Thursday, September 29, 2011

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

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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 is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every 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.

Frankie and Anna head to California with Frankie’s parents for a 3 week long beach vacation. Frankie’s family takes this trip every year but this is the first year they have gone without Matt – the brother/son/boyfriend that died the previous year. They hope that bringing Anna will dull the pain that will come with taking this trip without him. What no one knows is that Anna and Matt were secretly seeing each other the summer he unexpectedly died. Anna has never told anyone about their relationship. So while she comforts her best friend (Matt’s sister) over her loss, Anna is secretly grieving for the only boy she has loved.

Before they leave for Zanzibar, Frankie suggests that they try to meet a new boy every day they are on vacation. That way they may increase their chance of a summer romance AND increase Anna’s chances of losing her virginity. To make Frankie happy, Anna reluctantly agrees to the plan. Once there, they begin their search and on the way, learn to deal with both their own and each other’s grief.

The grief felt in this book is very real. Between Anna, Frankie and Frankie’s parents you learn how irreparably their lives have changed after the loss of Matt. It is truly heartbreaking to watch them struggle through their grief and to see the damage their grief causes each other. There were definitely times when I was tearing up. Particularly for the parents. Being a mother, I of course identified with the parents’ grief more than anything.

Unfortunately, the romance between Anna and Matt in this book left me sad and depressed – and not just because he died. The author tries to make Matt sound like this amazing brother and boyfriend. And maybe he was. But I personally couldn’t get past the fact that he insisted on keeping their relationship a secret. Here is this young 15 year old girl with an older boyfriend who is heading off to college and he doesn’t want to tell anyone? His reasoning that he didn’t want to hurt his sister was weak in my eyes and rung more than a little untrue. I know the words in the book show his intentions to be honest but I also know from personal experience that keeping secrets like this are a horrible start to a relationship. Granted I guess this is the impetus of many of the issues Anna faces in this book so maybe that was Ockler’s intent?

And then there is the quest for summer romance and loss of virginity. I understand that people deal with grief in different ways. This wouldn’t be the first story (true or fictional) where someone uses sex as a way to deal with their grief. Regardless, I personally would prefer to read a book where a girl has self-respect and doesn’t see her virginity as something to just throw away. This story line greatly affected my opinion of this book and in turn the final rating.

In the end, I am giving this book 3 stars because it is well written and emotionally moving at times.

As a side note, if you want to read a book about teens/young adults dealing with grief I would recommend If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman. And if you want to read a book that is open and honest about teen sex, I would recommend Forever by Judy Blume. Forever may have been published over 35 years ago but it still rings true today.


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