Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
First impression: This one sounds like a good mix of heavy and light
Last impression: Nice. I haven’t been satisfied with a book’s ending in a while
Format: Kindle e-book / 290 pages
Publishing Info: June 1st 2009 / Goodreads
Other books read by author: None
“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 Anna’s best friend, Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay 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 her romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
TWENTY BOY SUMMER explores what it truly means to love someone, what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every beautiful moment life has to offer.
This book has been on my radar for a while. The plot of the book follows Frankie and Anna as they embark on Frankie’s family vacation. The girls have been close for their entire lives and Anna is pretty much considered a part of her family. A year before, Frankie’s older brother Matt passes away. The last month of his life, Anna and Matt were secretly seeing each other. Anna’s relationship with him is unfinished when he unexpectedly dies and she is unsure about how to tell Frankie. Frankie comes up with the idea of the Twenty Boy Summer to occupy them during their vacation. This was obviously a somewhat large part of the plot (I mean, it’s the title of the book and everything!) but I didn’t think it was that necessary or relevant. They end up meeting some boys soon after they arrive and the competition sort of fades away. Overall, the story of this book was really amazing. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and exploring how they each worked through their grief. I really liked that it wasn’t as predictable as I expected. I’ve been falling into that trap lately with contemporary YA, where the book happens exactly as you’d think and there’s no mystery to it. The “climax” of the book was really the only part I saw coming. However, I liked the way it was developed and dealt with. Without giving too much away, the issues that normally would be “resolved” in a few sentences in other YA books actually took a while to be worked through. Their conflict happened in real-time and wasn’t resolved with a simple “I’m sorry.” I really liked that. The book seemed more real to me in that way. This book was the right mix of heavy and light topics. It explored friendships, family dynamics, and coping with death. The romance piece was definitely heavy in the story, but the main theme was friendship.
- Anna, the main character, develops her relationship with Matt during his last few months of life. As Frankie’s older brother, the three of them were extremely close throughout childhood and Anna realizes she has always loved him. He returns her feelings on the night of her 15th birthday as they share a really adorable first kiss. The two of them fall deeper into their relationship while avoiding the fact that he’ll be headed to college at the end of the summer. Anna struggles with her grief over losing Matt, who was more than just a recent boyfriend to her. She tries to keep her feelings hidden because she knows that Frankie must be hurting more than her; it was her brother. I liked watching Anna grow up and deal with the fact that she has to move on from Matt at some point.
- Frankie was a bit of a wild card. Her personality changed a lot when she lost Matt and she was constantly acting out. It was a pretty standard way to portray grief, but a very realistic one too. I liked her and really loved her friendship with Anna. There were times that I thought she was a little annoying, but it offset Anna’s personality. It was nice to see the two of them work through their problems and still manage to be best friends despite the fact that Frankie changed.
- Matt makes Anna promise that she won’t tell Frankie because he wants to be the one to do it on their family vacation. He never gets the chance. Normally this would kind of bother me, because honesty should be the best policy when it comes to dating your sister’s best friend. Matt had good intentions in waiting to tell her, but it did end up tearing Anna apart when he died; she felt like she had to keep the secret as promised. We learn about Matt through various flashbacks and letters he wrote Anna from his many vacations at Zanzibar Bay. Their relationship was building long before they even realized it, which was really cute to watch.
I liked Sarah Ockler’s style a lot and would definitely read other books by her. The plot flowed nicely and there were only a few parts that I thought dragged on a little too long. As I said before too, I liked that the conflict was resolved over the course of a few chapters instead of the insta-fix I’m used to seeing in this genre. The characters talked out their problems and it was very realistic.
I’m happy to say that I finally am satisfied with the ending of a book! Recently, most books I read have been great except the ending. I like to have things wrapped up nicely or at least have the books end on a note that implies closure. This book did a good job of that. It left some things open, but I think it was very appropriate based on the rest of the story. The book only gets a 4.5 from me because it was very good, but wouldn’t fall into my favorites shelf. It took me a little too long to read it (partially because I was extremely busy over the last week, but also because it took a little time for me to get invested in it).