I do not like to give books age ratings or warnings, but I will say, as I do in the review, that if you’re comfortable watching Girls or Skins, you’ll be comfortable reading this.
I bought Summer Sisters back in July. I’m a bit behind on my summer reading and I’m also trying to hold onto summer! Boots, knit cardigans and umbrellas are all out, but I’m still going to pick up My Life Next Door, my last summery book.
I started reading Summer Sisters knowing that it was said to be one of her adult, rather than pre-teen, novels. Summer Sisters begins in 1990, when twenty five-year-old Victoria, also known as Vix, answers the phone only to be reminded of the most thrilling and most complicated friendship she’s ever had. It’s Caitlin Somers, calling because she is getting married and wishes Vix to attend the wedding. Vix, despite not having heard from Caitlin for a couple of months, gets on a plane to visit her old friend. She wants to crack the enigma that is Caitlin Somers and finally understand what exactly happened during that last summer they spent together.
I was surprised to discover that the novel swiftly goes back in time to the summer of 1977, when the girls are only twelve, and takes place mainly during their teenage years. So what exactly makes this an adult novel, as opposed to a young adult novel? It doesn’t feel like YA, but then it was written in the 90s. It certainly describes the tumultuous time that teenagers go through, from dealing with parents and step-parents, boys and friendship, low self-esteem and zero confidence. It also deals with sexuality in much more detail than young adult novels tend to. (But not teenage television shows, it seems?). If you’re comfortable watching Girls or Skins, you’ll be comfortable reading this. It’s by no means explicit, but it certainly gets close. I really do not have an answer, but it’s interesting to think about… !
Vix is used to blending into the background, smart yet considered unremarkable, until Caitlin, the most envied girl in school, invites her to spend the summer at her holiday home in Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a surprise to Vix, but she grabs the opportunity and it’s the beginning of many ‘firsts’. It’ll be the first time she gets a glimpse of the sea, the first time she’s been away from her younger brother, fallen in love, been on a plane… Vix and Caitlin become ‘summer sisters’ and pledge to spend every vacation together, and they do, until years later, they head off to university and part ways and discover who they are without each other.
Summers Sisters was a fairly typical choice for a summer read, I had originally thought. As it turns out, it was anything but! You will spend your time wondering what it is like to be Vix and Caitlin, surrounded by privilege and not knowing quite what to do with it. You’ll watch them as they go through the gritty, uncomfortable and awkward experiences of teenage life and yet still push through. Sometimes together, sometimes alone. As it is set in the 70s and 80s, it was also refreshing to read about life as a teenager without the technology we all use today. (It feels so odd saying this!). I imagine Vix and Caitlin’s lives – and their close friendship – would’ve been very different if it had been twenty years later.
Summer Sisters is addictive and fun – and often feels rather unsuitable to be reading on public transport! – and oh so real. We hear from both girls as well as short chapters from the adults and fellow teenagers surrounding them. It’s not pretty, but it’s honest. Let’s call it unreserved young adult (and no, not New Adult!).
Published: 1998, edition above 2009
Publisher: Delacorte Books, edition above Sphere