This summer was either a hot girl summer or a sad girl summer — or possibly both. While “sad girl summer” is a generalized term thrown around a lot of different feelings, I think many people have been embracing the feeling of sadness, recognizing it, and letting it be what it is rather than run from it.
Sad girl summer is, on the surface, about the sad girl. But it’s what the sad girl does in the long stretches of days that makes the sad girl summer genre. The sad girl lies on the floor, My Year of Rest and Relaxation-style, staring at the ceiling, striving to not be sad anymore. Whether that’s through a project she starts, a person she meets, a medication she’s on, or something else, when the melancholic main character meets the desire to leave the melancholy (whether she’s able to or not), that’s when sad girl summer books shine.
Often these main characters are considered “unlikeable”: they’re sad, dirty, angry, not pleasant, and have probably spent whole weeks on the couch in the same pair of sweatpants eating hot Cheetos. But they’re also fundamentally real, and that’s what keeps us all coming back to them, because they’re the characters many of us identify with.
And while the summer is winding down, the sad girl summer genre is one that persists all year long, hot weather not necessary. Here are 12 books that express the languid and longing nature of the sad girl summer to read all year round.
Evelyn feels stuck: she hasn’t finished her dissertation, everyone around her is getting married and moving on, and she doesn’t know where to turn. She ends up accepting a job as a researcher at an internet tech company, where she will help develop an app to determine levels of happiness. The strangeness of her new job jolts Evelyn on her own journey to ask herself if she is actually happy, and if not, is there anything she can do to change that.
No one knows the pitfalls of the terrors of the housing market and the rising costs of rent like the sad girl millennial. This novel follows one young woman on a quest to find, as Virginia Woolf stated, “a room of one’s own.” But she’s a millennial in the 21st century, and between her low-paying jobs and the high cost of rent, she cannot afford one. So she moves from room to room, sharing with others, migrating to a sofa and her own childhood home in search of a place to finally call her own, struggling to maintain and live her own life while not being able to support the simple object of a roof over her head.
Miri’s wife, Leah, has finally returned after a long, deep-sea mission that did not end well. But even though Leah is back, she’s not the same. Miri tiptoes around her, trying to give her space but also find the Leah she loves underneath it all. She can sense something different — something that has come back with Leah — but she doesn’t know what it is or if it will let them go back to what their lives were before.
Cass was an up-and-coming New York playwright, winning a prestigious award and landing a famous actress in her play. But after a humiliating downward spiral and scandal, she needs to get out of the city and reset. So, she heads to L.A. to live with a friend and totally disappear. She intends to remain in the sunny L.A. apartment and wallow, but when she meets a rising filmmaker, she’s drawn into the new world of on-screen magic and thrown into a film being made about an all-girl Fight Club. But Cass is still struggling with her past and what it means to her to be a writer at all.
Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are barely making rent. Their family has splintered, and they’re each trying to make it — Marcus by becoming a rap star, Kiara by hunting for jobs to pay the bills. When she has a misunderstanding that leads to a job offer, Kiara is, at first, thrilled. Unfortunately, it quickly turns into something else — but she knows she needs this job, and then she becomes a key witness in a huge scandal in the city, and everything breaks open. This Oprah Book Club pick and Booker Prize longlister is more plot-heavy than other books on this list and is a mystery on the surface, but at its core, it’s about following a woman’s life, day to day, through her struggles and attempts to grasp what’s going on around her, which is what the sad girl summer micro-genre is all about.
This book follows two women, rather than one, and leads them to the point where their lives converge. Sara is a vibrant bartender with a closed-off past; Emilie is struggling as an undergraduate and looking for something new. When the women meet, their connection is instant and palpable. But they struggle to make sense of themselves as individuals, which affects their experience together.
Vivian is a hardworking lawyer advocating for patients at a New York City psychiatric hospital. On the outside, she’s got it all and is an inspiration to everyone. But deep down, she struggles with that image and still feels the effects of trauma in her own childhood as well as the current challenges that come with being a Black Latina woman in America. She has a carefully constructed regimen of dieting and weed to control what she can, but when she’s forced into new territory, she may have to change it all to finally confront her past.
This sad girl summer book follows two young Taiwanese American women over two decades as their lives shift and change around each other and their friendship. Fiona and Jane have been best friends since 2nd grade, and with each year that passes, their bond grows closer. When Fiona moves to New York to care for a sick friend, Jane is left behind in California, the two separated for the first time in their lives, and their friendship starts to change as they begin new lives on their own.
Caroline is a sad girl who tried to escape — but got caught in the process. She was a marathon runner, an Olympic athlete who ended up meeting a prince of a small European kingdom. With that, she became the new princess. But as time goes on, she realizes her crown isn’t giving her what she wants; it’s actually keeping her trapped in a life she doesn’t want at all. As she ponders her most recent escape attempt and her past actions to get her to that moment, she tries to figure out what exactly will make her happy and what to do about it.
Mathilda is determined to not be sad anymore. She’s been through a terrible breakup and the death of a loved one, and she’s done crying. Well, she wants to be done crying. So when yoga and decluttering don’t work, Mathilda’s friends help her find new and increasingly bizarre methods to move on. What starts out weird becomes more dangerous as Mathilda desperately tries to leave her sad girl life behind.
Sibel is a 20-year-old hopeful doctor who plans to spend her summer in Istanbul studying for the MCAT. She finds herself, instead, attempting to diagnose her own possible chronic illness, and does so by using the four humors theory of ancient medicine. She still travels to Turkey, accompanied by her American boyfriend, her sister, and her grandmother, and as she learns more about her family history and her own past, she begins to learn more about herself, her illness, and how she might move forward.
Janet is many of us: she’s anxious and sad and doesn’t quite know why. She works at a dog shelter, and her family is too prying in her life. But this summer, she hears about a new pill that provides short-term happiness. She’s skeptical, but intrigued. After the final straw breaks in Janet’s life, she begins to think maybe short-term happiness is what everyone around her wants for her, rather than the real thing, and she’s ready to try anything to get rid of the sadness, even just for a little while.