Monday, 16 June 2014

Review - The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi

The Summer I Wasn't Me

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi
Series: Standalone
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on April 1 2014
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 342
Rating: 3/5 stars
Lexi has a secret. 
She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she's afraid that what's left of her family is going to fall apart for good. 
Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there's nothing she wants more than to start over. 
But sometimes love has its own path...

This book is essentially a cross between the (amazing) film But I’m a Cheerleader and Emily M. Danforth’s wonderful debut, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Now, I’m generally not a fan of positing books as the lovechild of two other things, but the similarities cannot be avoided here. The first half of the book is almost identical to the set-up of But I’m a Cheerleader, particularly in the way that the degayifying camp works. For someone who has never seen the movie, this wouldn’t be a problem, but for someone who has it seems a little bit derivative.

The strongest part of The Summer I Wasn’t Me was definitely the characters. I felt like the four main teenagers – Lexi, Carolyn, Matthew, and Daniel – all made sense and were well-developed in their own ways. They were somewhat stereotypical, particularly Matthew, but it worked. The stereotypes were either built upon or subverted in some way throughout the narrative. I also loved that none of these characters were there just as supporting actors in the story of Lexi. They all had their own problems and their own issues to work through, and though Lexi was obviously the star of the book, the other characters were generally handled well. I do wish that there we learned more about their lives beyond the camp, which was a complaint I had about Lexi as well.

The one big problem I had with the characterization was the adults. Every single adult in this book is an asshole. With the exception of Carolyn’s parents (who we only hear about  and never meet), all of the adults or people in positions of power are incredibly bigoted for absolutely no reason. Not that there's ever a reason to be a bigot.

On this note, this book is very emotionally difficult to read. In all honesty, it should come with a trigger warning, because there are all sorts of unpleasant things going on here, not least of which is the rampant sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of the campers. It can be really hard to read sometimes. I know that if I were in Lexi’s position, I wouldn’t have made it through the first day without running away or getting kicked out. This place just isn’t reasonable. One of the ‘camp rules’ is that campers must obey their instructors at all times without asking questions. I would not be able to handle that.

I read this book in two sittings – a few hours before going to bed and a few more once I woke up the next morning, and it really sucked me in. I wanted to see justice for the emotional (and sometimes physical) torture that these teenagers were put through. I wanted to see Lexi realize that she is fine just the way she is, that she doesn’t need to change her sexuality to make her mother better. I wanted her to see that her mom’s well-being is not her responsibility, and that if her mom can’t bring herself to love her for who she is, it’s not her fault.

I found the ending of the book to be rushed and rather chaotic. I wanted a bit more closure than it offered – I wanted to see the consequences put into action, to see how Lexi and her mother could grow both individually and within their own relationship. I wanted to see more about Lexi going home, and how this experience changed her – not in the ways that the camp directors wanted it to, but it definitely changed her. There is no way that someone could go through what these teens went through and be unscathed at the end. Most of all I wanted to know what happened to Matthew – was he okay? Was he emotionally scarred by what happened or was he able to bounce back? Did his father apologize for what he put him through? There were a lot of unanswered questions, and I really needed a bit more to round everything out at the end. Another fifty or hundred pages would have really helped me out.

In all honesty, though this book was a quick read and it was relatively enjoyable, I would recommend you just go watch But I’m a Cheerleader and read The Miseducation of Cameron Post instead. Besides, the humour in But I’m a Cheerleader is amazing, and something that was very missed in The Summer I Wasn’t Me. Also, I really don't get (or like) the cover. It doesn't tell me a single thing about the book, nor does it look particularly intriguing.

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