12 Summer Reads Starring New Jersey

Stay entertained at the beach, on the boat, by the pool or in your backyard.

Illustration of woman on boat reading "Sea Change" by Gina Chung

Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

Sea Change

Gina Chung
Vintage Books, March 28

In her debut novel, Bergen County native Gina Chung contemplates trauma, loss and change. She tells the story of Ro, a Korean American woman estranged from her mother. Below the surface, Ro experiences heartbreak when her boyfriend leaves to join an expedition to Mars, leaving her to continue working at an aquarium. Ro finds comfort in Dolores, a giant Pacific octopus who lives in the aquarium. When Ro discovers that Dolores has been sold to a wealthy investor, she must decide if she will let the past bury her, or if she will battle against the current and create a new life for herself. —Olivia Bardo

Speaking Yiddish to Chickens: Holocaust Survivors on South Jersey Poultry Farms

Seth Stern
Rutgers University Press, March 17

Nearly 1,000 Eastern European Jews immigrated to Vineland and the surrounding region after World War II to start new lives as farmers. Bloomberg journalist Seth Stern, whose maternal grandparents made that journey, compellingly recounts the farmers’ successes and setbacks in adapting to a new life and language. It’s a story that remains relevant amid the continuing debate on immigration. —Tom Wilk

The Daughter Ship

Boo Trundle
Pantheon Books, June 27

In her unique debut novel, Maplewood resident Boo Trundle tells the story of Katherine, a woman haunted by sexual trauma and other dark memories, losing and finding herself over the course of her lifetime. Told through the perspectives of Katherine’s multiple inner lives, The Daughter Ship details the fractured parts of the mother of two, who struggles with many fears and intrusive thoughts. The story unfolds in alternating vignettes narrated by Truitt, Star and Smooshed Bug, versions of her childhood self who convene in a rusted World War II submarine in Virginia Beach, where they manage the stormy waters of her past and strive for liberation in Katherine’s future. —OB

Deliver Me From Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska

Warren Zanes
Penguin Random House, May 2

Dive into the making of an iconic album by a New Jersey rocker. In Deliver Me From Nowhere, Montclair author and musican Warren Zanes tells the story of how Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska came to be. One of Springsteen’s darker records, the 1982 solo project includes songs such as “Atlantic City,” “Open All Night,” “Mansion On The Hill” and “Johnny 99.” Now Zanes, who played alongside the Boss as a member of the Del Fuegos, is telling the tales behind an album that Rolling Stone has consistently described as one of the greatest of all time. —Gary Phillips

The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins, MIT, and the Fight for Women in Science

Kate Zernike
Simon & Schuster, February 28

When MIT admitted in 1989 to discriminating against female members of its faculty, it created a paradigm shift in the way institutions across the country treated women at the top levels of science. New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, who lives in Montclair, tells the story of the women who made it all happen and their brave fight to be treated fairly. She also examines how their effort to be treated equally continues to have an impact on the world of science today. —Jacqueline Mroz

Walking With Sam: A Father, A Son and Five Hundred Miles Across Spain

Andrew McCarthy
Grand Central Publishing, May 9

Brat Pack actor Andrew McCarthy, who grew up in Westfield, wanted to find a way to create a meaningful connection with his eldest son, Sam, before he left home. So the pair decided to set out on a trek, walking 500 miles across Spain’s Camino de Santiago. As father and son traveled the country, they talked about divorce, school, McCarthy’s relationship with his father, and blisters. Before this trip, the actor had first been to Spain 25 years earlier. McCarthy, who starred in the iconic films Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, is the author of two other books, The Longest Way Home and Just Fly Away. —JM

The Jake Show

Joshua S. Levy
HarperCollins, May 23

Joshua S. Levy holds a copy of his latest book, "The Jake Show"

Joshua S. Levy hopes that his stories help children work through their own experiences. Photo: Chris Buck

Joshua S. Levy understands the reality of living multiple lives. Levy, 37, is a director in the commercial and criminal litigation group at Gibbons P.C., a law firm in Newark. Outside of his 9-to-5 job, Levy writes middle-grade fiction. The Milford resident’s latest book, The Jake Show, tells the story of Jake Lightman, a Jewish teenager starting seventh grade at his fifth new school since his parents’ divorce. Torn between the worlds of his Orthodox mother and secular father, TV-obsessed Jake dreams up realities in his head in order to escape his constantly shifting world. When his new friends invite him to summer camp, Jake must create an elaborate lie so that both of his parents will let him go. Read more here—OB

Jamie MacGillivray: The Renegade’s Journey

John Sayles
Melville House, February 28 

Former longtime Hoboken resident and acclaimed filmmaker, actor, screenwriter and novelist John Sayles (Lone Star and Passion Fish are among his many notable films) has written a historical novel about a Scottish soldier named Jamie MacGillivray who escapes death twice and is then shipped to the Colonies to become an indentured servant. It follows his story as well as that of Jenny, a poor servant girl who is also sent in chains to the New World. This sweeping novel chronicles their escape and romantic liaison, while they cross paths with the leading historical and political figures of their time. —JM

From Protest to President: A Social Justice Journey through the Emergence of Adult Education and the Birth of Distance Learning

George A. Pruitt with Melissa A. Maszczak
Rutgers University Press, December 2022

George A. Pruitt’s long career in higher education culminated with 35 years as president of Thomas Edison State University in Trenton. The Mississippi native writes movingly of growing up in segregated conditions and how he overcame those obstacles. Pruitt chronicles the presidential post’s challenges and rewards, provides a unique perspective on the evolution of education, and shares leadership lessons he learned along the way. —TW

In the Orchard

Eliza Minot
Knopf, April 25

In her third novel, Maplewood’s Eliza Minot tackles the life of a young wife and mother, and all her dreams and challenges, on a single day. Maisie Moore is the mother of four young children, and this day unfolds just weeks after she has given birth. She is distracted by the family’s finances, the demands of her kids and running a home. When the family is out for their annual apple-picking trip, Maisie ruminates about marriage, birth, mothers and infants. —JM

How Can I Help You?

Laura Sims
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, July 18

An engrossing mystery set at a small-town public library follows Margo, a former nurse with a dark past who has reinvented herself as a library assistant, and her colleagues, as they navigate annoying reference calls, lewd patrons—and murder. But when a struggling novelist joins the staff as a reference librarian, she begins to suspect Margo is hiding something sinister and puts her library skills to use probing deeper into Margo’s past. Author Laura Sims, who is a part-time reference librarian in South Orange and the author of Looker, will keep you guessing in this slow-burn psychological thriller—until the very end. Bunny author Mona Awad called it “compulsive and unforgettable.” —Jaime Bedrin

Hello Beautiful

Ann Napolitano
Dial Press, March 14

Illustration of woman at beach reading "Hello Beautiful" by Ann Napolitano

Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

It’s been quite a year for novelist Ann Napolitano. Dear Edward, the writer’s 2020 best-selling novel about the lone survivor of a plane crash, was turned into a successful series on Apple TV+. And now, none other than Oprah Winfrey has chosen Napolitano’s latest book, Hello Beautiful, as her 100th book club selection. Hello Beautiful is a touching, carefully woven story about the four Padavano sisters from Chicago. But it’s also the story of William Waters, a man who marries into the family, bringing with him hefty emotional baggage that he isn’t capable of unpacking. Read more here—JB

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