Thursday, June 20, 2013

book review: second chance summer by morgan matson

Title:  Second Chance Summer
Author:  Morgan Matson
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster (2012)

Synopsis:  Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.

Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.

As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.

Okay, to start off, I have to say that despite some of the more YA clichéd plot lines and themes that you think are going to be going on in this book, you should definitely read it because it will surprise you. After reading Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, Morgan Matson is one of my more favored YA authors, and there's a reason for that:  her dialogue is so well scripted. Often authors fall short on the conversation of characters just because they like to fixate on the emotions behind it all. Not Matson. She focuses on both so well. I think she's actually a screenwriter or something? Don't quote me on that, but if she is, it shows. Below are a few tidbits that a really enjoyed about the book, and then one maybe that I'd like to see different. :)

The characterization of the novel was fantastic. First off, I love it when people pay homage to the whole personality birth-order theory when talking about siblings and the family. Not only is it interesting for you to compare yourself to your siblings, but it's almost like there's an immediate bond with anyone that fills the role that you do in your family. I say this because I immediately identified with Taylor because of the whole middle child kinda thing, so that was neat (although not for your non-middle children out there). But no worries, you non-middletons, this theory rubbed off on all the characters:  Taylor's siblings, her parents, her neighbors. From working in coping mechanisms (Taylor's tendency to run away) and more, Matson really understood what was going on in the characters' heads and psyches and did well in weaving in the history of each character and drawing upon that to create this fantastic plot deep with rich players that simply leapt off the page. I super appreciate that!

Speaking of plot, this story was so heart-breaking and fantastic. As you'll find out in the first few pages (and probably from the synopsis above), Taylor's dad is diagnosed with cancer. His request that they spend his last summer with his family at their cabin is a great idea by all accounts, but dismal for Taylor, as she hadn't left things very friendly when she fled the cabin five years before the story takes place. Now, she must face the demons that she locked up all those years ago. Taylor's journey, aside from the arc of her father's health, is plagued by the painful mending of these broken relationships through a summer job (where she must encounter her ex-best friend), everyday life (where her love interest - who she knew as a child - moved in next door to their cabin), and more. I really liked how there was more things than just her dad's story going on here. If there hadn't been any Henry - her love interest - or friend stuff going on, this book would be SO depressing, let me tell you. And, you know, real life isn't just one battle at a time. I'm also really glad Matson worked in classic movies into her story with the whole community movie on the beach event Taylor had to organize. It's another thing I love about her writing:  she incorporates real-world connections to popular culture. So the plot really brought to life a real situation with which a lot of people can identify. Stories reflecting life is important with writing arts.

It's probably notable to say that if you're a Sarah Dessen fan, you'll like this book because they draw some similarities that are common in contemporary YA writing. The loss of a parent (no less a father), sibling and family conflicts, recovering from childhood events, and "firsts" are all part of the story. For these reasons, as well as the setting and the basic "feel" of the novel, it's very Dessen-esque, although Matson has a signature writing style that makes it her very own (As I said, her dialogue is so fantastic, and the use of flashbacks really brings the story to life!).

So this is a pretty glowing review so far, but I have to say something that somewhat comes off as criticism, right? Well, Warren - Taylor's older brother - drove me nuts! Honestly. It wasn't even funny. By the end of the story, he came around, but he was completely unbelievable towards the beginning of the story. Between fear of rodents and all of the other stupid things he would do, it was like he was twelve years old, or was written at first like her was 12, but boosted up to 19 in a later draft. Anyway, I didn't like his character one bit, although he offered an extra substance to the story as it progressed.

As a summer read? Definitely do it. I highly recommend both Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour to any audience. Matson is a talented dialogue writer, obviously draws from personal experience, and mends everything into a tapestry that's hard to criticize. It was fantastic!

'Til next time!


  1. Oh man I totally forgot about the brother until you mentioned it there at the end of your review. YOU ARE SO RIGHT. I was so confused about his age for most of the book until they specifically said he was going off to college and stuff. But yeah, other than that this book was totally brilliant! Morgan Matson definitely hits the nail on the head with all of her characters. Well, except the brother, but other than that they're all so perfect. She's definitely one of my new favorite contemporary authors!

    Julia @ That Hapa Chick

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