Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. Little Brown and Company, 2009. Currently Available.
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction (YA)
Face Value: It’s not bad, actually. I think the title of this book is terribly misleading, and doesn’t really get at the heart of the book at all. But when I step back from the title and look at the cover alone, it’s quite pretty. No headless girls in bikinis here, the sea glass heart against the sun-worn wooden slats is a beautiful image on its own, and it directly relates to the content in the book.
Does it Break the Slate? Yes it does! Oh, Anna and Frankie I love you. It’s no secret that I love books about female friendship, and the layered complexities of these girls’ friendship is beautifully portrayed in the story. Add to that the very different ways these two characters have to deal with grief, and a nuanced portrayal of teen girl sexuality, and we have
Who would we give it to? This book has Sarah Dessen fans written all over it. I mean, I’m not the first person to think this. The back of my paperback quotes Booklist saying “will satisfy fans of Sarah Dessen.” Frankly, I think this isn’t the best quote they could have used, because “will satisfy” is not a particularly dynamic verb choice. But that point aside, Booklist is accurate, in that Ockler’s novel taps into the summery mix of sadness, romance, compelling characters and quality writing that I like in Sarah Dessen’s work. This is the perfect paperback to hand a reader looking for a beach read with depth (that if she’s prepared to cry a little bit.)
Review: Anna and Frankie have been best friends forever. And until last summer, Frankie’s brother Matthew was right there with them, in every adventure, every memory, every moment. But then last summer, Anna and Matthew kissed, and realized they were in love. That alone would have changed things. But before they told anyone, Matthew died. Now everything, everyone is different. Frankie is trying to shut out her grief with a loud, reckless persona and Anna is trying to take care of her friend while processing a grief she can’t share with anybody.
Amidst all of this, Frankie’s parents invite Anna to join the family in Zanzibar Bay, for their usual summer vacation. Frankie decides this is the perfect time to rid Anna of her virginity, through a quest to get the attention of 20 boys during the 20 days they are in California.* Anna doesn’t want to disappoint Frankie, but she can’t bring herself to tell her friend why she’s not interested, or share that part of her sadness with her. But as things get more serious, both of the girls have to deal with some of the things they’ve been avoiding for months.
Writing out this synopsis, it sounds a little cheesy, right? But I have to be honest, it really wasn’t in practice. Not only were the characters breezily and believably written – the dialogue was particularly well crafted, I thought, but the way each girl approached the tragedy and handled the aftermath was well rendered and carefully dealt with.
We talk about Slatebreaking as an act of taking your life into your own hands, or growing into someone who takes charge of their own life, creating positive action and change. And really, when is life more in turmoil than in the aftermath of a tragedy? Both Anna and Frankie go through their own Slatebreaking journey as they find out how to move forward a year after Matthew’s death. We hear the story through Anna’s first person narration, so we’re more directly invested in her. But both Anna’s quiet growth into realizing she might fall in love with another boy some day and that’s ok and Frankie’s brash exterior that gives way to raw grief hold elements of a girl trying to take control of her own circumstances in the worst possible time.
And then there’s the sex element. Sarah Ockler gets a major points for managing to simultaneously not condemn teen sexuality while acknowledging its riskier elements. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about who does what with whom when, but I will say that in this book it is presented as ok to a) have sex with someone if you want to and you are careful, b) not have sex, if that’s something you’re not ready to do. We also get at the ways that sex can be an unsafe choice, if its not something that the person is emotionally ready for. There’s a lot of talk of boys and sex throughout this book, and it manages to be honest, and thoughtful, and not at all preachy.
Ultimately, Sarah Ockler has crafted a terrific summer read, and a worthy addition to your summer books list.
*Interesting side note. The 1-sentence summary on the title page reads as follows: “while on vacation in California, sixteen year old best friends Anna and Frankie conspire to find a boy for Anna’s first kiss, but Anna harbors a painful secret that threatens their lighthearted plan and their friendship.” And the back of the book suggests the plan is for Anna to “find her first summer romance.” Umm…ok. Are they not allowed to mention virginity in these things?
Reviewed from library copy.