Great Reading Lists are Sparked by Kindred Spirits


Summer break means summer reading! The two of us – Jess and Tricia - have been comparing lists of books we have “on deck”—meaning they are on the top of our piles and ready to be read, books we hope to revisit or reread this summer, books with upcoming publication dates that we can’t wait to read, and books we hope our students will explore—next to the pool, in the shade, in a tent, wherever summer takes them.

Being English teachers, we have big summer reading plans for ourselves, and our lists are pretty long! What follows is a shortened list of titles—we both are sharing one title for each category, and while this was a delightful undertaking, shortening our lists was no easy feat! It was an important task, however, because we want to leave room for your suggestions. 

What’s on deck?


Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War and Survival by Jeffrey Gettleman

This title is being added in real time. I am working on this blog post while listening to the most recent Pod Save the World episode in which Tommy Vietor is interviewing New York Times journalist Jeffrey Gettleman about his new book Love, Africa. In the interview, Gettleman describes how a trip he took across Africa at age 18 changed his life and he cites Dan Eldon, who was on the trip, as being central to that transformation. The book tells this story and all that has transpired as a result of that trip.

Here’s the description from the back cover:

A seasoned war correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman has covered every major conflict over the past twenty years, from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Congo. For the past decade, he has served as the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times, fulfilling a teenage dream.

At nineteen, Gettleman fell in love for the first time—twice. On a do-it-yourself community-service trip in college, he went to East Africa—a terrifying, exciting, dreamlike part of the world in the throes of change that imprinted itself on his imagination and on his heart. But at around the same time he also fell in love with a fellow Cornell student—the brightest, classiest, most principled woman he’d ever met. To say they were opposites was an understatement. She became a criminal lawyer in America; he hungered to be in Africa. For the next decade he would be torn by two dueling obsessions.

A sensually rendered coming-of-age story, Love, Africa is a tale of passion, violence, far-flung adventure, tortuous long-distance relationships, screwups, forgiveness, parenthood, and happiness that explores the power of self-discovery in the most unexpected of places.



The Inheritance of Loss book cover

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Check out the following description of The Inheritance of Loss by Penguin Random House:

In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas lives an embittered judge who wants only to retire in peace, when his orphaned granddaughter, Sai, arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s cook watches over her distractedly, for his thoughts are often on his son, Biju, who is hopscotching from one gritty New York restaurant to another. Kiran Desai’s brilliant novel, published to huge acclaim, is a story of joy and despair. Her characters face numerous choices that majestically illuminate the consequences of colonialism as it collides with the modern world.

Truth time. I discovered this title because a passage from the book was on a practice AP Literature test I gave my students in April. We had the best discussions about the richness of Desai’s prose which is simultaneously detailed and nuanced. I jotted the title down in the back of my lesson planner. The above description of Desai’s bestseller, winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award has landed it at the very top of my list.


What do you want to revisit or reread?


Half the Sky book cover

 Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

I read this book a few years ago in the spring when my students were engaging in human rights-inspired Rock Your World projects. On one hand, the timing was perfect as I was able to make real-time connections between what I was reading and the work that was happening in my classroom. On the other hand, I was reading the book with my teacher lens. I look forward to revisiting the text this summer, taking the time to engage more deeply with the issues and ideas Kristof and WuDunn provide.

 Here’s an excerpt from the Penguin Random House description:

 From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.

They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.

Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part.



Dark Fields of the Republic book cover

Dark Fields of the Republic by Adrienne Rich

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned to Tricia multiple times that Adrienne Rich is one of my writing heroes. Adept in both poetry and essay, every word she uses carries its weight. I miss her voice but am grateful for her work, which provides new discoveries every time I settle into a quiet space to read and reflect. These poems, written between 1991 and1995, are impossible to tire of and invite me into their sacred space. 

From W.W. Norton & Company: 

When does a life bend towards freed? grasp its direction" asks Adrienne Rich in Dark Fields of the Republic, her major new work. Her explorations go to the heart of democracy and love, and the historical and present endangerment of both. A theater of voices of men and women, the dead and the living, over time and across continents, the poems of Dark Fields of the Republic take conversations, imaginary and real, actions taken for better or worse, out of histories and songs to extend the poet's reach of witness and power of connection—and then invites the reader to participate.


What are you waiting for?


You Bring the Distant Near book cover

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

I was excited to learn that my school is looking to bring Mitali Perkins in for an author visit next year, and even more so when I saw the description for her upcoming novel You Bring the Distant Near, which is set for publication in September 2017. 

