I’m of the mind that summer books can be heart breaking. I know it seems perverse, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, hopefully waves are lapping at your feet and life is beautiful- so why would you want to read about heart fail? Well think of it this way, would you prefer your angst when the world is grey, gross and ugly outside? No. You would wallow in it. Therefore when wracking my brain for a good summer read, I decided to go with Ann Brashares’ The Last Summer of You (& Me). It fits the basic requirements- beach house, summer love, friends, sisters, and of course there’s a boy. It being a Brashares novel though, (true confession, still haven’t read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) it takes it a few levels deeper and delves into the relationships and lives of the characters in a sometimes unsettling manner.
For as long as she can remember, 21-year-old Alice has spent summers on Fire Island with her parents and older sister, Riley. Riley, 24, is a beach lifeguard, more boyish in both looks and spirit than sweet, feminine Alice. An island neighbor and Riley’s best friend, Paul, whose father is dead and mother mostly absent, returns to the island after two years away and must decide whether to sell his family’s house there. More importantly, he and Alice finally act on an attraction they’ve felt for years, but they keep their frequent nuzzling quiet so as not to hurt Riley. Riley, meanwhile, has her own problems that could ruin Alice and Paul’s clandestine romance and just about everything else. Brashares’s YA roots are on display: the girls and Paul act like high school kids (Riley threatens to move out of the house unless everyone butts out; Paul and Alice are stricken with the most saccharine of puppy love), and anything below the surface is left untouched. It’s a beach read, for sure, but a mediocre one. (June)
The story follows two sisters, Riley and Alice in their family’s beach house on Fire Island. Arguably their ages make this book on the cusp between the end of YA and the beginning of “chick lit” but since so few books tackle the 20-25 year old age range, I choose to ignore it. Riley is the elder, the go getter athletic sister who lifeguards on Fire Island every summer, Alice the brainiac who is due to start law school in the fall, and their lifelong best friend Paul whose family owns the house next door. The plot follows them throughout the summer, with Alice and Paul growing secretly intimate, and Riley being a bit left behind in the process.
Honestly, while Alice and Paul’s relationship is lovely, the heart of this novel is between Alice and Riley, and the strength of their sisterhood even though they are so very different. When the end of the summer comes and that sisterhood is jeopardized by Riley suddenly taking ill, Alice’s whole life goes to hell. As a big sister, I won’t lie, there were big old alligator tears when I read this because Alice is lost without the presence of her sister’s vitality and watching that diminish nearly kills her. She delays law school, she refuses to speak to Paul, she takes odd jobs to be able to stay near Riley while she’s ill, and she copes through increasing numbness. As the title eludes, it is in fact about their last summer in their beach house, together with Paul, in the limbo between childhood and being adults, and of being sisters. It’s about saying good bye and going in different directions for the first time. It’s wonderful and heart breaking at the same time.
Now don’t be scared of this book. Grab it and your sister (because you’re going to need her afterward) and go to the beach. Cherish your time together and bawl over this novel. Then look at the gorgeous summer views and feel better. I swear it’s cathartic.