the ethical slutThe Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures
Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy
2009 (Second Edition), Celestial Arts

Confession: I suffer from weepy, clammy-handed, stomach-churning, brow-furrowing moments of jealousy, sometimes over imagined transgressions or perceived slights from my partners. In the past, this tendency has caused breakups (both romantic and platonic), and has also proved itself to be a totally isolating practice. I’m sure I’m not alone—society has ingrained in us the notion that if our partners show interest in other people, they must love us less. But society, as we all know, isn’t always right. So where can you turn for help? The Ethical Slut, which for decades has been a bible for those interested in dealing with jealousy head-on, or for those who want to learn more about open relationships and other non-monogamous forms of dating and sex. The book’s lessons—most of them about being clear about your needs and desires—are useful even for dedicated monogamists. It taught me how to remove competition from my relationships and made me hopeful that someday I’ll be able to leave my jealousy-induced crying jags behind. —Caitlin D.

Aristotle and DanteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
2012, Simon & Schuster

What is it about books that take place during the summer that makes them seem so much more magical? This one is set in the summer of 1987, where we meet 15-year-old Ari. Reserved and introverted, he is trying to figure out his place in the world. When he meets Dante at a swimming pool, he doesn’t expect that they’ll get along. Dante is Ari’s opposite—outgoing and excited by the world and all its possibilities. Even still, the two boys become inseparable. This is a really beautiful story about exploration and self-discovery and sexuality and love and cultural identity and friendship and experimenting with all of the above (but, more than anything, with LIFE). Read it, and then immediately share it with somebody. —Anna F.

Summer Without MenThe Summer Without Men
Siri Hustvedt
2011, Picador

The Bechdel Test was originally devised to assess the prominence and nature of female characters in films—in a nutshell, it posits that for a movie to be fair and realistic, there need to be at least two women who talk to each other about something other than men. If you wanted to apply the same standard to novels, The Summer Without Men would definitely pass: Women, and lots of them, talk about everything, including poetry, art, and death. It’s the best! The main character, Mia, is a poet who suffers a breakdown after her husband leaves her. To recuperate, she goes to stay in the same town as her aging mother and teaches poetry to a class of girls. I love this book because it features two groups of women who go through a lot together: Mia’s mother and her friends, who live in “a building exclusively for the old and the very old,” and Mia’s students, who end up severely bullying one of their peers. It reminded me that being part of a group isn’t always easy, but that it also can be incredibly enriching and soothing during times of crisis and growth. —Estelle

So You Want to Be a WizardSo You Want to Be a Wizard
Diane Duane
2003 (20th Anniversary Edition), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The most important book I have ever read—the one that continues to shape how I see the world and how I live in it—isn’t on any of the subjects I usually write about: fashion, beauty, feminism. It’s So You Want to Be a Wizard, a book about magic. This book, and the ones that followed it in the Young Wizards series, taught me so much about kindness, community, sacrifice, and forgiveness. They also taught me about activism, the power of art, and how we are all connected. The most powerful people in the magical world described in these books are the teens. They have the potential to save everything! There are adult wizards, and they are supportive, not evil, but it’s the teenagers—like the main character, Nita, who takes an oath to become a wizard and protect the universe—who battle darkness and make sacrifices out of love for something bigger than themselves. I’m having a hard time not crying while writing about this series because I keep it so close to my heart, and I realize more and more just how important it has been to forming my worldview. In particular, I keep in mind these wise words that come from a talking parrot (don’t ask, just read): “Don’t be afraid to make corrections. Don’t be afraid to lend a hand. And don’t look down.” —Arabelle

Friend LoveI Think I Am in Friend-Love With You
Yumi Sakugawa
2013, Adams Media

In this cute little comic book, Yumi Sakugawa calls attention to how wonderful and fulfilling friendships can be. Written in the form of a letter, the story follows an adorable one-eyed monster and his faceless snowbuddy as they pass sweet notes to each other, such as “I will make bad Photoshop drawings commemorating our hangouts.” The pals negotiate boundaries, making declarations like, “Never would I […] try to hold your hand. Because that would be weird,” and “I don’t want to swap saliva, I just want to swap favorite books.” Even if it’s totally, totally gushy, it’s a fun and respectful look at platonic love. —Suzy X.

