15 Summer Beach Reads That Aren’t Romance Novels

Repeat after me: Not everyone has to read Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult at the beach. Every time I go to the beach or the pool, I feel like I need to bring something light and airy rather than a book that has any kind of real substance. (Of course, romance has some substance — I remember SOBBING over Dear John when I read it before the Channing Tatum movie came out!) I don’t know exactly what has ingrained in us that love is what summer is all about, but I’m here to take that notion down. While romance can be fun and sweet for the summer, thrillers, best friend fiction, fantasy/sci-fi, essay anthologies, and more all can have that same exciting quality while providing a little something deeper to think about while you’re laying by the pool or on the patio. Here are some of our favorite reads that won’t leave you wondering where your summer fling is:

Caroline Kepnes


Catch this one before the Netflix series (starring Shay Mitchell and Penn Badgley - could it get any better!) comes out in September. This book is basically the anti-romance novel - it follows a bookstore associate who falls in love - er, becomes obsessed with - a grad student in New York City. I read this book so fast, and it is what really changed my mind on what a "beach read" can be.

Edited by Roxane Gay

Not That Bad

We’re big fans of Roxane Gay here, and this new anthology of essays is nothing short of amazing. It discusses the effects of rape culture, which is absolutely heartbreaking, but is a wonderful reminder than we are not alone in this fight. The bravery of the writers of each of the essays is inspiring and really gives you something to think about.

A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window

Psychological thrillers are summer reads, too!! This novel chronicles a woman and her struggles with agoraphobia, but the story involves some twists and turns that will make you want to stay at the beach forever to finish it.

Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules

If you're looking for something just hilarious and witty, this is the book for you. The main character, Martha might be 79 years old, but she is still as lively and independent as ever. This is a great read for anyone who's looking for something fun and different.

Hannah Jewell

She Caused a Riot: 100 Unknown Women Who Built Cities, Sparked Revolutions, and Massively Crushed It

I'm always down to read about badass women, and this collection has plenty of that. Although this showcases some hard-hitting stories, it is done so in a very conversational and light way.

Georgia Clark

The Regulars

If you could miraculously look like a drop dead gorgeous supermodel, would you do it? The Regulars answers that question, following three best friends in their mid-twenties living in NYC. They soon realize that they have to make a lot of sacrifices if they want to be "pretty." Summer, full of swimsuits and short-shorts, can seem somewhat shallow, so this one comes at the perfect time.

Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy

Jenny Lawson tackles the intensity of mental illness in the opposite way that you would think it would be - through comedy and wit. Her essays made me LOL, so be ready to look a little weird alone on the beach with this one.

Stephen King

Under the Dome

Stephen King generally doesn't come to mind as a summer author, but Under the Dome has a sort of summery quality. I'd call this one a "beginners sci-fi" if you're new to the genre. An entire town gets stuck literally under a clear dome, and the story discusses what, how and why this is happening.

Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore

This book took me away from my own reality and gave me something else to the focus on for the duration of my reading. It follows a teenager, Kafka, who's run away from home in search of his mother and sister but ends up in a small town meeting an older man named Nakata. If you're looking for a dreamy escape, look no further.

Nathan Hill

The Nix

The Nix follows a man who is just now reconnecting with his mother after she has committed a serious crime and needs his help. The main character embarks on a journey of not only self-discovery but also learns more about his mother than he ever knew. This read is funny, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Donna Tartt

The Secret History

I LOVE a good murder mystery in the summer! The Secret History chronicles the story of a group of New England college students as they search to discover who killed one of their classmates. This is a thrilling read that will without a doubt make you say "okay, just one more page."

Emma Cline

The Girls

This is one that you'll think about even after you leave the beach. It discusses themes of violence and belonging, following a young woman as she discovers and becomes enamored with Suzanne, a woman she meets who is in Charles Manson's cult.

Durga Chew-Bose

Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays

I feel like I read this at the perfect time in my life. This collection of essays explores what it's like being a first generation creative woman. Whether you're in a creative rut or just want to feel understood, Durga Chew-Bose will make you feel a little something.

Camille Perri

The Assistants

In need of something just fun without the drama of a romance? This is for you. When the assistant of a wealthy CEO has the opportunity to pay off all of her student loans with money he would never even know was missing, she begins down a path of questioning and something she never anticipated.

Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

When a single mother-daughter pair moves into this unsuspecting Cleveland suburb, everyone is captivated by them. This story looks at just how much our secrets can weigh us down and how our identity is shaped by those secrets. This is a great read for you and all of your girlfriends.

Have you tried any of the books on this list? What do you recommend?!