Book review: Summer Sisters

I wanted to read Summer Sisters by Judy Blume for another example of writing that takes place on Martha’s Vineyard. My sister had given the book the big L-U-V, so I figured it must be well-done, because the sis can’t handle misrepresentation of her island. She’s probably even more critical than I am.

Plot synopsis

The story chronicles the friendship between Victoria and Caitlin. Caitlin, the daughter of wealthy divorced hippies, spends winters in Santa Fe with her mom and summers on Martha’s Vineyard with her father. In sixth grade, she asks classmate Victoria (Vix), with whom she’s never spoken, to join her for the summer on Martha’s Vineyard. There, they become BFF and spend every summer together, until they get older and life happens, but even in the later days, the Vineyard continues to be the home base of their friendship. During the summers together, they grow, they learn about sex, they decide the kind of people they want to be. For Vix, this means a Harvard education and a career in New York City. For Caitlin, the search for self is never ending. She travels the world, has a ton of adventures, but never quite figures it out.

Notes

The use of MV as a backdrop is so well done. Sometimes Judy Blume uses place names, but I love how in some places, she doesn’t tell you where they are but gives you enough info to figure it out. For example, at one point they take the ferry over to Chappy and they drive forever until the ocean stretches out before them. So they’re at Wasque, but the name is never used. Vix, as the narrator, wouldn’t know it was called that, and Caitlin is not exactly the tour guide type, so it is completely appropriate to leave it out. And it’s also fun being all, oh! They’re at Wasque!

I LOVE the characters Maia and Paisley, Vix’s college friends. They provide a hilarious Greek chorus-type running commentary on what goes on with Vix, because Vix doesn’t share personal things, so they are always having to guess. Makes for some great dialogue.

Caitlin annoyed the hell out of me from beginning to end. I’m not a fan of the Tragic Heroine. Anna Karenina, Blanche DuBois, you name it. I find the Stellas and the Kittys much more interesting – people who accept life, taking the good with the bad, and make it work. I don’t buy for a second that someone like Vix would continue to be friends with someone like Caitlin after some of the things she does. She says she accepts Caitlin like a sister, but even for a sister, some of her behavior is just unacceptable. I thought JB was about to go an entirely different direction at the end, maybe bringing to light that Vix was the pretty one with everything going for her all along, albeit somewhat of an unreliable narrator; instead, the ending was really predictable, and for me, pretty disappointing.

Things I really respect about JB: Her characters are solid, interesting, varied. She is so unafraid to be crass; there is nothing precious here. I tend to tiptoe around certain topics, so I totally respect someone who can just lay it all out there. She tries cool things, such as interspersing one-paragraph POVs of different secondary characters throughout. She sets a nice pace. In college, when I was studying children’s writing people would talk about how JB pretty much created the YA genre even though she’s not that great a writer. I disagree. I think she’s a very strong writer. She definitely has a voice, and it’s honest, clean, and you don’t have to go searching too hard to figure out what she’s trying to say. It’s not necessarily “literary” (whatever that means) or academic, but really everything shouldn’t be. I appreciate writing that can be taken at face value, and that’s what you get here.

So one thing that I have to mention is, um, the fact that the main character’s name is Victoria and her love interest, Bru’s, full name is Joseph Brudegher. Yep, Victoria and Joe – same names as the characters in the story I’m working on. So this whole blog business is timestamped, and all two of you who read this blog post are my witnesses that I did not steal names or settings from Judy Blume, OK? Because, really, if you’re trying to break into the YA market, the uber-prolific genre-defining Ms. Blume is the last person one should be stupid enough to steal from, m-kahy…?

Do I recommend this book?

It’s a good summer read, particularly if you have ties to the Vineyard, or if you grew up in the 70s/80s and like a little nostalgia with your beach book.

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