Following a breakup with his fiancée, “CBS Sunday Morning” correspondent Conor Knighton sought distraction in travel. He spent a year touring the nation’s 63 national parks, and in Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park, he provides a funny, fascinating account of his trip. Knighton, who started his trek at Acadia National Park in Maine, shares hilarious anecdotes from the road and provides insights into the history of the park system. Reading groups will enjoy digging into themes of nature, conservation and the allure of travel.

In The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America, Elizabeth Letts chronicles the extraordinary travels of Annie Wilkins. In 1954, Wilkins learned that she had only a few years to live. Determined to see the Pacific Ocean, a lifelong dream of hers, the 63-year-old set out on her horse, Tarzan, riding from Maine to California and attracting national attention along the way. Letts brings Wilkins’ adventures to vivid life in this unforgettable book.

Mark Adams’ Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier is a spirited tribute to one of America’s most idiosyncratic states. Inspired by Edward H. Harriman’s famous 1899 exploration of the Alaskan coastline, Adams (Turn Right at Machu Picchu) traveled the same route as Harriman and his crew. He documents the ways in which Alaska has changed in the intervening years and crosses paths with an array of colorful characters, providing astute observations about environmentalism, Alaskan history and the oil industry in the process.

Kate Harris was a Rhodes scholar studying at Oxford and MIT when she set out to travel the Silk Road by bike, an excursion she recounts in Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road. Harris, who had long dreamed of exploration, was accompanied by her best friend, Mel. Together, they cycled their way into Turkey, India, Nepal and China, traveling for nearly a year. Harris mixes history, geography, travel writing and personal reflection to create a richly detailed narrative that’s a testament to the transformative power of travel.

These true stories of national park-hopping and continent-traversing will inspire reading groups.

Every year, the BookPage editors must once again ask the question: What, exactly, does “summer reading” even mean? Here are our definitions, in literary form.

The Season

I devour lighthearted, escapist romances and mysteries during the summer. Basically, if it can hold my attention despite all the distractions of a packed pool or a sunny park, it’s going in my tote bag. However, to keep my brain from snapping in half when I inevitably turn to more challenging books in the fall, I also make sure to reach for a few weightier yet still seasonably appropriate titles. Kristen Richardson’s history of the debutante is my gold standard. Impeccably researched but unabashedly glam and gossipy, The Season describes gorgeous gowns and high society queen bees with the same inquisitive rigor it applies to unpacking the intersections of race and class. In its various permutations, the debutante tradition encapsulates cultural ideas about femininity and its value; depending on the context, it can be regressive or liberating, stifling or affirming. (The chapter on African American debutante balls alone is worth the price of admission.) Make this your afternoon poolside read, and you’ll be the most interesting person at dinner later that night.

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Deacon King Kong

When my yard is alive with bugs and birds, when they’re screaming and singing and zipping through the trees, I want a book that crackles with that kind of electricity, like Deacon King Kong. Set in 1969 Brooklyn, James McBride’s seventh novel opens in the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing projects where, in broad daylight, a 71-year-old alcoholic church deacon known as Sportcoat shoots the ear off a 19-year-old drug dealer. That seemingly gritty opening leads into an affectionate village novel that follows a multitude of characters, including congregants of the Five Ends Baptist Church, a lovelorn police officer and an Italian mobster known as the Elephant. As readers learn the truth about Sportcoat’s actions, they also follow foibles and treasure hunts and slapstick party scenes. No one’s the “bad guy,” not even the mob bosses or dirty cops. The dialogue is some of the best you’ll ever read, and many scenes are gut-bustingly funny. Summer is a joy, and so is this book.

—Cat, Deputy Editor


I am not a great lover of summertime. The heat, the dirt, the bugs—all of it sends me indoors with a glass of lemonade. This makes a book like Group by Christie Tate my perfect summer read. I tore through this book on vacation last year, using every moment alone in the empty, air-conditioned house to fly through a few more chapters while everyone else was outside. Tate’s memoir of the years she spent in an unconventional group therapy setting ranges from salacious to vulnerable to truly touching. All she has to do, her new therapist tells her, is show up to these group sessions and be honest—about everything. Sexuality, food, relationships, family, death—everything. As Tate slowly opens up to her fellow group members, she builds real friendships for the first time and learns to defuse the shame and low self-worth that had kept her from making authentic connections during her first 26 years. Perfect for a weekend trip or plane ride, this book’s got heart, hope and enough juicy confessions to keep you turning the pages at lightning speed.

—Christy, Associate Editor

All That She Carried

Whether I’m traveling across the world on a plane or installed under an umbrella on the beach, summer adventures inspire me to decenter screens and their attendant distractions. This means I have the capacity to focus on books that reward a reader’s careful attention, like Tiya Miles’ National Book Award-winning All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. Miles, a historian and MacArthur Foundation fellowship recipient, uses a single artifact—a simple cotton sack given to a 9-year-old child named Ashley by her mother when Ashley was sold to a different plantation—to offer insight into the often undocumented lives of Black women. As she traces the journey of Ashley’s sack from its origins in 1850s South Carolina through the Great Migration and to its eventual discovery at a Nashville flea market, Miles honors the strength of family ties and finds creative ways to fill gaps in the historical record. This book will make you both think and feel, providing a reading experience to remember.

