Twenty Boy Summer – The Long Review

I have no idea what’s going on with Pretty Little YA Books. I think we’re done for, but the e-mail we received was little more than incredibly vague. Anyway, I wrote this review for Twenty Boy Summer. I am pretty fond of it and I don’t want it to just go to waste (like all the other reviews I wrote and sent. Ridiculous. I am pretty angry). Here it is:

This book went from bad to fab in 3.2 seconds. Or, actually, it was much slower than that because I struggled through the first 192 pages. And I mean, really struggled. There was more than one moment when I wanted to give up for good. But, in the name of Pretty Little Young Adult Books and reviews you can rely on, I kept plugging along. I hope you all appreciate it because it hurt. But, the instant it got good, it got good and it stayed that way right through to the end.

Anna Rielly has been invited to vacation at Zanzibar Bay with her best friend Frankie and Frankie’s parents. It is Anna’s first trip to California and the family’s first since the tragic death of their brother and son, Matt, the year before. In the name of the Absolute Best Summer Ever (ABSE), Frankie challenges Anna to a Twenty Boy Summer complete with the ultimate goal of losing Anna’s Albatross, otherwise known as Anna’s virginity. What Frankie doesn’t know is that Anna already had her perfect romance. With Matt. For one secret month before his death. And she’s keeping the secret because it had been Matt’s job to tell Frankie.With him gone, Anna feels as though her heartbreak should be second to Frankie’s and so she continues to carry her love for Matt alone. At every moment you are wondering – can they, Anna and this family striving for normalcy in the wake of tragedy, survive the summer?

The romance between Anna and Matt is short lived – one month or 19 pages. Matt’s impending death is no secret as anyone who checks out the back cover will find it in the summary. As such, it’s difficult to feel all of the characters’ connections to Matt, even though it is very clearly stated that he meant a lot to everybody. After 19 pages, the narrative rushes forward to one year after Matt’s death and the planning of the ABSE. Frankie, we are told by Anna, isn’t the same girl she used to be. But since the reader barely gets a glimpse of who she was before, it’s hard to sit back and not be annoyed by her selfish, boy obsessed ways. Up to page 192, the story is just a repetition of Frankie putting on too much make up, Anna going along with everything Frankie says, and the same cycle of sad thoughts about Matt.

It all turns around when Anna begins to allow herself to let go. Suddenly, the process the characters are going through is real, painful, bittersweet and hopeful. Letting go is more painful than holding on and Sarah Ockler captures this pain exquisitely. I spent the last third of the book alternating between crying hysterically and ear marking my favorite passages. The turning point for me was when Anna begins contemplating actually losing her virginity – the passage is comical and true and is also the moment the reader realizes that Anna just might be ready to live the life that even Matt would have wanted her to have. Anna speculates about why virginity is something everyone says they lose – “Don’t worry, Mom. You can call off the helicopters and police dogs. Turns out – get this – I didn’t actually lose my virginity. I just cast it off somewhere between here and Monterey. Can you believe it? lt could be anywhere by now, what with all that wind.”

While I found Twenty Boy Summer to be worth it in the end, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone without warning them of the long struggle it takes to get there. It might not be worth it for everyone. I’m just saying – it was for me.
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