariemento Talbot, the Columbian firebrand who feels unsuited to her Greenwich, Connecticut Stepford Wife existence with a doting but bland husband; Abby Rosenfeld Adams, a spirited gallery owner who marries her Waspy college sweetheart, a struggling artist, who may or may not be cheating on her: and Monique Dawkins-Dubois, a successful gynecologist and Harlem socialite, dulled by her solid but sexless marriage.
As the three married women in the group begin to look elsewhere for satisfaction, India, initially the book’s moral compass is mortified by the ease with which her friends fall prey to their passions; that is until her past love, now an engaged man, finds her way back into her life and all hell breaks loose.
What Fales-Hill does so brilliantly is capture the angst of women on the verge of middle age—a universal theme, whether you live on Park Avenue or in a trailer park—as they put their lives and relationships under a microscope to better examine what’s working, and what’s not. They are questioning their choices and realizing that the time for change has grown shorter, and the time to act is now.
Fales- Hill’s societal observations are humorous and on point as she paints accurate portraits of New York’s well-heeled set with all their mannerisms and foibles. This debut novel from the award winning television writer and producer, and author of the gorgeous autobiography, Always Wear Joy, is another hit. One Flight Up, is a funny, insightful, sexy romp, and a refreshing change—a summer read with a brain.
In my Father’s House by E. Lynn Harris ($24.99, St. Martin’s Press)
E. Lynn Harris’s posthumous novel, In my Father’s House covers familiar territory, the upscale black, gay social scene and all of its trappings.
Bentley L. Dean III, the book’s central character, is shunned by his wealthy parents when he reveals his sexual preference for men. Forced to break out on his own, he becomes the co-owner of a Miami-based model agency—the perfect backdrop for the sordid event s to come. When his agency hits a wall during the recession, Bentley receives a lucrative but sleazy off that proves impossible to refuse: supply gay and bi-sexual models to high-end parties hosted by in-the-closet actor, Seth Sinclair. When Sinclair starts a relationship with Bentely’s young mentee, the novel becomes less like a gay Harlequin romance and more like a crime novel.
In the midst of the flurry, Dean’s estranged father suffers a life-threatening heart attack and the two slowly begin to repair their damaged relationship.
Harris, author of 11 novels and an autobiography before his passing in 2009, was the pied piper of the down low literary trend. He knew what his readers wanted and deftly delivered each time. While not a brilliantly written novel, faithful fans and readers of his last oeuvre will likely be pleased.