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg-The LettersJack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters
Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg
2011, Penguin Books

I’ve spent the past six years devouring books by Beat authors, so I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters at the bookstore. I was going to be able to read words that Kerouac and Ginsberg wrote to EACH OTHER? I’d get a glimpse of their personal thoughts, desires, and secrets AND learn more about their friendship? I was ecstatic, then not at all disappointed, because this book is an absolute goldmine. Its editors compiled and transcribed 19 years’ worth of letters between the two writers, and I couldn’t be more thankful. The pages are filled with unpublished poems as well as tender moments and radical revelations shared by the two men. Here’s the opening line from a 1950 letter that Kerouac wrote to Ginsberg: “Tonight while walking on the waterfront in the angelic streets I suddenly wanted to tell you how wonderful I think you are.” Such compassionate friendship really warms my heart. Fair warning about this book though: It’s more than 500 pages long, and once you pick it up, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from it. Make sure you clear your schedule! —Shriya

Truth and BeautyTruth & Beauty: A Friendship
Ann Patchett
2004, Harper Collins

Ann Patchett is one of my very favorite novelists, but she’s also a terrific memoirist. Her book Truth & Beauty reflects on her friendship with Lucy Grealy, the author of Autobiography of a Face, a memoir about the jaw cancer that struck her as a child and resulted in the loss of some of her facial bones. Patchett’s book about their bond isn’t at all what you might think—a memoir about a cancer-striken friend could be schmaltzy or saccharine, and this is neither. Both women are funny and sexy and good and bad. They love each other enormously, and, reading the book, you think that it might be enough to save Grealy’s life. Sadly, it isn’t, but their story is absolutely beautiful. —Emma S.

Brave New WorldBrave New World
Aldous Huxley
2006 (Harper Perennial Modern Classics Edition), Harper Perennial Modern Classics

When Brave New World was published in 1932, a lot of people thought scientific advances could only have a positive impact on the world. Eight decades later, Aldous Huxley’s prediction of a dystopian future marked by growing technology, genetic engineering, and fading privacy is practically a reality. In the novel, though, these changes bring a profound loss of individual identity and creativity, which thankfully is less relatable. In Huxley’s society, humans, many of whom are identical clones, are sterile, created in controlled “conditioning centers” that predetermine each person’s intelligence, social class, and basically their whole future. Children are brainwashed into accepting their fates—lives devoid of intimate relationships, and “everyone belongs to everyone else.” Pain and loneliness don’t exist, either, but at a serious price. The book deals with how difficult it is to walk away from the paths that have been mapped out for us, and shows us that suffering and solitude are part of the beauty of being alive. I will admit that I’m not usually the best at getting through books very quickly, but I sailed through this one. —Eleanor

Jodi Meadows
2012, Katherine Tegen Books

Jodi Meadows’s Incarnate series has a premise unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It takes place in a city called Heart, where everyone is reborn over and over with all the memories and knowledge of their past lives. Friendships, romances, and grudges repeat and continue for centuries at a time. Then comes Ana. Ana is a “new soul” with no past, and no set place in society. Naturally, she’s destined to shake things up. I could have read about the very long lives of Heart’s citizens forever, but Ana’s journey to find out the secrets of her existence (with some music, dragons, magic, and romance along the way) is just as good. —Rachael

summer sistersSummer Sisters
Judy Blume
1998, Delacorte Books

Summer Sisters is about the complex, beautiful, and bittersweet nature of friendship. The novel follows Caitlin and Vix, who meet at the end of sixth grade and start a yearly tradition of spending carefree summers together on Martha’s Vineyard. Their bond strengthens rapidly as they begin to explore different aspects of growing up, like periods, masturbation (aka “the power”), and other familiar Blume-ian topics. But as they reach their teens, then their 20s and 30s, they start to feel the inevitable tugs that come from outside the bubble of a super-close friendship. This is definitely one of those breezy reads that is perfect for the weeks right after school ends, but its story is powerful enough to linger with you. I find myself picking it up again and again, especially when I’m questioning a relationship that is building or deconstructing a part of my life. —Chanel

The Plain JanesThe Plain Janes
Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
2007, Minx

This graphic novel, with words by the stellar Cecil Castellucci and incredible art by Jim Ruggs, is one of the most fun girl-gang books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. After a terrorist attack in Jane’s city, her parents move the family to the suburbs, where she feels fairly certain that life is going to be boring from here on out. Then she finds a group of girls—all named Jane—at the “reject” lunch table and persuades them to form a secret gang called P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) to bring beauty and joy to their sheltered town. Their “art attacks” (as the local cops come to call them) include forming singing flash-mobs, adding bubbles to fountains, and covering large public objects in wrapping paper. The Plain Janes is a super-quick read, and it will put a big smile on your face. If you find yourself jonesing (or JANESing…har!) for more, there’s a sequel. —Stephanie

Marcy Dermansky
2005, William Morrow

Marcy Dermansky is one of the best writers I’ve come across (I love the way she’s able to keep things realistic and interesting), and this novel makes me feel like I am in the minds of the two main characters, identical twins Sue and Chloe, who take turns narrating the story. We follow them from the eve of their 13th birthday to the end of high school, and as they grow up, they grow apart. Chloe tries to make a life for herself without the influence of Sue, while Sue clings to her twin, even as their relationship becomes dysfunctional. Throughout there’s a persistent and fascinating tension between their strong bond and their experiences as individual girls trying to live through high school, puberty, and figuring out who they’ll become. —Britney ♦