Tuesday, June 28, 2016

June Book Review: The Last Summer (of You & Me) by Ann Brashares

I bought this book about five years ago because, hello, Ann is a genius who came up with my favorite books ever, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

For her debut "adult novel" Brashares crafts a beautifully written, lyrical, character study. Ahh, I can remember delving into this book on Memorial Day weekend of 2011. I was at my grandpa's house after the traditional parade, seeking air conditioning inside his house while the rest of the party went on outside. I reclined in his old green chair and read in solitude. I finished the book at home on the couch that night.

I can't remember exactly how I felt about it back then, I know I liked it but a lot of the specific plot details had been lost over time so when I reread the book earlier this month, it felt almost new to me.

The main character is Alice, an unsure 21 year old who yearns for the approval of Paul, her sister Riley's best friend and who she has been infatuated with for her whole life. Unknown to her is the fact that Paul feels the same way. The three of them meet up yearly at the island on which their families own homes. In one pivotal summer, the relationship is finally addressed and a health emergency turns everything on its head.

I love that this book gives a pondering, quiet look into the bond of both sisters and friends. There is something so valuable about literature that is not plot driven, but instead is slowly paced, well thought out and lead by the characters. Paul, Riley and Alice all have a voice uniquely their own but the stand out to me is Riley. In fact, my one complaint is that I wanted more of her. She is such an interesting character, with a makeup of traits that I honestly have never seen done before. Certainly I've read book with a more sensitive and yet stubborn character like Alice or a free, noncomformative man such as Paul. Of course, that's not to say they are cliche, they aren't. Alice's insecurity and wittiness set her apart from any stock character before her and Paul's troubled past and emotional instability give him an edge.

But Riley, who seems stuck in the past and yet most in touch with the present, is an anomaly. Brashares describes her as someone who excelled at being a kid but whose qualities of merit no longer hold stock in adulthood. I almost feel as though the ever mentioned "ice berg theory" is in play here. That Brashares had only revealed to the reader the tip of the iceberg as far as Riley is concerned and that she as the creator of her character, knows her even more fully. It is clear from the writing that Ann knew exactly what she was doing with Riley. But as I said above, if I could change one thing, I would want more of her, specifically more of her and Paul to illustrate their close friendship.

Let me end by saying that this is not a necessarily happy book. As the title suggests, there is loss and melancholy but don't let that deter you from reading it. It's a fabulous piece of writing that will leave you with an ache of pain and as well as a smile of triumph.


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