Friday, May 11, 2012

book review: twenty boy summer by sarah ockler

Title: Twenty Boy Summer
Author: Sarah Ockler
Publisher: Little, Brown Books

Synopsis: 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.

My Thoughts:
The plot has two equally important aspects. One, focusing on the death of a boyfriend and family member, is an emotional journey that works into the protagonist's decisions and catharsis of her first love's passing. The second, focusing on the first family vacation after the tragic death, is a physical journey that drives the story in the best way possible. It's a journey of friendship, reactions and decisions to life altering events, and the divide between who does and doesn't have the right to grieve. It's truly amazing.

The characters are an incredible part of the arc of the story. One of my favorites was Anna, a curly-haired girl with a conscious. It's hard not to see that this girl, the protagonist, was based entirely off of Sarah Ockler. A second character that isn't present for the story but plays a huge part is Matt, Anna's neighbor and love interest who dies unexpectedly of a broken heart, literally. Frankie is Matt's younger sister and Anna's best friend. She's a dynamic character who goes through a lot within the journey of Anna's story. Some may see her as annoying and whiney, but she is grieving for her loss, and it's important to take a closer look at her journey; it is nearly as important as Anna's. Adding to these main characters are Matt and Frankie's parents, Anna's parents, and of course some of the twenty boys that are alluded to in the title.

The concept revolves around a family vacation, the dealing with loss, and the competition of the A.B.S.E. (Absolute Best Summer Ever, during which Anna and Frankie are to kiss twenty boys in all). It's extremely unique, and I can't say I've heard or read anything that even rings true to it. The family situation with the death kind of reminds me of the family set-up in the musical Next to Normal as well as the concept of the eldest child's death, but the two stories couldn't have been more different. All in all, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

And here's my attempt at making sure it sticks with you that this novel is deeper than two boy-crazed girls ravashing the beaches for guys. Some major questions dealt with in the novel include...
  • Does somebody outside of a family have the right to grieve over a loved one to the same extent?
  • Is there a defining point in someone's life?
  • If so, how do we move on from that point?

As always, Ockler's writing is marvelous. She has a way of weaving the craft in such a dynamic and intriguing way that you can't help but comment on her story-telling triumphs. A big part of a book for me is world building. I've heard many people comment on this aspect of novels, and it often puts them off of it; for example, one of my friends hated how Collins in The Hunger Games seemed to drag on and on describing every single detail about every single outfit and building ever. I definitely believe there's a talent to be harvested in this area, a balance between being descript and overbearing. If there is a "sweet spot," Ockler has hit it. She's done a fantastic job. The narrative is also well done, which could be expected because I could see that the character may be based off of her.
The Verdict: The novel may be even more delicious than a Va-Va-Vineapple smoothie. It's the quintessential vacation story with the emotional strength of a bestseller. Two thumbs up!

'Til next time!

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