Ann Brasheres is the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series for young adults. This is her first novel for adults.
This story is one of a beach-community friendship traingle among three young adults for whom summer and this place have meant everything. Sisters Riley and Alice have been returning to their parent’s modest beach house every summer for their entire lives. Riley is a tomboy and a lifeguard. Alice is beautiful and gentle, a reader and a thinker, and worshipful of her older sister. And every summer growing up, in the big house that overshadowed their humble one, there was Paul, a friend as important to both girls as the place itself. Paul has now returned to the island after being away for three years. His return marks a season of tremendous change, and when a simmering attraction, a serious illness, and a deep secret all collide, the three friends are launched into a unfamiliar adult world, a world from which their summer haven can no longer protect them.
This was my book club read for September and was a little difficult for me to get interested in. First of all, I know nothing of summers where you leave your home and live on the beach in your summer home. I am not familiar with Fire Island and the kind of lifestyle that comes along with living on the beach for every summer of your life. I could connect with the familial relationships and friendships that were between Alice and Riley and Paul because they were like most other kids who have grown up together. The story was slow to come through as there was a lot of back stories to go through in the beginning of the novel. If you haven’t had a chance to care about the characters, I think it is hard to be interested in their back stories. I think Riley’s character was the most developed, but with Alice being the storyteller, that made it difficult, I think. The storyline was equally frustrating in that no one was honest with eachother throughout the whole story. Everyone was keeping something from someone whether it was Riley, Alice, or Paul or one of the parents. So, the storyline just didn’t flow for me. I could see how maybe someone in their early 20’s might relate to this story better, but for me I still saw this as a young adult novel with too much immaturity attached to the main characters that made it too frustrating for me to enjoy. There was a paragraph in the story that did stick with me. Alice is sitting in her parents inland home noticing all the items in the kitchen, like the pot she formed out of clay snakes that still held the salt and two ivy plants that Alice and Riley had purchased for their mom still thriving after all this time. “There was love expressed in the places you usually forgot to look.” I had to stop when I read this sentence. It made me think of all the things sitting around my parents home…things that have sat there for years and were part of my childhood…things that I overlook….would I miss them if they weren’t sitting there anymore? What are the things in our home that are overlooked. What will our children look back on as those expressions of love in our home?
So, for an adult in their low to mid twenties who understands the culture of living and growing up on the beach in the summer, this would probably be a great read. For me, it was just ok. The story did pick up towards the middle, but to late for me to have much of an interest in the characters. If not for book club, I would not have finished it. So, out of 5 stars I give this 2 1/2 stars.
Addition: My book club met last night and we had an extensive discussion about the book. So if a book encourages a lot of discussion, then that must mean the author has gotten the reader thinking, which is good. There were many discussions about the way the writer left certain situations of the book “unknown” like what happened to Amy and Riley’s beach house, did Riley resent Paul and Amy for being the reason she lost her bag with medication in it which resulted in her further illness? I think we were all equally frustrated with the lack of communication between the characters, but several of our members enjoyed the book. That is why I love book club so much. It gives me a chance to hear different perspectives about the book andhelp me sees situations in a book in a different way. In fact it may lead me to see the book in a completely different light. The younger members in the book club seemed to have enjoyed it more, which leads me to think that again, women in their 20’s might relate better to this book than someone in their 30’s or 40’s. Thanks to Emily for making us “Sex on the Beach” drinks to coincide with the story!