by Andy Zell
Summer reading is the time to read books that aren’t on the list or on the table at the bookstore prominently displayed. It’s the time for picking up the unexpected and adventurous. All reading can transport me to another time and place. Summer reading is for transportation to a wholly different time and place, perhaps even a little fantastical.
Last summer I spent a lot of time in Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea kingdom hanging out with dragons.
But this summer, it was time to get in trouble. So I read Kelly Link’s recent collection of short stories by the same name. They feature the weird and wild, the humorous and haunted, the serious and superheroic. It was a terrific summer read.
In “The New Boyfriend” a batch of automaton boyfriends make an appearance, each with a different aspect. One is a vampire, another is a werewolf, but the newest one can go spectral. All three of the fake boyfriends belong to Ainslie, a rich girl who has whatever she wants. Despite this setup that resembles a mashup of Bride of Frankenstein and Twilight, the story concerns the relationships of Ainslie and her friends, especially the slightly jealous Immy. It never loses sight of the human in the B-movie settings.
“Secret Identity” is a letter from another teenage girl named Billie to the alter-ego of a superhero (unsettling for me his name was the same as my older brother, adding another layer to the disturbing proceedings. If your brother’s name isn’t Paul Zell, it won’t have quite the same effect. I suggest substituting your own brother’s name for fun.) She met him online and pretended to be older, but now she wants to meet in New York City. It’s a catfish story, but it’s unclear who is the cat and who is the fish. Again, Link’s elaborate and marvelous setup is really a human story of a teenager figuring out who she is.
It’s this quality of the fantastic, when in the best hands like Link’s, that helps the reader to get out of the ordinary world and see something different, all while shedding light on some part of the ordinary that we often overlook. Plus, it’s fun. And summer is the time to put feet up, sip a cool beverage, and dive right into an enjoyable book.
You might like Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble (you can even try the first story here for free). But if you don’t try her book of stories, you still ought to get in trouble with some other book, something you wouldn’t normally read.