For all the learning we do during the school year, summer is the season of greatest growth—simply because it’s so unstructured and unsupervised. Sure, there are the timeworn rituals of sleepaway camp family road trips, but those just give summer breakers a chance to meet people from other walks of life. In short, summer can change your life: You might meet friends who get you better than anyone in your school does, or spark with a crush who lives across the country (or across the world). You could hit puberty, rule your camp, throw an unforgettable party. You might also encounter divorce or death. YA novelists know how epic out-of-the-classroom learning can be, and they show it in these 6 books about life-changing summers.
One Moment in Time, by Lauren Barnholdt
Popular opinion would have you believe the months between high school and college are a heady time where little teenaged butterflies pop into their cocoons, then emerge as new people ready for the next stage of life. But in Barnholdt’s Moment of Truth trilogy, the three protagonists have already become different people, with a major fight breaking up their once unshakeable bonds. Lyla, Aven, and Quinn made a pact that they would do something crazy together before graduation, but come senior trip time, the emails they wrote themselves four years ago are like relics from another lifetime. That is, until Quinn takes a risk that quenches her desire for wildness but hurts her heart. Through these books (each narrated by one girl), we discover what changed since freshman year, and whether they’re able to go back.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares
No character exits the first Sisterhood book the same person she was at the start of that summer. In fact, it’s worth arguing whose life changes the most: Bridget and Tibby experience the more “cinematic” coming-of-age arcs of sex and death, but Lena and Carmen learn to confront what they’ve been hiding from themselves—Lena’s capacity for love, and Carmen’s rage at her father for remarrying. Their magical pants have to work overtime to fit these rapidly changing young women!
Just One Day, by Gayle Forman
Forman’s swooningly romantic Just One Day throws type-A traveler Allyson Healey a curveball on her first European trip, in the form of relaxed, confident actor Willem De Ruiter. When they meet at a performance of Twelfth Night in Paris, he offers to show her the city…and she abandons her carefully planned trip to say yes. But then he disappears the next day, the final day of her three-week trip. He’s already changed her, but it’s the next few months that truly form her into a new person, as she grapples with who he was and what their day together meant to her.
Roomies, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
It used to be you awkwardly met your college roommate on move-in day, with parents in tow and boxes everywhere. But now, thanks to technology and social media, you can know everything about the person with whom you’ll be spending the next nine months crammed into a tiny double. As Zarr and Altebrando’s collaboration reveals, that comes with its own set of pressures—and the chance of completely misunderstanding each other, which is what happens with New Jersey native Elizabeth and San Franciscan Lauren. Combine the fact that they’re communicating over email (which we all know twists tone) with preconceived notions about each other, and their friendship gets off to a rocky start. But the summer before college is ripe with the potential to become the person you want to be. It’s never too late to make a good first impression on your future roomie.
This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Summer traditions, like going to your family lake house, can be comforting in their familiarity. But as you grow up, those places start to lose their magic, especially when they’re paired with real-life issues like your parents fighting. Seeking to escape her fracturing family, Rose joins younger summer friend Windy in facing their anxieties about growing up. The changes in This One Summer aren’t heavily broadcast, but rather beautifully evoked through the girls’ interactions and through the background narrative of the older townie teens whose story unfolds throughout their trip. It’s a story about young women teetering on the cusp of womanhood, longing to return to carefree childhood summers but also fascinated by what’s waiting on the other side.
Proof of Forever, by Lexa Hillyer
Hillyer’s debut has been called “The Sisterhood of the (Time) Traveling Pants for a new generation,” because instead of a magical pair of formfitting jeans, you’ve got a photo booth that transports four former best friends back to a summer camp session two years prior. Joy, Tali, Luce, and Zoe must mine the past two years to discover where they went wrong, and what made Joy walk away from their friendships with no explanation. As they retrace their steps during the week they spent at Camp Okahatchee, taking care not to change the past, they stumble upon the dark secret that divided them.