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Book Review: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

TEEN REVIEW | By Rachel Baker

Having absolutely no time for leisure reading during the school year, I was in need of a good book to delve back into the habit. Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler, was the perfect gateway. Usually, my parents have to peel me off of Facebook to come down for dinner, but not when I was reading this. They just had to peel the book out of my hands.

The beginnings of books are usually the hardest; it’s tedious to sift through the introductions of characters, setting and other details. Ockler took a totally different, and refreshing, route by dropping off the reader into the drama of how Anna, the main character, and her best friend, Frankie, survived an accident, but some unnamed other was not so lucky.

Then, Ockler takes the reader back in time to Anna’s, long-desired first kiss. Again, she does not overload with details, but nor are they too scarce. She perfectly describes every element of the best and scariest moment of every girl’s life. It’s everything Anna has ever wanted, until she remembers that the boy, Matt Perino, is Frankie’s older brother. Although kissing Matt is Anna’s birthday candle wish, she’s now in jeopardy of losing her friend. Matt makes Anna promise not to tell Frankie so that he can tell her when they’re on their family vacation. Anna agrees. The only dilemma is that their plan doesn’t cover what happens next when Matt’s heart stops the day before the vacation. Frankie doesn’t know about the kiss, and Anna doesn’t know how to tell her.

The book then skips ahead to a year later when Frankie’s family invites Anna on the annual family vacation. They are different people now, and Anna can’t fill Matt’s missing spot. Mrs. Perino copes with mourning through redecorating and Mr. Perino sleeps on the couch every night. Frankie now plasters her face with makeup and talks only about boys, and Anna still struggles with whether to tell Frankie about kissing Matt.

This book makes you hurt for each of the characters because they all have to let go of something. The Perinos have to cope with being in a place that isn’t the same without Matt, and Anna has to let go of a past with someone she no longer has. The book compels you to read quickly because you want to push on to see how things can ever be okay after losing a best friend, first love, brother and son.

PARENT REVIEW | By Irene Levy Baker

I couldn’t put Twenty Boy Summer down. Not because it was so good, but because I couldn’t wait to finish it and move on to another book.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many of the young adult books that my daughter recommends. Why didn’t I enjoy this one? It was too melodramatic, in the way that only a teenage love story can be when one of the love birds dies mid-romance. Frankly, I found it boring and predictable.

The survivor, Anna, is torn by the promise she made to her late lover, Matt, to keep the romance a secret. Should she keep their secret or tell his sister, Frankie, who is also her life-long best friend? She’s torn when she kisses another boy. Was her late boyfriend watching? How would he feel? Call me heartless, but the answers to these questions all seemed pretty clear to me, and reading about her teenage angst led me to yawns rather than tears.

I did find a few interesting sections, including how classmates treated Frankie after Matt’s death. In their uncertainty about what to say, they would ask how she was feeling when, of course, she was feeling terrible. Then after about 3 months, they stopped asking because “the statute of limitations ran out” and they “forget the one thing you never will.” This rang true for me. I also found it interesting that Frankie was refreshed on vacation because instead of being the-girl-whose-brother-died, she was just another tourist. She could blend in with everyone else.

As with many young adult books, the parents come off as dolts. I suppose teens enjoy reading about parents who are stupid, since they think they’re smarter than we are anyway. But, as a parent, I find reading about bad parenting simply frustrating. I wanted to shake the parents and tell them to stop being so selfish and open their eyes.

I might recommend this book for a teenager looking for some light summer reading and maybe a few tears. Adults will find better-written and more interesting young adult books. But, for a mother reading this book with her daughter (I can’t imagine a boy enjoying this book), one redeeming quality may be the opportunity to discuss young love, virginity, as well as when secrets should be kept, and when they shouldn’t – just the type of issues girls grapple with during their teenage years.

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