Here’s the description for the book from Penguin Random House:

Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture—for better or worse.

From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.

Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.



Hunger book cover

Hunger by Roxane Gay

I learned about Roxane Gay when I attended a writing conference in Minneapolis several years ago. My colleagues and I were having dinner at a local bar and grill when we noticed a crowd of people swarming around a woman we could barely see. Quickly, word spread that Roxane Gay was “in the house.” The author of the New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist signed napkins, discussed her current work, and humored the crowd with grace and humility until it thinned. I began reading her work that night.

Gay’s voice is unique, confident and wildly important. Her views carve new paths of understanding regarding gender and race, and her take on American culture is fresh and intriguing. Hunger promises to be evocative and relevant. Here’s a bit more regarding her upcoming memoir as posted on the author’s website: 

New York Times best-selling author Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health.


What are you hoping your students will check out this summer?


The Sun is also a Star book cover

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My classroom has been abuzz for months with excitement over Nicola Yoon’s book Everything, Everything being adapted into a movie. That book has been a top pick all year, so my copies have rarely been on shelves! Instead, they have been passed hand to hand as students profess their love of the story and the unique way it is written. Admittedly, most of those readers were girls—which I attribute not to the romance which is central to the story, but to the first-person female narrator.

The Sun Is Also a Star, also a teen romance, is written in the alternating perspectives of Natasha and Daniel. The story takes place almost entirely over a 24-hour period, and  explores the timely and culturally relevant issues of immigration and identity as an American. I think this book will resonate with guys and girls alike and will provide them with many ideas to consider.

Check out this description from The School Library Journal, written by Kristin Anderson:

It is Natasha's last day in New York City, where she has lived for 10 years. Her family, living as undocumented immigrants in a small Brooklyn apartment, is being deported to Jamaica after her father's arrest for drunk driving. Natasha is scouring the city for a chance to stay in the United States legally. She wants the normal teen existence of her peers. Meanwhile, poetic Daniel is on his way to an interview as part of his application process to Yale. He is under great pressure to get in because his parents (who emigrated from South Korea) are adamant that he become a doctor. Events slowly conspire to bring the two leads together. When Daniel and Natasha finally meet, he falls in love immediately and convinces her to join him for the day. They tell their stories in alternating chapters. Additional voices are integrated into the book as characters interact with them. Both relatable and profound, the bittersweet ending conveys a sense of hopefulness that will resonate with teens. VERDICT: This wistful love story will be adored by fans of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park and by those who enjoyed the unique narrative structure of A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz.



Saints and Misfits book cover

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

This title will debut from Simon & Schuster in early June. Entertainment Weekly listed it as a most anticipated title in the young adult book world. The description is captivating:

Janna Yusuf has a lot to deal with.

The Arab Indian-American teen at the center of S.K. Ali’s Saints and Misfits has to cope with not only her parent’s divorce (and her father’s brand-new family) but also Muhammad, her mama’s boy older brother. Added to that is the fact that she’s suddenly developing feelings for a boy, Jeremy, while also figuring out what dating might look like for a Muslim girl.

But that’s not the biggest thing eating away at Janna. Turns out the Flanner O’Connor-loving teen knows that someone at her mosque, who everyone else considers quite holy, is not the person he says he is. And she might be the only one who knows.

Another confession—I know next to nothing about the author, S.K. Ali, but I can’t wait to learn more, and I certainly hope my students become engaged in reading about multicultural youth. 


Stack of books

Call to Action: Hey, Kindred Spirits! 


  • What books are on deck for you this summer? 

  • Which books do you hope to revisit or reread? 

  • What books are you waiting for? 

  • And what books do you hope your students check out this summer? 

  • Please add titles for any or all of the categories in the comments below!


Author Bios

Tricia Baldes

Tricia Baldes earned a master’s in English from Lehman College and has been a middle level educator since 2001. Her passion for human rights education has led to her writing curriculum and consulting with nonprofit organizations like Creative Visions, Speak Truth to Power and KidsRights. She co-authored the Rock Your World curriculum and currently works with the team as a program coordinator. In addition to presenting at national conferences for NCTE and ACSD, Baldes has led various teacher trainings and programs for students. She teaches eighth-grade English in Westchester County, N.Y.



 Jess Burnquist 

Jess Burnquist earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,,, and various online and print journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award. She teaches high school English, creative writing and AP Literature in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and is a program coordinator for Rock Your World. Her poetry chapbook You May Feel Your Way Past Me is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in spring 2017.