Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
Published June 1, 2009 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

"Don't worry, Anna. I'll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it."
"Promise me? Promise you won't say anything?"
"Don't worry." I laughed. "It's our secret, right?"

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy ever day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie---she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

The title of this novel is unfortunate because when I first saw it on the (electronic) shelves of my library, it seemed to be a light bit of summer fluff. In actuality, this is a beautifully written rumination on death, grief, and love - romantic, friendship, and familial, as well as a coming of age story, and an ode to the ocean and summers spent by them.

Anna, the narrator, had long loved her male best friend, Matt, big brother to her female best friend, Frankie. On her birthday, the summer before the start of tenth grade, Matt kisses her, and thus begins a whirlwind secret relationship. Matt asks her to keep the relationship quiet, until he can figure out a way to tell Frankie/ Ockler captures the wonder and excitement of a new relationship:
"Does he like me, or was he just messing around? Will it happen again? How do we tell Frankie? Why did he say it’s our secret?"
Unfortunately, Matt dies in a car accident before he can tell Frankie. and Anna struggles with grieving his death and her competing commitments to her two best friends. The following summer, Anna joins Frankie and her parents at their annual beach holiday. It's the family's first trip without Matt, and there are poignant observations of how a family adjusts to a new reality. Simultaneously, boy-crazy Frankie thinks the trip is an excellent opportunity for Anna to lose her "albatross," aka virginity, and Anna's thoughts perfectly capture a teen wrestling with whether or not to reach this milestone:
"The whole idea of losing one’s virginity is kind of ridiculous. To lose something implies carelessness. A mistake that you can fix simply by recovering the lost object, like your cell phone or your glasses. Virginity is more like shedding something than losing it."
The writing is excellent, the dialogue snappy, the observations sharp. The heavy topic is lightened with by Anna's delightful voice, with her dry repartee with boy-crazy Frankie:
“Anna, no one will notice us if we’re wandering around in old-lady clothes. They’ll think we’re pregnant or something.”
“Rather than wanting to get us pregnant?”
Additionally, the educator in me appreciates the subtle vocabulary lessons:
“Don’t worry. He already said you can go. You just need to do some — oh, what’s that thing called — envisionation, I think.”
“Envisionation?” I ask.
“You know, where you think about the thing you want and just picture yourself getting it?” “Visualization, Frankie, and it’s not gonna work.”
I really enjoyed this book - this is one where I cried in some moments (and I'm generally not a crier) and laughed out loud in others. Oh and Sam? He makes the perfect summer (book) boyfriend.

Rating: 4 Stars

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