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Twenty Boy Summer

Review

Twenty Boy Summer

Anna and Frankie have been best friends their entire lives. When the two girls go to California for summer vacation, Frankie decides they should find Anna her first boyfriend by meeting one boy every day. What Frankie doesn’t know is that Anna has already had the perfect summer romance. It happened with Frankie’s brother Matt, who died in an accident the year before. Anna’s romance dies with him, but her secret lives on.

TWENTY BOY SUMMER is a bittersweet romance about grieving the loss of someone once loved. Sarah Ockler’s intensely personal novel is presented in Anna’s frank narration and keen observations. It focuses on the lifelong friendship between the girls and the ways in which they’ve grown apart. Anna gradually comes to the realization that she is not the only one keeping secrets from those she loves.

Frankie has changed since Matt’s death. She is now interested only in clothes, makeup and hook-ups with boys. She constantly teases Anna about her clothes and lack of interest in boys, even inventing a code name for Anna’s virginity: “Anna’s Albatross.” The summer contest to meet 20 boys is started by Frankie, who sees it as a way for Anna to “ditch” her “albatross.”

Anna is not as keen on the contest, but she is used to following Frankie’s lead. She lets Frankie choose her clothes and always ends up with the friends of boys Frankie is flirting with. What Anna can’t tell Frankie is that she is still devoted to Matt’s memory. Anna carries a journal everywhere she goes, recording her thoughts in letters to Matt she will never have a chance to send.

The two girls are also in conflict over the idea of virginity. Frankie insists that the first time isn’t special. Instead she describes it as a minor inconvenience, like “…going to the dentist. You schedule an appointment at a mutually convenient time and lie as motionless as possible to expedite the process.”

But Anna wants her first experience to be special and can’t imagine it happening with anyone but Matt. What she doesn’t bargain for is finding someone she actually likes. When Frankie meets a cute surfer boy, Anna finds herself attracted to his friend Sam. Sam is gentle and quiet. He never knew Matt. For once, Anna doesn’t feel like she’s hiding anything.

Anna is terrified she will overwrite her memories of Matt by being involved with a new boy. But Sam slowly gains her trust, and she learns she can enjoy the time she spends with him. She assumes Frankie is sleeping with Sam’s friend Jake, but the two girls don’t actually spend much time talking about their experiences or the things that are meaningful to them.

Instead, they spend their days in a secluded bay not visible from the public beach and their nights sneaking out to meet the boys. They even invent two imaginary friends to provide cover for day trips into the city or as an excuse to stay out all night. As long as they are away from the house and with other boys, they don’t have to think about Matt. Frankie’s parents don’t seem to notice. They are too wrapped up in the memories of their missing son to pay attention to the girls.

Inevitably their vacation comes to a close. Anna must decide if she wants to sleep with Sam, still struggling with the idea that virginity is something one loses. “To lose something implies carelessness,” Anna thinks. “A mistake that you can fix simply by recovering the lost object, like your cell phone or your glasses. Virginity is more like shedding something than losing it.”

Meanwhile, Frankie’s increasingly wild behavior leads her to read Anna’s journal drunk at a party. Furious, she confronts Anna with her secret the next morning, throwing the journal --- with all of Anna’s memories and pictures of Matt --- into the ocean.

“Anna, he was my brother. Mine,” Frankie screams. “You have no right to have anything left of him!”

Anna feels horribly betrayed: “The guilt of not telling Frankie about Matt and me is overwhelming, but it is a pale second to the violation I feel that she read my most private, raw thoughts and destroyed them. She broke into my carefully guarded heart, stole the only memories of Matt I had to myself, and turned them into a monstrosity.”

But the most surprising revelation is that Frankie has secrets of her own. The two girls must come to terms with all the things they’ve hidden from one another and whether or not their friendship will survive. Without relying on lurid details, the author offers a startlingly honest portrayal of teen grief, friendship and love.

TWENTY BOY SUMMER offers all the fun of a summer romance while also providing an emotionally real coming-of-age story. Sarah Ockler brings a fresh voice to contemporary young adult literature, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on June 1, 2009

Twenty Boy Summer
by Sarah Ockler

  • Publication Date: May 1, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316051586
  • ISBN-13: 9780316051583