Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teen/YA Review: 20 Boy Summer

Sarah Ockler’s debut novel, 20 Boy Summer, is far more than a typical teen romance. I was a bit put off by the title at first, expecting a shallow summer romp, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of emotion of the novel and the honest way it handles the wrenching experience of losing someone you care about.

Anna and Frankie have been next-door neighbors and best friends since they were babies. Their families are close, and Anna, Frankie, and Frankie’s older brother, Matt, are inseparable. Things begin to change, though, when Anna realizes she likes Matt as more than just a best friend. On her fifteenth birthday, she finds out that he likes her more, too, and they share their first kiss. Matt pleads with Anna not to say anything to Frankie yet. He wants to tell his sister himself, during their vacation next month, so he and Anna carry on their secret love affair for several blissful weeks.

Then, the unthinkable happens: Matt dies unexpectedly, and Anna is left holding their secret. Everyone copes – or doesn’t cope – in his or her own way, and Anna is concerned to see Frankie suddenly becoming obsessed with clothes, make-up, and boys.

A year after Matt’s death, Frankie’s family decides to return to their favorite beach house in California for a vacation, and they invite Anna to come along. Frankie convinces Anna to join her in a contest – to try to meet 20 boys in 20 days during their vacation. The trip is a rollercoaster of emotions, bringing up memories of Matt while the girls try to meet their boy quota. Here, shortly after they arrive, Anna sees the ocean for the first time:

“Isn’t it amazing, Anna?” She looks out across the water. “It makes you feel kind of small, huh?”

“Yeah.” I don’t want to say too much; to break the thin glass bubble spell, my head resting on her shoulder, my oldest friend reflective and serious and still capable of being amazed.

“You know what the best part of California is?” She puts her arm around me, her Matt-bracelet cool against my shoulder. “No one knows me here. No one knows that they’re supposed to feel sorry for me.”

I think about the faces at school as we passed through the halls – eyes looking away, mouths whispering. There goes Matt’s sister. Hey, isn’t that the best friend?

“Except for you,” she says. “You’re the only one who knows the big black secret. And you’re a locked vault when it comes to keeping secrets.” She laughs, kicking at the sand with her toes.

20 Boy Summer is an engaging story that pulls you into the world of summer vacation at the beach, with beautiful settings and well-drawn characters. The novel is about grief and loss but also about friendship, love, and getting on with life.

Overall, I loved this novel, although I was a little bothered by the girls’ emphasis on losing their virginity. I was certainly no angel myself in high school, but I don’t remember anyone thinking of virginity as such a burden. Have things changed that much? In any case, that’s a small complaint in what is otherwise an honest, meaningful portrayal of teen girls dealing with life and loss.

290 pages
Little, Brown and Company
Recommended for older teens and young adults because of content related to sex (though the sex scenes are not explicit) and underage drinking.


KyleeJ said...

My 15yo has this one on her list for this summer.

Andrea said...

This is one that I definitely want to read. Thanks for the review. It sounds good.

inca said...

Yet another book for Harriet,with two teenage girls in the house I think they may be both fighting over it but saying that my step daughter hates reading!Another to add to list thanks Sue beckyx