13 YA Beach Reads to Take on Your Summer Vacation

CHICAGO - JULY 24: A beachgoer reads a book as she seeks relief from the heat on a beach along Lake Michigan July 24, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. Extreme hot weather has hit several parts of the nation with highs over 100 degrees predicted in the Chicago area. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Whether you're vacationing to a tropical island, staying at your local beach, or pulling up a beach chair to your child-size blow-up pool in your yard and pretending it's the South of France (you're holding a glass of vin, it counts), every sun-soaked summer day needs a good beach read.

There's just something about summer, and YA characters know it, too. 

The power of the season does something to young adult protagonists. It allows them to let loose, fall in love, be adventurous, and — as is the case for more than one YA beach read — go skinny dipping. And of course, in the summer, there's always time for romance. Maybe you're an island local when a handsome New Yorker comes to visit your little beach town. Or maybe you're the visitor, and you spend your days on a beach towel watching the tall, blond surfer catch waves, wondering what he or she is up to later on. These YA heroines really know how to live summer.

And there's no reason we readers shouldn't be living vicariously.

Have a pull toward Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard? There's a whole slew of YA beach reads set on those Massachusetts islands. More of a glitzy Hamptons girl? Grab your pearls, straw hat, and sarong and read along. With these 13 YA novels, you will practically be able to smell the bonfires, taste the salt air, and feel the sand between your toes. 

1. Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland

Sure, on the surface it seems like Nantucket Blue is a pure summer romance story, with From Here to Eternity-esque rolls in the surf, but inside the pages, there is a whole lot more. Teenager Cricket also thinks that a summer in Nantucket with her best friend will be straight out of a movie, but after her friend experiences a tragedy, the whole summer changes. Cricket's job, friend, and potential boyfriend are also all not how she imagined they would be, and she ends up learning life lessons about family and love.

Most summery quote:

Jules hated it when I used "delicious" to describe anything but food, but that day he was nothing if not a sugar cone of melting sea salt and caramel gelato.  

2. The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greeland

There's no time like summertime to truly experience freedom. And in The Summer My Life Began, Elizabeth "Em" Margaret is starting to see that herself. Her parents have always had plans for her — Harvard, law firms, stability — but those plans aren't exactly what Em wants. And so this summer, Em takes off for her aunt's house near the beach and, as you do, falls for a laid-back, no-stress surfer boy.

Most summery quote:

In front of us, the ocean stretched for eternity. Around us, reggae mussy floated through the air. In our drying clothes and still-damp hair, we ate junk food and talked.

3. Rules of Summer by Joanna Philbin

Middle-class teenager Rory finds herself whisked away to East Hampton for a summer of wealth, class, and unlikely romance. She's a fish out of water, as the only reason Rory is able to stay in the lap of luxury — and with the spoiled teenager Isabel — is because her aunt is a housekeeper for a wealthy family and she signs on to run their errands. But when Isabel falls for a local surfer (again, as you do), Rory also finds an unlikely romance with Isabel's older brother Connor — and neither romance is going to go over too well to those around them.

Most summery quote:

She leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes. A soft breeze came through the open window, and in the distance, she could hear the roll of the waves.

4. All I Need by Susane Colasanti

I'll have to second Kirkus when talking about Susane Colasanti's All I Need: "Grab your blankets and sunscreen now: This is an ideal summer beach book." It might be the final night of summer for Skye, but there is still time for some summer magic. Enter: Seth. But when Seth leaves for college without the two exchanging contact info, they have to leave it up to serendipity to see if summer love can truly last all year.

Most summery quote: 

If you could turn summer into a girl, she's how it would look. Shiny blonde hair. Cute cutoff shorts. Tan from chilling at the beach all summer.

5. What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

As people who live at the beach year-round know, there are summer people, and there are real islanders. Gwen is a real islander, but Cassidy doesn't fit easily into either. He's a wealthy local, who doesn't know anything about the feel of sand in your bed. Cassidy is also Gwen's biggest mistake — or so she says. But it's up to readers to unravel what happened between them the past spring and how that will affect their lives in the sticky heat of summer.

Most summery quote:

And this is the hardest, weirdest part of not being that barefoot girl and that towheaded boy running down the sand to the water, all legs and elbows and unself-conscious. Suddenly, you edge your way to the end of your second ten years and BOOM. Your choices matter. Not chocolate or vanilla, bridge or pier, Sandy Claw or Abenaki. It’s your whole life. We’re suddenly this close, like Nic said, to the wrong move. Or the right one. It matters now.

6. Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Friends Anna and Frankie know the math. They'll be in Zanzibar Bay for 20 days, and if they meet one boy a day, one of them is bound to stick, right? But a game between friends obscures the secret that Anna has already had the summer fling of her life, and it was with Frankie's older brother before he tragically died. Go ahead and throw some tissues into your beach bag alongside your sunscreen.

Most summery quote:

Like Sam, making smoothies on the beach two thousand miles away. Like Frankie, my voodoo magic butterfly finding her way back home in the dark. Like the stars, fading with the halo of the vanishing moon. Like the ocean, falling and whispering against the shore. Nothing ever really goes away — it just changes into something else. Something beautiful. 