—Trisha, Publisher

The Diviners

There is nothing I want more in the summer than a big honking series. (Especially if it’s complete. No cliffhanger endings for me!) I want to dive into a fictional world for as long as possible before coming up for air, and Libba Bray’s quartet of novels about supernaturally gifted teens solving mysteries in New York City during the Roaring ’20s fits the bill to a T. The series opener is replete with positutely delicious period vernacular and horrors both imagined (a murderous ghost resurrecting himself with body parts carved from his victims) and all too real (“color lines” at jazz clubs where Black Americans perform on stage but aren’t allowed to enter as customers). The Diviners is exactly the sort of tale I love to stay up into the wee hours of hot summer nights reading—which is good, because in Bray's talented hands, some scenes are so terrifying that I wouldn't be able to turn off the lights anyway.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Any book can be a beach read if you put your mind to it.

The Civil War of Amos Abernathy

Thirteen-year-old Amos Abernathy loves history. He and his best friend, Chloe Thompson, volunteer as reenactors at the living history park in their small town of Apple Grove, Illinois. When Ben Oglevie begins volunteering at the park, Amos is instantly impressed with his knowledge of Abraham Lincoln, who is Amos’ favorite Illinois historical figure. It takes a little longer for Amos to realize he’s also got a serious crush on Ben.

When the park invites volunteers to submit proposals for a new exhibit, Amos struggles to come up with an idea until Ben sees a gay couple visiting the park and wonders whether LGBTQ people are part of the park’s history. Amos sets out to find answers and discovers Albert D.J. Cashier, a transgender man who fought in the Civil War and lived out the rest of his life in a town near Apple Grove. Amos knows that Albert’s story should be told at the living history park, but not everyone—including Ben’s conservative, religious parents—agrees.

Michael Leali’s debut novel, The Civil War of Amos Abernathy, is an inspiring portrait of determined young people helping their community become more inclusive. Told through diary-style letters that Amos writes to Albert, the book’s first-person narration is conversational and authentic, and Amos’ self-deprecating earnestness is quickly endearing.

The Civil War of Amos Abernathy is thoughtfully intersectional: A notable subplot depicts the racist and sexist resistance that Chloe faces when she applies for an apprenticeship in the park’s blacksmith shop. As Amos, Chloe and Ben work on their proposal, Amos becomes determined to change the way that “only some identities matter” in the story that the park tells about the past.

This tale of tweens who teach the adults in their lives important truths about justice, equity and the power of history shines with respect for its impassioned young protagonists.

★ Different Kinds of Fruit

Sixth grader Annabelle Blake is bored. She’s been attending the same small school since kindergarten, and it seems like nothing new or interesting ever happens in her small town. She often wishes that her family would move to the nearby big city of Seattle, just for some excitement.

Then Bailey, a nonbinary kid, moves to town. Bailey’s fashion is impeccable and their whole vibe is electrifying, so Annabelle is confused when her parents discourage her from getting close to them. If Annabelle's parents don’t accept Bailey for who they are, then maybe she won't be accepted either as she tries to determine which of the LGBTQIAP+ letters fit her best.

The actual reason is a secret that Annabelle’s parents have concealed her entire life: Annabelle’s father is a transgender man and is the person who gave birth to her. He was rejected by his trans community for his decision to become a birthing parent, and his pain has kept him in hiding ever since.

Kyle Lukoff’s remarkable Different Kinds of Fruit juxtaposes two generations of gender-nonconforming people’s experiences. It honors the trauma that Annabelle’s dad went through but, as in The Civil War of Amos Abernathy, shows how much adults have to gain by listening to and learning from young people.

Annabelle also has a lot to learn—about herself, her family and her community. Her eager, openhearted spirit makes her story especially accessible to readers who are also beginning to understand the spectrum of gender identities but who may not have ever met a nonbinary or transgender person. Different Kinds of Fruit will be as meaningful to young people today as Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was for earlier generations of readers.

The Rainbow Parade

Emily Neilson draws on childhood memories to offer young readers a front-row seat to San Francisco’s Pride celebration in The Rainbow Parade.

On the day of the Rainbow Parade, Emily loves to take the train with Mama and Mommy and meet family friends in the city. As they walk down the sidewalk together, Emily sees people “wearing whatever makes them feel most like themselves,” whether it’s swishy dresses, casual clothing, leather outfits or nearly nothing.

When the parade begins, Emily enjoys the loud motorcycles and the bright colors. But when the rainbow fairy queen invites Emily’s family to join the parade, Emily wonders, “Maybe I’m not loud enough or proud enough” to join the festivities. Emily’s moms offer reassurance that the parade is a place where everyone belongs and that “sometimes finding your pride takes a little practice.”

The Rainbow Parade is a dazzling celebration of queer families that captures how empowering it is to be accepted for who we are. Neilson’s digital illustrations convey the joyful fun of marching in the parade as well as watching it from the sidelines. They expertly communicate Emily’s emotions via facial expressions and body language, whether the child is grinning and striding toward the train, hand-in-hand with Mama and Mommy, or gazing wide-eyed at the people marching and pondering the possibility of joining them..

The final page of The Rainbow Parade includes photos of Neilson as a child attending Pride celebrations with their family, as well as a moving note in which Neilson pays tribute to their moms for teaching them “how powerful it can be when we love and accept ourselves.”

Correction, May 26, 2022: A shortened version of this article that appeared in print used pronouns when referring to the protagonist of The Rainbow Parade. This character’s pronouns are not specified in the text of the book.

The past is present in these books that powerfully remind us how young people will one day lead us all into the future.

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