A Summer Break Reading Guide for All Ages

Summer means different things to different people, depending on their age, their life situation, their life goals—and their reading habits. Some folks read their one book a year over the summer, lazing on a beach. Others sail into June with a reading list arranged alphabetically and by length. Some just like to wander into bookstores all summer long and pick up random books. If you err on the side of planning, here are some recommendations for how to approach your summer reading list, designed for all kinds of people doing all kinds of things.

For teens fresh out of school
Are you ready for the summer? Sure, there’s going to be plenty to do as you try to cram a full year of living into a three-month period that must also include Little League, dance class, and camping with the scouts, but there’s always time to read. If you’re into fantasy novels with a kick, check out Royal Bastards, by Andrew Shvarts, which is like Game of Thrones if the kids did more butt-kicking and less suffering. Looking for a great romance to reignite your faith in humanity? Try Once and for All, by Sarah Dessen, in which Louna’s summer job working for her wedding planner mother leads to a second-chance romance. And if you want a period-piece mystery (and who doesn’t?), check out The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein.

For older teens heading into college
This is it, the last summer before the rest of your life, so make the most of it. First, indulge a little and have some fun with Stephen King’s latest, Gwendy’s Button Box. Next, bone up on your life skills with How to Be a Bawse, by Lilly Singh—because you’re gonna need those skills. Finally, burnish your literary side with A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, a perfect novel to get your brain back into a more thoughtful mode.

For graduates seeking their first job
It’s time to put away childish things and get a job—or at least designate a single room (or drawer) in your new place where the childish things live. In the meantime, entering into adult life is daunting, so kick it off with The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson, one of the best guides to life you’ll ever read. Then, get practical with Finance for Normal People, by Meir Statman, and get a side hustle going with the help of The Big Life, by Ann Shoket—because you’re gonna need one.

For parents about to have a houseful of kids on summer break
You’ve gotten used to being able to sip a cup of tea and listen to a podcast while you plan your day, but that’s all over. Soon you’ll be living in a bouncy house that doesn’t bounce. You’re gonna need an escape, so stock up on smart but thrilling new books like The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware, or a sci-fi adventure like The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., by Neal Stephenson, or a smart retelling of a classic like The One that Got Away, Melissa Pimentel’s take on Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

For young professionals still dreaming of long-lost summer vacation
Sometimes you’re like Jack from Lost and you just want to go back to the island—in this case, the days when you were still a kid and not a world-weary adult. Relive the good old days this summer while commuting to your first real job, with a delightful confection like hilarious diary-style story Confessions of a High School Disaster, by Emma Chastain, coming-of-age classic Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, or, as a reminder of how awful everything was in high school, Carrie, by Stephen King.

For empty nesters
Your footfalls echo through the place, and suddenly you have nothing but time. This is the summer you train yourself to read again, with all the books you’ve missed over the last, oh, twenty years, like big art mystery The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, perennial must-read My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, and alt-universe slavery era epic Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.

For the newly retired
You did your bit, you saved your pennies, you raised your kids: you now have the time to read whatever you want—and time means you can start a book series with a few dozen books, because why not? Start off with a classic historical adventure like the Aubrey-Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian, or an epic fantasy like The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan, or J.D. Robb’s In Death series, kicking off with Naked in Death.

For folks who don’t read much
You’ve got one book in you every year, so it has to count. This summer, there are a huge list of wonderful reads to choose from, including what might be this year’s Gone Girl, The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena, or The Duchess, the latest from go-to fave Danielle Steel, or what’s sure to be the new hot title in thrillers this year, Rag Doll, by Daniel Cole.

For folks who read everything
You’ve spent the first six months of the year reading at a pace that would kill most people, so you don’t really need a summer list, do you? Try to spice it up anyway with indie books you might miss otherwise, like Stephen Florida, by Gabe Habash, the story of a high school athlete unaware of the enormity of his own depression, or Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang, which captures what HBO’s Girls would be if it accurately represented the demographics of New York City, or a fun nostalgia-soaked horror novel like Meddling Kids, by Edgar Cantero.

A can’t-miss, fail-safe choice for everybody
You have a bunch of books, or you only read one book, or you don’t like to be ruled by lists—fair enough. Take a bit of a stretch and read Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. It’s a little weird, a little literary, and, for some, a little hard to get into over the first few pages. Then something clicks and you adore it, and it makes your summer.

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