TWENTY BOY SUMMER by Sarah Ockler seems to be everywhere right now and so are the glowing reviews for it. In fact, I don't remember reading even one less than positive review. I actually read this novel a few weeks ago while I was with my family at the swimming pool, and I swore that I was going to come home right away and write my review. Famous last words because life has just gotten in the way (and a little old thing called BEA.)
So now, I'm writing my review about two weeks after finishing this book which I really don't like to do because I tend to forget details after a few days. However, this one time I think it's going to be okay. TWENTY BOY SUMMER is one of those books that has actually stuck with me -- I can remember this book like I just read it and the characters keep popping up in my mind. I think that says a great deal about the quality of this novel.
TWENTY BOY SUMMER is Sarah Ockler's debut novel, and I have to admit that I'm a little surprised by this. I found her writing to be so polished and real that it just seemed as if she's been writing books for a long time. Her prose and descriptions are just beautiful, but I also really appreciated how authentic her dialogue was. I can't say enough about how she developed the characters in this story, especially Anna; and I think she captured the devastating effects of loss on a family so very well. I really think Ms. Ockler is going to have a wonderful writing career ahead of her, and I'm looking forward to her future books.
Although I really, really liked this book (and maybe even loved it) I have to mention that I was a little surprised that the back cover of the ARC says that this novel is for ages 12 and up. My daughter is almost 10 years old and I realize that there is a lot of growing up between the ages of 10 and 12, but I don't think that I would let me daughter read this book until she is quite a bit older than 12. TWENTY BOY SUMMER deals with some mature issues including teenage sexuality. In fact, one of the major story lines is about Anna's attempt to meet twenty boys over the summer and lose her virginity to one of them -- they actually refer to it as "Anna's Albatross." I felt as if losing one's virginity was taken very casually in this story, and I kept hoping that there would be a big moral lesson at the end of the book. I realize that this casual approach might be reflecting reality in today's society, but I don't want my daughter reading about these things until she's much more mature.
Having said that, there are so many wonderful things about TWENTY BOY SUMMER and I do recommend it (just to adults or older teenagers.) I can not rave enough about how the author portrayed grief and loss as themes in this novel. My heart went out to all of the characters, but especially Anna. Not only did she lose one of her best friends in the death of Matt, but she also lost her first love. In addition, Frankie, who was her best girl friend, was dealing with the loss of her brother and the effects that had on her entire family. It was almost as if Anna lost both of her friends with Matt's death. And since Anna wasn't talking about her feelings for Matt with anyone, I think it made it even more painful for her to deal with this loss. My heart went out to her on so many levels.
I also think the author did a wonderful job of showing how Matt's death affected his entire family. Frankie's reaction to his death and her eventual acting-out seemed to be very realistic to me (albeit unfortunate.) However, I also thought Frankie's parents' actions seemed genuine. Even though the story was told through Anna's eyes, the reader could still see how devastating the loss of a child can be on a marriage and a family.
TWENTY BOY SUMMER is a terrific book that I highly recommend reading. If you are looking for a beautifully told story that deals with loss and grief, then you should really take a look at this novel.
A big thanks to Caitlin at FSB Associates for sending me a copy of this book.