UK Publisher: Firefly Press
Genre: Teen, contemporary fiction, coming-of-age
After their exams, four sixteen-year-old best friends pledge to live a summer regret-free, doing what they want to do however much it scares them: Sasha agrees to spend the holiday with her father in Geneva, having not seen him for six years, but is not expecting his new girlfriend, or the young man in the cafe. Shy Hetal decides to go to science camp, and finds a new competitive spirit. Nell gets a summer job, but after her accident her mother is scared to let her out of the house – so to do what she wants she will have to lie to her parents. Cam goes to look for her birth father, scared of the future when she can no longer stay with her foster family. What will she find? As all these choices become difficult, even dangerous, they will need to turn to each other for the strength to face the future.
I got hold of this book after an event at Kenilworth Books, on the nature of YA literature (you can find my tweets on the event here), which also evolved into a discussion about the lack of dedicated, positive literature for teens. It was felt by the panel – which included Kate, a librarian and a bookseller (the wonderful Tamsin of Kenilworth Books) – that too many books were being pitched as YA which were dark and theme-driven, potentially trying to aim at an older audience than teens. Kate’s book came up a number of times during the discussion, described as ‘up-lit’ aimed at teens, unapologetically designed to be fun. I’ve seen a number of book bloggers talking about how many adults seem to be taking over YA spaces, and books seeming to be targeting older audiences rather then the teen/YA market, so it was an interesting discussion.
As someone who reads a lot of YA, the tone was very clearly different in this. Kate has identified her audience and written specifically to them in tone, structure, and character. I thought it was a great book, and perfect for the age range she is targeting – which is why there were plot and character things I would have liked to have seen developed more, but which it makes sense weren’t explored further because it wasn’t for me.
The narrative begins with four friends at the start of the long summer holidays after their GCSEs (gosh those long holidays were amazing, I miss them), and then, in their quest to make sure they have no regrets, they end up mostly splitting into different directions. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, in a rotation of four, but for a short book this means that the storylines to me felt a little rushed before they are all pulled together for the finale and the realisations their adventures have brought. But actually, this makes sense. The storyline takes place across a maximum of two weeks, and at the age of 16 things do develop very quickly. It also makes the book a very quick read.
The book deals well with a lot of issues – disability, anxiety and PTSD, non-traditional families, girls being ‘too smart’, and foster care. The cast are a range of strong-minded girls who grow and learn as the story progresses, and realise maybe they’d been going about things the wrong way.
Had the book been about any of the individual characters alone, I think the storylines would have played out very differently. Hetal’s camp rivalry would have gone on longer, her realisation that she had misjudged people would have been longer coming, and perhaps she would have overcompensated further for being told girls shouldn’t be too smart. I did miss that we didn’t get to unpack her mother’s advice to let boys feel smarter – the book leaves no doubt that the sentiment itself is wrong, but perhaps giving Hetal a chance to address it with her mother and unpack it would have been a valuable scene. It wasn’t necessary for Hetal’s development in the story, however, I just personally would have liked to have seen these adult misconceptions addressed in the way others were.
The prime example of this being handled really well was Nell and her mother. After Nell’s accident a year before which led to the loss of her arm, her mother has become aggressively overprotective, meaning that Nell has to lie to her about what she is doing to have any freedom, but also about how she is feeling because she fears her mother’s overreaction and the loss of the little space she has left. This means she has bottled up a lot of her feelings after the accident and instead of dealing with them in a healthy way she is left with aggressive anxiety and low self-esteem which she constantly forces her way through at the expense of her mental wellbeing. This storyline was a wonderful way of looking at the different reactions to trauma and how everyone handles it in ways that are more or less successful. It was also this storyline which brings all the friends back together at the end, which is a narratively lovely touch when Nell worries that she is the baggage for her friends rather than someone they love and value.
Had Sasha’s story been the solo narrative, I think a lot more would have been made of the handsome waiter, of the tension between herself, her dad, and her dad’s new girlfriend, and perhaps even her adventures home. Possibly revealing a little much of my personal sense of justice here, I felt that Sasha was entirely in the right regarding her father’s behaviour, because she was very clear about expressing her displeasure and he seemed entirely oblivious, even after the fact. He struck me as quite selfish, and perhaps this would have been even more inflated had it been the only story. Instead, because of the shortened narrative space, it is handled in the way normal people would handle it. Nothing is catastrophised, and everyone learns to meet in the middle. Whilst for me I’d have liked to see her dad acknowledge his errors more (am I vindictive? Possibly), I think it’s perhaps more valuable for the target readership to see that not everything has to be life or death. At 16, drama is often already inflated anyway, so the message of growth and measured forgiveness is important.
The final narrative, Cam’s, looks at identity and family. As a child in foster care, who has had no stability, she is preparing for loss and isolation once she ages out of the foster system in two years. Her mother’s death from drink and drug abuse isn’t romanticised, and her grandmother’s death is presented as a sad fact, but she becomes fixated on finding the father she never knew to try and protect her future. She is convinced her foster parents are preparing to get rid of her as soon as they are able, and that made my very sad. Narratively, it was clear to me that her foster parents cared for her and were proud of her, but while the story with her biological father is resolved, the storyline with her foster parents only gets briefly addressed. I would have liked to have seen that just given a little more time and emphasis on the value of found families and non-traditional family units, alongside her reconnecting with biological family.
In general, though, this book does exactly what it says on the tin. It is light, positive, and the characters grow and develop without excess stress or trauma. I also liked that the focus wasn’t really on romance, as can often be the case in teen literature with female leads. Instead it was on pursuing the characters’ dreams and finding their own resolutions before they come together again.
- A light, uplifting and fun story about four friends as they grow and develop.
- Despite it being light and enjoyable, it touches on issues which can be important to teens, and gives valuable messages without labouring the point.
- I think that despite having an all-female cast, this book could easily be enjoyed by boys as well, as the focus isn’t on romance but on self-discovery and personal strength.
Rating: 3/5 – there was a lot to be impressed with in this book. My ratings are based on my personal enjoyment, however I want to emphasise that this book wasn’t written for me. I found it a light read as an adult, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone I knew with teenage kids.