Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Released: 1st June 2009
Rating: 4.5 stars
I debated long and hard whether I should read this. When I saw my library had it, I decided I may as well go ahead and make the reservation. But when I got it, I put it off. For days. Weeks. It seemed too fluffy and the idea of reading about two girls who planned to meet twenty boys in the hope of a summer fling just didn’t appeal to me, even with the backstory of the best friend’s dead brother. Imagine my surprise when I finally opened it and found it to be a story about so much more than that.
Ironically, Frankie and Anna don’t reach twenty boys. They don’t even reach ten. Where I assumed I’d see Frankie dragging Anna through a myriad of boys, Anna making loads of mistakes along the way which she then regrets, I instead got something meaningful. Witty. Don’t get me wrong, there were mistakes. But it was less a superficial account and more a journey of losing someone and then learning how to let them go. We only get to see Matt, Frankie’s brother, for a short time at the beginning, but it was enough to make me feel his absence when he died. I also felt sorry for Anna, who’d been in love with him. Unknown to Frankie, the two of them had been together. Matt planned to tell Frankie when they were on holiday, but death intervened – leaving Anna on her own, holding on to a secret that’s crushing her.
‘I never say anything about him.
Nod and smile.
One foot in front of the other.
I’m fine, thanks for not asking.’
Each thing that reminded her of Matt while she was in California, each thing that made her sad, made me sad too. Anna’s a pretty strong girl. At the same time as hiding her pain, she has to keep an eye on her best friend and pretty much go with what she wants in order to prevent a breakdown, and also just to see Frankie happy. That doesn’t mean I didn’t disapprove of her actions sometimes – there were definitely times when she shouldn’t have let Frankie walk all over her, and there was one decision she acted on that she really should have put off for a few years, regardless of the fact that it worked out OK. But it was moving to see all the emotional turmoil, her fear of forgetting Matt and everything they’d shared.
Sam, the guy Anna ended up falling for in California, didn’t fail to capture a piece of my heart. He wasn’t one of those guys who only want girls for one thing and then abandon them. He matched her pace and got her to see things beyond what her eyes allowed; he got her to imagine and really feel. He stopped her the one time she was in danger of getting too drunk and when he found out about Matt, he didn’t leave. He stood by her and supported her and gave her some really sensible advice. Sam was just a really sweet guy. I think I would have been happier if the two had made arrangements to see each other again afterwards. But their parting was without drama, it was real and it was a sweet end to the perfect summer romance. Sarah Ockler has definitely done a great job with her teen characters. Anna and Frankie each have their own realistic journey and I was glad when they opened up at the end. Frankie’s parents, however, left a somewhat unresolved issue. I agreed with her when she said to Anna she wanted them to act on her behaviour, to do something instead of just be wilfully blind. I would have liked to see them grow, too.
Ockler has created here a perfect blend of light and dark, humour and meaning. Her writing created moments of thought and reflection, observation and feeling. I tried to pick a quote as an example but then I realised that it all sort of came together, scenes and sections that merged to create a particular image or tone. The messages and themes behind the book have been portrayed really well, as have the personal journeys and realistions. Her writing was so vivid it was like I was right there with Anna. It was just...beautiful.
Overall, Twenty Boy Summer is not the silly and superficial read I was expecting. Beyond the title lies the story of a girl who struggles to move on while caught up in the past and afraid of letting go; a girl who forces her best friend to admit that she’s not fine and that she, too, needs to move on. It made me laugh and it made me sad. Honest and raw, it was really a sweet read that touched my heart.