Dessen, Sarah. That Summer.

NY: MacRae Books, 1996.

I discovered Dessen’s Young Adult novels awhile back and was taken with her abilities as a storyteller. She’s done about fifteen of them now, all of them very popular, and I had been reading them pretty much at random. I decided it was time to go back to her first published effort to see how her work had evolved.

Haven McPhail is fifteen, a high school sophomore somewhere in the southeast U.S., and she’s very tall. It’s now late summer and she’s grown four inches just since April, putting her a hair under six feet. This is one of the three main facts of her life.

The other two being two weddings — that of Ashley, her older sister, to the blandest (but steadiest) guy imaginable, and her divorced father’s second, to the weather girl at the TV station where he’s the sportscaster. She’s had a rocky relationship with Ashley because that five-year difference is often very hard to overcome. And Ashley, small and cute and a boy-magnet, has always been hard work anyway. And their mother is struggling to deal with her ex-husband’s upcoming nuptials and with his obvious attempt to reboot his life. Moreover, her best friend has come back from 4-H camp a completely changed girl, and a little scary. And her mother is thinking about selling the too-big house, which is also unsettling. And then there’s Sumner Lee, the only one of her sister’s many boyfriends that Haven ever really liked. Everyone liked him, in fact. You smiled and laughed a lot when Sumner was around. But that was years ago and Sumner went off to college up north — but now he’s back in town for the summer, and he seems to provide just the sort of psychological support Haven needs.

There’s not a lot of action to the story. It’s more of a situational thing, Haven trying to come to terms with all these sudden changes in her life, trying to accommodate everyone and their needs and demands, and physically towering over the rest of the world besides. But as a character portrait, the story is first-rate, And don’t worry about that “young adult” label. A book is either well-written or it’s not. This one is.

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Published in: on 8 August 2017 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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