Review: The Summer Before Boys
Julia’s mother was shipped off to Iraq to work as a nurse in the National Guard. Her father is too busy to watch her, so she spends her summer with relatives, including best friend Eliza. The two girls are inseparable, spending their time at the resort where Eliza’s father works, a place where they get free ice cream and relatively free reign so long as they are well behaved. They occupy themselves with make believe games and mischief. Julia tries to avoid worrying about her mom, but can’t help remembering all the research she has done about women in war from time to time.
However, when Julia meets Michael, she finds even more distraction from her everyday problems. In a transitional period between finding boys icky and craving her first kiss, Julia grows more and more obsessed with “bumping into” Michael at the hotel. Unfortunately, Eliza has trouble competing for attention, and Julia’s burgeoning interest in boys threatens to tear their relationship apart.
Nora Raleigh Baskin’s The Summer Before Boys is a coming of age story that chronicles the awkwardness of a 12 year old girl first realizing her interest in boys, an interest that must be reconciled with the desire to spend time with friends. More than that, it is a book about loss of innocence in a girl who is discovering that the world can be a scary place, a place where parents go to war and don’t always come back, or come back different than they were before they left.
While I often found the pacing slow, the passages dealing with Julia’s fear of losing her mom in war were moving and important in our post-9/11 world. I may not have been captivated by the games Julia and Eliza play, but I appreciated Baskin’s depiction of a girl struggling to become a woman without the help of her mother.