Bullying seems to be a prevalent topic these days...and it definitely should be! Earlier this summer, I read "So Far Away" by Meg Mitchell Moore, which involved bullying on an intense level. When I saw that "Last Summer," by Holly Chamberlin, was also about bullying, I was compelled to see how the topic was handled by another women's fiction novelist.
Jane Patterson and Frannie Giroux have been best friends ever since their daughters were born. They live next door to each other in southern Maine and spend idyllic summers together, looking after each other and their kids. Then the unthinkable happens; Jane finds out that Rosie has been bullied and that Frannie's daughter, Meg, is involved in her pain and humiliation. This leads to neighbors no longer speaking to one another and family dynamics shifting course. Will Rosie and Jane be able to forgive Meg and Frannie or will they be spending future summers apart, even while living so close to each other?
"Last Summer" was an interesting and well thought out novel that covered both bullying and the dynamics of friendship. It was interesting to "watch" the interactions between the two adult women as juxtaposed against the interactions of the two teenage girls. I found the chapters that involved either Rosie or Meg's point of views as the most interesting parts of the story. I'm not much of a YA reader, but I found it interesting to see how some of their attitudes and ideas were timeless and others were jaded by the era in which we currently live. The adults were closer to my age, but they seemed a lot older for some reason. Maybe because I haven't raised a teenager yet, I can't completely relate. However, I enjoyed reading the parts involving Frannie because she had a lot of interesting drama and struggles to deal with. Her ex-husband was a deadbeat and she had financial concerns. Her ability to make friends was limited, so it seemed harder on her when Jane cut off their connection.
Having said that, even though Jane also seemed to be short on friends and her daughter was the one being bullied, I had the hardest time relating to her. The chapters involving her point of view just seemed so dry. I wanted her to experience some sort of personal drama, as well. A fight with her husband wasn't enough to satisfy me. Thankfully, the other perspectives balanced hers out and her chapters were relatively short.
I liked the chapters that featured Rosie's diary, as they gave me a lot of insight into what she was going through. I was especially pleased that there was no dialogue in the diary entries. They felt more authentic, as a result. However, having the bullying scenes in diary format took away from the intensity of those scenes. I would have rather seen Rosie in the moment instead of reflecting upon it later. They did paint a good picture of what people go through at the hands of bullies; her depression felt like a lead weight on my shoulders and even if someone had never experienced bullying, they'd be able to sympathize. I think anyone who had been a bully and read Rosie's diary would call their victims and apologize profusely!
The only other concern I had was with character references. Jane would be the featured perspective of a chapter, but then be referred to as Mrs. Patterson. Or Rosie would sometimes refer to Jane as her mother and other times as Jane. The balance of references based on perspective just felt awkward as a result. Meg and Rosie's voices sometimes sounded similar, which also threw me off as to who was narrating a chapter.
Overall, I liked "Last Summer." Aside from the harsh realities of bullying, it had a nice coming of age feel. Ms. Chamberlin's use of detail made me feel like I was at the beach or shopping downtown with the girls. It put me in the mood for summer and there was a peaceful, "comfort food" feel to the story. This is my first experience with reading something by Ms. Chamberlin. I noticed that she has written a bunch of novels, so I'd appreciate recommendations for a must-read by her.
Special thanks to Kensington for the book in exchange for an honest review.
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