“It’s my mission to make you care about these words, Anna. About these people and everything they say and everything they were. Every story is part of a whole, entire life, you know? Happy and sad and tragic and whatever, but an entire life. And books let you know them.” (p. 167 ARC edition, may vary from final published version)
The title makes you think this is going to be a light and frothy summer vacation story about girls meeting a bunch of cute boys. And there is that aspect to it, but this is book that goes deeper than that, a book that gives you a front row seat to all the giddiness, sadness, and messiness that is first love, second love and close friendship – and most of all, a book that makes you care about the characters as if they were real people.
Anna has been best friends with Frankie and her older brother Matt since she was born – and she’s been secretly in love with Matt almost that long too. When Matt kisses her on her 15th birthday, they begin a romantic relationship that they keep hidden from Frankie for weeks. And before he can tell Frankie, he dies. Fast forward a year, and a still-grieving Anna joins a still-grieving Frankie on her family vacation to California. They make a pact to have the best summer ever, which includes a competition to see who can get the most boys. But is Anna really ready to let go of Matt? And can she ever tell Frankie just how much Matt meant to her too?
There's some romantic window dressing, but the fully realized friendship between Anna and Frankie lies at the core of this novel. I like how Ockler focused on them instead of diluting the narrative with a bunch of side characters. Of course there are the parents (abnormally permissive and unquestioning) and the California boys they meet and sneak out with on a nightly basis (Sam and Jake), but these take a back seat to exploring the nature of friendship and the nature of grief.
For example, Anna says, “Sometimes I think if she knew about Matt and me, it would bring us closer. If I could make her understand how much I cared about him, she’d let me into the exclusive club where all the members have a right to be irrevocably sad. Instead, I am an intruder. I look into the windows and see them crying, but I’m outside in the dark, and they can’t see me.” (p. 76-77 ARC edition)
There was one aspect that bothered me though, and it was the way virginity was referred to an “albatross” that should be cast off as soon as possible, preferably to someone you don’t care about and will never see again. I mean, ok, feeling like a reject because you’ve never been kissed at 16, that I get. But if kissing someone you don’t care about is icky (and it is*), then sharing the most intimate act of human bonding with some random guy just to get it over with? At 16? That’s just…there are no words for how wrong I find that. Fortunately, the “albatross” plotline is resolved in a semi-responsible way though that does make sense for the story.
Release date for 20 BOY SUMMER is June 1st, though many copies have already been spotted in the wild. Hunt one down now! Visit the author at http://sarahockler.com/
* Khy wanted me to write about about a 20 boy kissing competition I had with my best friend, alias M*Girl. The idea was to see who collect kisses from 20 nationalities first. I made my way pretty well around the South American countries, but M*Girl won. And this was when I learned that kissing guys you don't care about is icky.