7. The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Emaline has the perfect boyfriend, she lives in the perfect beach town, and it's that perfect summer right before college. But ideal on paper doesn't always translate to real life. And in The Moon and More, Emaline is faced with a not-so-perfect vision of the future, with visitor Theo, an outsider from the big city working on a documentary, and she thinks that maybe, just maybe not-perfect is the happiest way to be. Can we really ever have it all?

Most summery quote: 

It was the very nature of summer. So many long, lazy days when blissfully, nothing changes, and then everything does, all at once. 

8. The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells

Novels that reminisce about summer are perhaps the most summery novels of all. And The Summer of Skinny Dipping has Mia Gordon flashing back to that pivotal summer, à la Jay Gatsby and his days with Daisy Buchanan. She sees flashes of Simon's pale face glowing against the dark waves at night, and she knows that this summer, this one summer has changed everything for both of them, and they can never go back. But if you know The Great Gatsby, you know that these pivotal summers don't always work out how you envisioned, even if your love is true.

Most summery quote:

After that, Simon swam naked every night. By the third skinny dipping session, I secretly peeled off my bikini top while I was in the water. It was safe. Simon was splashing somewhere ahead of me. He couldn’t see. It was an amazing feeling. I felt free.

9. Sleepaway Girls by Jen Calonita

Though Sleepaway Girls may not take place on the beach, it's as summery as flip-flops and ice cream cones. And anyone who has ever been to summer camp needs to get ahold of Jen Calonita's novel, complete with cabin rivalries, drop-dead handsome older counselors, food fights, and everything else that goes along with sleepaway camp. Sam ditches a summer with her friend and her too-cozy new boyfriend (aka "Pookie") to become a counselor in training at Whispering Pines in the Catskills. Can't you just smell the campfires?

Most (summer campy) summery quote:

“We need a name that only we would understand.”
“Boy crazy?” Court suggested. Grace made a face.
“I’ve got one,” Em said. “What about the sleepaway girls? That’s what we are, aren’t we?”
Sleepaway girls. I kind of liked that. “Works for me,” I said.
Court grinned. “Well, sleepaway girls, I have a feeling this is the start of something amazing.”

10. Sixteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton

Every year, Anna dreads when the outsiders, the tourists, invade her little piece of paradise for the summer. But this year, her 16th, one of those outsiders is a stunning boy from New York (aren't they all?) named Will. And he changes everything. As the beautiful summer days start to lead to chillier nights, however, the finite nature of summer begins to take hold of the relationship.

Most summery quote:

And I knew just about everything there was to know about Dune Island. That’s the little sliver of sand, sea oats, and sno-cones off the coast of Georgia where I’ve lived for my entire sixteen-year existence.

I knew, for instance, where to get the spiciest low-country boil (The Swamp) and the sweetest oysters (Fiddlehead). Finding the most life-changing ice cream cone was an easy one. You went to The Scoop, which just happened to be owned by my parents.

While the “shoobees” who invaded the island every summer tiptoed around our famously delicate dunes (in their spotless, still-sporting-the-price-tag rubber shoes), I knew how to pick my way through the long, fuzzy grass without crushing a single blade.

11. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Jenny Han's The Summer I Turned Pretty and its sequels are already well-known as some of YA's most quintessential summer books. Their heroine, Belly, and the two boys that have captured her heart since that first summer, Conrad and Jeremiah, know that the best things in life happen between June and August. But as readers will also come to know, they're not always the things you were expecting.

Most summery quote:

When you walk on the beach at night, you can say things you can't say in real life.

12. The Beach Lane Collection by Melissa de la Cruz

Just check out the titles in this four-book collection: The Au Pairs (also published as Beach Lane), Skinny-Dipping, Sun-Kissed, and Crazy Hot. Talk about crazy hot. It all begins with three girls, Mara, Eliza, and Jacqui, who head to the Hamptons one summer to become au pairs, all for very different reasons. Of course, who can focus on the children when there are so many handsome guys around?

Most summery quote:

Sometimes when the sun shines, it scorches.

13. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

It's impossible to discuss beach reads for YA lovers without bringing Judy Blume's Summer Sisters into the fold. Yes, it's an adult book, but no, it's still going to be irresistible to any young adult lover (no matter your age) in the summertime. The story of best friends Caitlin and Vix is so summery, I'm stunned when sand doesn't fall out of all the copies in the library. If you love first loves, second loves, the complicated, dazzling, confusing, everlasting bond of lifetime female friends, and of course, summer, you should probably read this novel twice.

Most summery quote:

All her life she'd dreamed of being seventeen, like the Dancing Queen. And now she was, or would be very soon. On July Fourth she and Caitlin were singing along with Debbie Harry as they cruised up island in Caitlin's rusted red pickup. By the time they hit Menemsha it was after five. They figured they'd do sunset there, then head for home. But as soon as they stepped onto the beach they spotted Bru and Von tossing around a Frisbee.

And likely the most famous quote from the book:

Remember this, Precious Child. Nothing matters but the moment. There might be no tomorrow and even if there is, nobody gives a damn.

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