Books on Books, Lists & Roundups

Six Novels with Summer as a Backdrop

The soothing crash of waves colliding against the shore. Birds chirping under a shady canopy of trees. The quiet conversations of strangers sharing the patio of your favorite café. Whatever soundtrack you prefer as you enjoy your beloved books over the next few months, my only recommendation is to keep the summer vibes going. 

Whether you’re searching for heartbreak, romance, drama, or full-bodied laughs, these masterful works of fiction are perfect for staying in season while being transported through time and space. Some classics, some classics to be – all of these are worth a spot in your beach bag as you battle the heat and take a much-needed vacation between the pages of one of these summer must-reads.

Summer is often my season of reflection. It’s my in-between. As an educator, summer is when I unwind, reset, spend my days outdoors, and taste the saltiness of the sea. It’s when I stack my to-be-read list with authors across the diaspora and consume as much literature as I can. Whatever summer is to you, I hope you find time to drift into another world and find refuge in a good book that plucks the strings of your heart (hopefully, on a beach).


One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2023) – The coastal city of Savannah, with its trees draped in Spanish moss, is a beautiful city to take in sun and sand. It’s also the setting for Harris’ unforgettable debut, described as provocative, brave, poetic, and a masterclass in storytelling. The novel follows Sara, a woman still healing from a sexual assault that took place eight years prior, and Jacob, the twin brother of the man who robbed her of so much joy. As their stories collide, the reader is taken on a journey of heartbreak, redemption, and forgiveness. 

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann (Berkley Books, 2022) – This romance novel is on several ‘Beach Reads’ lists across the web, as well as Buzzfeed’s Most Anticipated LGBTQ Reads of 2022, Parade’s Best Romance Books of All Time, as well as other lists for lovers of love. Set during a vacation between friends, Joy is in love with her best friend Malcolm, who’s in love with someone else. When Joy devises a plan with Fox to make Malcolm jealous, she gets a glimpse of what she may be missing. In The Romantic Agenda, love may bloom in unexpected places. 

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Ballantine Books, 2022) – Eleanor Bennett passes away bearing the weight of her secrets. In a poignant tale of family, true love, trauma, and incredible loss, Eleanor’s children learn the mysteries of their mother while also managing their own grief. While Black Cake follows Eleanor through 40 years, her story begins on a Caribbean island where the beach beckons her and provides refuge. While not entirely set in the summer, Black Cake has moments of sweet summertime bliss.

Sidenote: The series is also a phenomenal binge to add to your summer watch-list (if you’re okay with shedding a few tears).

Seven Days in June by Tia Williams (Grand Central Publishing, 2022) – This instant New York Times bestseller centers the stories of two writers reunited by chance fifteen years after, as teens, they spent a week together relishing in the bliss of teenage love. Now, as their flame is reignited at a literary event during a steamy summer in Brooklyn, they have to confront former feelings and traumas while remaining hush-hush about their past – and present – connection.  

Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner Book Company, 2008) – Twin brothers struggle to find themselves after finishing their final year of high school and being thrust into the uncertainty of newfound adulthood. Set in the sticky summer in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, the brothers clash with their independence, the realities of the working class, and the ghosts of their pasts. Joshua and Christophe experience all the nostalgia of those of us who discovered ourselves in the 90s, when summers were alive with sounds, BBQs, old-school cars, and parties in the park. 

Where the Line Bleeds took me back to my summer of self-discovery, where like the twins and their counterparts, everyone is simply trying to make a way to run to or from themselves. There’s heartbreak, blossoming love, friendship, conflict, and all the makings of a beautiful tale that will rip your heart into pieces.

Ward’s second novel, Salvage the Bones, is another read set in the summer and follows a family as they prepare for the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. 

Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan (Penguin Publishing Group, 1992) – A classic that explores the layers that make up the relationships between Black women and men. It’s what we would expect – all the scandal and sultry details of crumbling marriages, mistresses, budding romances, and relationships with blurred lines. The star of the story, however, is the beautiful friendship that grounds the four Black women protagonists. The plot opens on New Year’s Eve and follows the ladies through a year of wins and losses. Summer is seated right in the middle of the plot, providing a sweltering backdrop for women who are unapologetically finding their places in the world.

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Ain Heath Drew is a fan of every flavor of storytelling, from literary fiction to narrative non-fiction, to children’s literature. She’s drawn to poignant stories representing everyday people, their battles, and experiences with boundless joy. As a writer, Ain’s published two children’s books with one on the way, and worked with various organizations as a freelance editor and content writer. You can find her at