Loss and change. Loss and change. Sometimes I feel like I could stick those labels on books, one after another. Recently, I feel like the ante’s been upped. You can’t just have lost a parent or sibling. You have to lose more than one. Or maybe you’ve got an autistic sibling and lost a parent, too? Or maybe your special needs cousin is the murderer of your star athlete brother?
Yes. I realize I’m exaggerating. It’s only when I start to feel this way and then come across a really good book about loss and change that I realize how ridiculous I am.
And so it was for Summerlost. I admit that I charged past the flap of the book (which mentioned two deaths in the first sentence) mainly because I’ve read Ally Condie’s teen novels in the Matched series and remembered liking them. Having a previous and positive relationship with an author counts a lot for me.
Cedar and Leo become friends around a summer theater festival. Their parents are busy and somewhat disengaged. Their siblings drift in and out of their lives, depending on everyone’s responsibilities and what needs to get done. Cedar is still grieving the loss of her dad and her brother, and finding a job at the festival gives her a purpose. Leo realizes Cedar can help him with an idea for a side project, and they become friends.
There’s no lack of quirky characters in middle grade fiction, although you don’t come across many who are effortlessly quirky and genuine–as Leo is. He cares deeply about things others haven’t even noticed, and he doesn’t seem especially concerned about being so different sometimes. He just is who he is, right up until the moment you realize he’s spent months trying to find a way to connect with his dad. Suddenly, in just a few words, he exposes layers of doubt and pain.
Cedar’s friendship with Leo is not always an easy one, but it rings true. I never knew anyone exactly like Leo, but my youth was filled with quirky and completely fascinating boys. You liked and admired them sometimes, but you never like liked them. And that’s the real beauty of this book – their friendship. It’s complicated and awkward and imperfect, but it’s also really wonderful and life-changing. You think back on friendships you had when you were young–or even friendships you have now–and remember how those moments together were powerful and sent you off in a direction you didn’t expect. Sometimes there’s sadness in that, but sometimes, the memories are colored with the light of a summer day fading into night and the promise of more summer days to come.
Summer lost? Not lost at all, it turns out.
Summerlost by Ally Condie