Dog Days of Summer: A Reading List

Ten books that kill the dog, wave guns around, or just make you ache.

Beware any book with a dog on the cover — Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller, Marley & Me. We all know how these stories end. And yet, we keep reaching for those stories again and again. We want to feel something through these stories — we like the ache they give us. Here are 10 stories to make you ache. Hard reads? Yes. Worth the time? Definitely.

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West
Nate Blakeslee
The story you didn’t know you wanted to read about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. Written by a young journalist who is admittedly a little more on the side of the wolves, the book nonetheless makes a real effort to present both sides of the wolves issue. This one will make you cry. Read it anyway.

Only Child
Rhiannon Navin
A school shooting rocks the community. A family of four is brought down to a family of three when one son survives the shooting and the other does not. A very timely debut that analyzes gun control and justice from the narrative perspective of a six-year-old, albeit a very Zen six-year-old. Bring tissues.

Anatomy of a Miracle
Jonathan Miles
How do you balance faith and science? For army veteran Cameron Harris, this question becomes the focus of his life when, after four years of living wheelchair-bound, he one day miraculously (?) stands up and walks. This book examines the limits of science, the depths of faith, sexuality, love, and acceptance. While it presents the narrative as a reporter relaying the events, this book is a novel.

Gun Love
Jennifer Clement
Pearl, a 13-year-old girl, has lived her whole life with her mom in the back seat of a rusting car, parked at the edge of a trailer park. The back seat is her bedroom, the front seat her dining room table where she does her homework. A very brash and unapologetic novel with a very brash and unapologetic main character, this book examines, among other things, gun control (we sensing a timely theme here, people?), foster homes, and drug trafficking.

The Spider and the Fly: A Writer, a Murderer, and a Story of Obsession
Claudia Rowe
Four bodies in an attic, and a family living nonchalantly below. The tiny town of Poughkeepsie, New York, is shocked the day the bodies are pulled into the street and the serial killer led away in chains — a man like that, living so quietly among us? Journalist Claudia Rowe, anxious for something more to report on than the annual balloon festival and fair-weather reports, follows a rabbit hole down to corresponding one on one with the murderer himself, revealing startling personal details about her life in the hopes that he will do the same for her — most importantly, why?

Speak No Evil
Uzodinma Iweala
Figuring out your sexuality and who you are is never easy — especially when others’ louder voices threaten to overrule your own. Niru Ikemadu certainly feels this, when the perfect-on-paper young man finds his eyes drawn to the other boys in the locker room, and he has only his best friend, Meredith, in whom to confide. He certainly can’t tell his conservative Nigerian father or his submissive but loving mother, but when the word is leaked, Niru finds himself suddenly adrift, questioning everything that makes him who he is.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Gail Honeyman
Spoiler alert: she’s not completely fine. A fascinating read by emerging Scottish writer Gail Honeyman, this novel is funny and dark and thrilling and terrifying. Eleanor Oliphant lives by schedules, rule, and solitude, and she prefers it that way, thank you very much. So when people, namely an IT tech called Ray, start poking around in her business, trying to crack open the rigid shell surrounding young Eleanor, she is both annoyed and intrigued by what he might find — and by what she discovers about herself, as well.

My Absolute Darling
Gabriel Tallent
This is a hard one. Trigger warning — depictions of rape, violence, and incest. Fourteen-year-old Turtle is a wild young woman who roams the beaches and forests of the northern California coast. She lives with her father and grandfather in a dilapidated house, avoids the eyes and attention of the other students or her teachers at school, and feels most free out barefoot among the trees and ferns. But when she meets Jacob, who thinks Turtle is bright and intriguing and beautiful, her view of the world is forced to shift a little, and suddenly she is given new perspective on her life, and it isn’t okay what she sees.

The Boat People
Sharon Bala
Standing at the country’s border, watching a rusting ship carrying 500+ immigrants drifting toward shores, who is the one who decides who will stay and who will go? Follow the heartbreaking journey of the Sri Lankan immigrants who sail desperately from their war-torn country to Canada. They barely set foot on Canadian soil before they are locked up and imprisoned while their cases for asylum are heard, one by one, and their fates are determined. Families are separated, identities and cultures confused — how to decide if these are refugees seeking asylum, or terrorists bringing their war with them?

Self-Portrait with Boy
Rachel Lyon
A shocking debut, and one of my favorites of this year. Lu Rile is a skinny, friendless aspiring artist barely scrapping by in New York in the early 1990s. She makes a daily practice of snapping self-portraits as a way to hone her craft and to keep from going crazy, and one day she captures it: her masterpiece. A masterpiece she can potentially never show the world, as the most perfect photo imaginable happens to depict a young boy falling to his death. Not fallen, falling, rushing past Lu’s window as she leaps across it. What follows is a terrifying, dizzying story of the balance between art and invasion, the gorgeous and the garish. Check out my full review of this book here.

PAIGE M. FERRO is Deputy Editor at Alternating Current Press. Her fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and She holds degrees in Creative Writing, Literature, and Spanish from the University of Montana, and her writings focus on Queer Studies. You can find her online at her website.