My summer reading continues with this YA heartbreaker. I knew I was going to love this book when less than one chapter in I thought a) I wish I had written this book, and b) I want to be best friends with Sarah Ockler.
Last year, Matt Perino, his younger sister Frankie, and best friend and girl-next-door Anna were in a car accident. Matt did not survive. The trio had been inseparable for years, but a few weeks prior to the accident Matt and Anna had become something more than friends, only they never told anyone about it. When Matt dies, Anna’s secret love dies with her. The Perino’s are trying to move forward, and that includes returning to their beloved summer home in California. This year Anna is invited, and Frankie -who has turned a little wild since her brother’s death- decides that this will be the best summer ever. Part of her plan includes meeting 20 different boys. Anna plays along, not expecting to meet someone she actually cares about. But then she meets Sam.
Warning! This review contains spoilers.
I loved this book so much I rode the subway 2 extra stops so I could keep reading and then went the long way home. There are plenty of standard YA tropes here (bookish narrator who keeps a journal and doesn’t know she’s pretty, the sexy best friend, summer fling, beach parties, etc), but all this familiarity made the book feel comfortable, not unoriginal. I immediately felt like I was in sure hands with Ockler’s storytelling and I loved Anna from the start. And the details! Ockler is a master at planting meaningful details that define characters, moments, and ultimately, her first-class brand of storytelling. Beach glass, gingerale-pineapple smoothies, an olive green bathing suit…these are just a few of the details I carry with me still.
This knock-out debut has been banned a number of times in a number of places for sexual content and underage drinking, but both issues are handled deftly and with the audience in mind. The title could be misconstrued as rather trashy, but the idea is the girls need to meet and interact with 20 boys, not sleep with them. And though part of the plan is losing “Anna’s Albatross” (her virginity), this too is handled with maturity and rare honesty.
The subject matter, portrayal of grief and teenage longing made me think of The Sky is Everywhere, which is a book I recommend to everyone over the age of thirteen. Some of Ockler’s phrasing and word-smithery was also reminiscent of Jandy Nelson’s style. Both Nelson and Ockler walk the line between literary and commercial fiction, crafting a smooth, easy to read story with lots of emotional punch delivered with careful literary aplomb. Fans of The Summer I Turned Pretty series by Jenny Han, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, and Deb Caletti’s work (Stay comes to mind) will love this book. If every book I read this summer is exactly like 20 Boy Summer, I will be one very happy reader.
20 Boy Summer is available now from Little Brown.
PS Can we talk about how gorgeous that cover is? Perfect!