the last summer (of you and me)

While I was reading Ann Brashares’ Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, I loved them.  I thought they were brilliant and exactly what young adult literature should be.  I read the first three one after another, and I told plenty of people about how great they were.  The problem is, I can’t remember exactly why.

It seems that the books just haven’t stuck with me.  I know I enjoyed them, but I no longer have a sense for what made them so special.  I could point to a few dozen other YA novels that, over time, have made far more of an impression on me. 

And after reading Brashares’ The Last Summer (of You and Me), I get the sense that maybe that’s just the kind of writing Brashares’ does.  She hooks you into characters’ lives and keeps you reading — neither of which is an easy task for a writer, and she does them well.  But the piece that’s missing is the contemplative, post-reading experience.

The Last Summer (of You and Me) is Brashares’ first book targeted at an adult audience, but in reality it’s only a short stretch from her previous work.  Alice and Riley are sisters in their early 20s who have grown up spending their summers on Fire Island with their friend and neighbor Paul.  

Though the story is ostensibly about the three of them, it’s really more of a tale of two relationships: Paul and Alice’s, and Riley and Alice’s.  Paul and Riley are friends — best friends — but it’s a known, platonic entity in little need of examination.  But Alice knows that this is the summer that could force her feelings for Paul out into the open, and her loyalty to Riley complicates this to no end.

It’s these complications that make this book more than a mild-mannered romance.  Though Riley is underdeveloped, and Paul and Alice are at times too much in their own heads, the interactions between them are written well.  The emotion is sincere, and the tensions and anxieties relatable.  There’s an undeniable pull to know where their lives are taking them — because it is their lives, rather than the characters themselves, that seem to be in control.  Most of the action in the book seems to be largely fated or unchosen.

That pull makes the book an enjoyable read.  But there’s something missing — a depth of some sort — that, even at its most serious, keeps the book at a surface level and makes it entirely too easy to stop thinking about afterward.

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~ by Molly on August 14, 2009.

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