10 Caribbean books to read this summer

The best thing about living in the Caribbean is that it is summer all year round! If you are not from the Caribbean or had to cancel your plans to travel to the Caribbean this summer, you can still “visit” through these books.

These books will offer a rich look into Caribbean history, culture, contemporary Caribbean life, and a culinary journey. Here are ten books that will give you all the Caribbean summer feels.

One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

One Year of Ugly is Caroline’s Mackenzie’s debut novel, and it has already been commissioned for a Netflix movie.  In One Year of Ugly we meet the Palacio family, who are originally from Venezuela but flee the country to start a new life in the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The family finds out that Aunt Celia lied about the legality of their immigration documents and that she owes a notorious criminal large sums of money. The Palacio family is caught in a web filled with drama, romance, and comedy, and readers get to see how Yolo and her family navigate this ugly situation.

These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card

These Ghosts Are Family is Jamaican author Maisy Card’s debut novel that features a multi-generational narration from the 1700s to 2000s. The book opens with the revelation of Stanford Solomon’s three decade-long secret: he is not who he says he is. Solomon (who is really Abel Paisley) assumed the identity of his best friend, Solomon who died during a work accident. Abel told his family in Jamaica that Solomon died, and they have been living with that belief…until today. There is a freshness to this book that will keep you invested for the entire read!

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull

An alien invasion set on a Caribbean island? Sign me up!  Set on the US Virgin Islands, we meet the members of the community of Charlotte Amalie; like most islanders, they are pretty laid-back, but all living complicated lives. Things get even more complicated when one day the sky opens and an alien ship docks close to the island. The five hundred Ynaa came in “peace” and with advanced technology to offer for their five-year stay on the island. The Ynaa try to integrate into the community but things spiral quickly. When I say I have never read a book like this, I mean it. Cadwell pens a novel that does not let you go until the last sentence.

Tea by the Sea by Donna Hemans

Tea By The Sea is Donna Hemans sophomore novel about grief, abandonment and agency. The story opens in Jamaica where we meet a young man, Lenworth, and a newborn baby girl looking for a specific house in a remote town outside the second city- Montego Bay.  Seventeen-year-old mother Plum Valentine awakes after giving birth, only to find out the baby was taken by the father. Plum spends over ten years searching for her daughter, numerous trips back to Jamaica, hiring a private investigator, following leads but nothing comes to fruition. Donna Hemans writes a moving story about abandonment and displacement. If you like your summer reads heavy, go for this book!

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

A summer reading list is not complete without a love story, and if romance is your genre you must read The Mermaid of Black Conch. Set in 1976, we are introduced to a fictional Caribbean island called Black Conch that is reminiscent of a one in the Lesser Antilles. We meet David Baptiste who is a fisherman from the small village of St Constance. He takes his pirogue out to fish daily at Murder Bay where he first sights the mermaid. What begins as curiosity flourishes into a glorious love story! This is not your typical mermaid or love story and I think that is what made me so enamoured by this book.

Clap When You Land By Elizabeth Acevedo

Remember when it was the norm to clap when your plane landed without getting mortified death stares? Yea… me neither! Elizabeth Acevedo’s third novel was inspired by the true events of the AA587 crash that killed 260 people; more than 90% of whom were of Dominican descent. Clap When You Land opens at the airport with Camino Rios eagerly awaiting her Papi’s return to the Dominican Republic.  The night before, Yahaira Rios said goodbye to her Papi who usually spends his summer away from New York. Camino and Yahaira are told their father’s plane did not make it to its destinations and there are no survivors. While they grieve their father, they also find out his biggest secret. 

Frying Plantain by Zalika

Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta is an amazing and wondrous debut novel that you will fly through and absolutely love – I promise you! Frying Plantain is a collection of twelve interconnected stories that follow Kara Davis from elementary school to university. Davis is a Canadian by birth and both her mother and grandmother are Jamaicans. She tries to fit in with her Jamaican friends but they think she isn’t a “true Jamaican”. What I loved about this book is how truly authentic the narrative feels. Benta captures exactly what it feels to be a teenager from Caribbean parents who constantly warn, “do not turn out like me”.  The interconnected stories are rich with well-formed characters are well-formed whose stories you can relate to

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Conde

The book opens with the birth of twins, Ivan and Ivana, on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Their mother, Simone, adores them and they often hear about their father who is a famous musician and currently lives in Mali. Ivan and Ivana live a humble, laid-back life that gets upended when their father sends for them to live in Mali. Conde’s novel tackles coluorism, poverty, colonialism, racism, terrorism, incest, migration and immigration in contemporary Guadeloupe, Paris, and Mali.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross

If you can only read in brief spurts then this captivating collection of short stories may be what you are looking for.  Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross is a collection of 23 short stories that explore various themes of love, grief, mental health, abuse, sexuality, infidelity, identity, immigration, and loss among others. Every story is different, nuanced and complex. Leone Ross can write, and she shows off in this collection. There is something for everyone in this collection from contemporary, fiction, and magical realism. Each story is deeply moving and electrifying.

Lest We Find Gold by Melanie Schwapp

Lest We Find Gold is Jamaican author Melanie Schwapp’s sophomore novel. The book follows the life of Milly from her early years to her present life with her husband. Milly has a lot going for her; well-educated, a practicing nurse with a big future ahead of her. She met her husband when he came into the hospital for heart palpitations and since then, Milly finds herself dying a little daily. If you are looking for a well-written book that explores mother-daughter relationships in a layered way, then this is your read. As a Jamaican, I particularly loved how Jamaican the book felt, from the descriptions, to the various cultural nuances-it was very well crafted.

Cindy Allman is a Caribbean Girl Reading the World. A Jamaican living in Trinidad & Tobago, she is a Book Blogger, Book Club Host, Bookstagrammer and founder of the #ReadCaribbean initiative. She hopes to inspire you to read, read widely and read Caribbean.  Follow her at bookofcinz.com or @bookofcinz on Twitter and Instagram.