Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: The Summer We Read Gatsby

Summary: Half-sisters Cassie and Peck could not be more different. Cassie is a newly divorced journalist with her feet firmly planted on the ground; Peck is a vintage-obsessed actress with her head in the clouds. In fact, the only thing they seem to have in common is their inheritance of Fool's House, a rundown cottage left to them by their beloved Aunt Lydia. But Cassie and Peck can't afford the house, and they can't agree on anything, much less what to do with the place. Plus, along with the house, they've inherited an artist-inresidence and self-proclaimed genius named Biggsy who seems to bring suspiciously bad luck wherever he goes. As these two likable sisters try to understand their aunt's puzzling instructions to "seek a thing of utmost value" from within the house, they're both distracted by romantic entanglements with men from their pasts. The Summer We Read Gatsby, set in the end-of-an-era summer of 2008, is filled with fabulous parties, eccentric characters, and insider society details that showcase Ganek's pitch-perfect sense of style and wit. -- Viking

I thought THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY by Danielle Ganek was a pretty original book. When I read the description, I was kind of expecting a beach book. You know what I mean... a chick lit story about two sisters who didn't agree about anything, yet they find themselves caring deeply for each other by the end of the novel. And it was a light and funny story where two half-sisters learn to love and appreciate each other because of their differences (not despite them); however, THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY actually was much more than just a fluff read.

First of all, the book actually did have a fair amount going on. Although it definitely was about Cassie and Peck's relationship and their inheritance of their Aunt Lydia's home, this novel also had elements of mystery. Aunt Lydia left a message in her will that they girls were to "seek a thing of upmost value" from within the house. Of course, this could mean a number of things to the girls -- from a valuable painting, to a collectible book, to appreciating each other. When a painting goes missing from the house, the girls work together to uncover not only who stole it, but also the history behind the painting.

In addition, THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY had some very interesting characters. Peck was a larger-than-life character who wanted to be a famous actress. She was obsessed with appearances and her image -- I actually found her to be quite entertaining. Cassie was Peck's opposite in ever way. She was recently divorced and not very social. While very attractive, Cassie didn't really care about her clothes or her hair. Both girls were likable in their own way, but I especially enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them. The girls grew up separately and were never really that close. It wasn't until they grew up and were forced to live together that they grew to love and appreciate each other. I think because Cassie and Peck were so incredibly different they managed to help each other grow as individuals.

The book was actually more literary (and well written) than I was expecting. The most obvious example being the references to "the great American novel" THE GREAT GATSBY. I definitely appreciated how the author juxtaposed the current time of the novel (summer 2008) with the pre-Depression era in THE GREAT GATSBY. I also liked how she explored the themes of Americans vs. Europeans, wealth, class, and even taste.

Finally, I thought the setting of the novel was extremely interesting. The book takes place during a summer in The Hamptons, and I actually have a feeling that the author captured the essence of the people and place perfectly. Needless to say, I'm not familiar with The Hamptons except to know that the people who live there are definitely high society. I loved getting an insider's look into the wealth and prestige, as well as learning that The Hamptons is such an artistic community. And I appreciated how the author poked fun at some of the characters' pretentiousness!

I have to be honest and say that it did take me awhile to really get into this story. The first third of the novel was kind of slow moving for me and I don't think I really appreciated the humor yet. However once I got going, I found myself really liking the characters and the story. I especially enjoyed how there were a few twists and turns in the book that caught me off guard and kept my attention. I also enjoyed the love story aspects of this novel. I liked the relationship (as well as the romantic tension) between Cassie and Finn.

While I was reading THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY, I admit that I wasn't thinking of this novel as book club selection. But then I found this reading group guide which actually made me reconsider. I'll go so far as to say that THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY would make a good summer book club pick. It's a light, funny story that also touches on some interesting relationships. Some of the topics that you might was to discuss include grief, loss, love, family dynamics, new beginnings, artists/creativity, wealth/social classes, and of course, relationships between sisters. I also think it would be very interesting to delve into all of the similarities between THE GREAT GATSBY and THE SUMMER WE READ GATSBY.

Thanks to Engelman and Co. for sending me a review copy of this novel.


Mary (Bookfan) said...

This was my WoW pick a few weeks ago! So glad to see you liked it (I only skimmed your review because I want to read it first and then come back).

bermudaonion said...

This sounds wonderful to me. I'll have to remember that it starts slowly if I get the chance to read it.