Review: Twenty Boy Summer

According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.

Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer. –From Goodreads

I’m grateful for Wesley Scroggin’s insanity. It gave me the push I needed to finally read Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer. I’d been interested in this book, but a little hesitant. With a title like Twenty Boy Summer, I expected something fun and flirty–a beach read. Then Mr. Scroggins alerted the world that this filthy, dirty book involves teens using a condom, and I thought that perhaps this summer romance might have a little edge to it, but safe sex is by no means cause for book banning. In fact, it’s probably sparkly clean compared to the real lives of most of the teens reading it. None of this prepared me for actually diving into this book.

Sarah Ockler, I feel as though you vigorously jumped up and down on my heart, perhaps mistaking it for a trampoline, and crushed it into a million sea-glass sized pieces. Jo Knowles’ blurb promises that it will be put back together again, but Humpty Dumpty has not appeared, and I think that there are bits of me that will forever be lost in Zanzibar Bay. You caused me to lose control of my tear ducts about 5,000 times, and I’d like them back now, thank you very much.

Twenty Boy Summer is as true and beautiful a book about grief and moving on as Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everwhere. There is almost nothing as heartbreaking as first love realized for only a short time before it is taken away by tragedy. For Anna, that brief love is even more difficult to reconcile because it must remain a secret. Nobody else knows about Anna and Matt’s nightly rendezvous, their stolen kisses, the times they would lie together while he read her passages of his favorite books and they talked about how their relationship would survive when he went away to college. But Matt didn’t survive. A heart defect took his life away in a car accident from which Anna and her best friend (and Matt’s sister) were lucky to survive. Matt never got a chance to tell Frankie about his relationship with Anna, and Anna doesn’t want to share his secret after he is gone. She tries to protect Frankie, but protecting Frankie means never revealing the full extent of her own grief.

When Anna and Frankie head to California the next summer for vacation, they plan to have the Absolute Best Summer Ever (A.B.S.E.). They will look hot, have fun, and meet at least a boy a day until Anna loses the giant albatross around her neck–her virginity. What Anna doesn’t count on is meeting somebody she actually cares about, and with every step forward in a new relationship, Anna is consumed with the fear that all her memories of Matt will be lost.

This gorgeously, poetically written novel captures all the complexity of Anna’s emotions. It left me feeling drained, but that is not to say that it was without any levity. Frankie’s inability to say what she means–using words like prepottemous instead of preposterous–was hilarious. Anna’s relationship with Sam is exciting and hopeful, but in that summer-fling kind of way, the kind where anything can happen but ultimately all must come to an end on the last day of vacation no matter how much you promise to keep in touch. Anna and Frankie’s adventures and misadventures through Northern California also have their happy moments of milkshakes, concerts, and mock-documentary footage of their trip. Overall, though, this is a serious book about loss. This is the kind of book that I don’t want taken off the shelves, the kind of book that I want to be there for anyone who has lost someone important to them. And anyone who hasn’t…yet.

I can’t wait to read Ockler’s next book, Fixing Delilah. I’m looking forward to getting swept up in another one of her stories, and feeling the weight of her words on my heart all over again. Next time I will be armed with sticky notes. (I’m going to have to re-read this one while better prepared; I didn’t have my usual post-it flags at the ready because I had admittedly under-rated this book. Thankfully, there are some quotes on GoodReads, and I was able to skim through and find a couple of my personal favorites.) I loved Twenty Boy Summer, and if I had to lose the crushed up bits of my heart somewhere, I’m glad it was along the California coast with the waves crashing nearby, but I’d like the pieces put back together again sometime before reading the next book.

Quotable Quotes from Twenty Boy Summer

  • “Whenever we’d pass a penny on the sidewalk, Matt wouldn’t touch it. ‘Let someone else have a lucky day,’ he’d say. I used to tease him and tell him that someday when he got to the great beyond, there’d be a room stuffed full of all the pennies he’d left for other people. Now I find pennies everywhere. Not just on the sidewalk—which I leave alone, as he would have wanted—but in the strangest places. One in the shower. A few more in my shoes—that seems to be a favorite spot. Just yesterday, one dropped out of a book I bought. I put them in my pockets and drop them on the sidewalk the next chance I get. Let someone else have a lucky day, I say.”
  • “It’s kind of hard to be witty when you’re trying to call forth a giant sea squid to swallow you up and drag you down to the depths of the ocean floor, never to be seen, heard from, or mocked again.”
  • “Sometimes looking at Frankie is like seeing Matt through a glass of water – a distorted composition of him with all the right parts, but mixed up and in the wrong order. As I watch her sing his old song, I can’t shake the feeling that he just stopped by to say hello.”
  • “If Frankie and I hadn’t wanted ice cream that stupid day, he’d still be alive. If I hadn’t gotten his heart all worked up kissing him every night since my birthday, he’d still be alive. If I’d never been born, he’d still be alive. If I could find the butterfly that flapped its wings before we got into the car that day, I would crush it.”
  • “When I kissed Sam, I was so scared of erasing Matt. But now I know that I could never erase him. He’ll always be a part of me – just in a different way. Like Sam, making smoothies on the beach two thousand miles away. Like Frankie, my voodoo magic butterfly finding her way back home in the dark. Like the stars, fading with the halo of the vanishing moon. Like the ocean, falling and whispering against the shore. Nothing ever really goes away – it just changes into something else. Something beautiful. “

3 Responses to "Review: Twenty Boy Summer"

  • There are not enough words for how much I loved this book. She has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. I feel exactly the same way about this book as you did. One of, if not my favorite of the year, for sure. I am anxiously awaiting Fixing Delilah and anything else she writes!

    Great review!

    1 Kelley Vitollo said this (September 29, 2010 at 6:28 PM)

  • ok, now that is two I must read.

    2 Judy said this (September 30, 2010 at 6:00 PM)

  • Wonderful review and I loved the passages you pulled — so moving. I’m very interested in this one but worry my heart will be totally destroyed after reading it, too! I’m actually breathing sort of shallow with pain just reading your review. But I’ll probably risk it — sounds like it’s more than worth it. 🙂

    3 Meg said this (October 5, 2010 at 11:04 AM)