Twenty Boy Summer - Sarah Ockler
*June 1st, 2009 Little, Brown and Company
According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance.
Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie---she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
This may be Sarah Ockler's first appearance on the literary scene, but what a debut Twenty Boy Summer is! A recurrent theme throughout the novel is how deceiving appearances can be, from the surface point of view. The same applies here; from the gorgeous cover one might assume that it's a fun, light-hearted summer read. And it is - but it's also so much more.
The emotions in Twenty Boy Summer are portrayed beautifully and conveyed fantastically. Ockler's writing takes on an almost lyrical voice at times.
"I just swallow hard. Nod and smile. One foot in front of the other. I'm fine, thanks for not asking" (Ockler 273).
In fact, there are phrases which taken out of context or used by someone else, would seem to border on purple. But Ockler pulls it off beautifully to fit with the narration from Anna's first person present tense perspective. There are beautiful key phrases repeated throughout the course of the novel - if this were done amateurly, it could be disasterously cliche. Yet somehow Ockler makes it work so well. Kudos, for sure.
Let's face it; Twenty Boy Summer isn't exactly a plot-driven adventure story; it's more of an internal journey of its characters. And boy, does Ockler manage to characterize wonderfully. The leading lady, Anna, is a pretty brilliant; and the thing is, she sort of shares center stage with BFF Frankie. Yet despite being a first person narrative, both of their motives, perspectives, reasons... it all comes through loud and clear. Through Anna's memory flashbacks, the audience even gets a pretty distinct picture of Matt. And with a title like Twenty Boy Summer, you know there's just got to be some romantic aspect involving boys. As for Sam Macintosh? Ow-ow!
Twenty Boy Summer isn't exactly a light-hearted comedy; but it's not exactly grieving angst either. More than anything else, it's a hopeful, insightful view into the journey of the loved ones through the aftermath of a traumatic death. Visiting a significant place. Reliving those memories. Wondering what could have been done differently. Learning to cope, learning to move on, to bridge the gap left behind. It chronicles Anna and Frankie's transition from kids to young women, trying to find their place in the world after losing someone special. Of figuring out how far to go with keeping a secret promised to someone who's now dead. Of trying to understand parents.
The writing style really pulls you into the story, into Anna and Frankie's summer world. The descriptions are luciously vivid. The setting is timeless and almost surreal. But the story is very realistic. With a title like Twenty Boy Summer, you're not really sure what you'll be getting into. But that's just life - it's unpredictable. And that's just the story. In the aftermath, emotions are unpredictable, what's to come is unpredictable. The metaphors in here are striking.
Like its cover, Twenty Boy Summer is a beautiful read. And like that one piece of red sea glass in that shattered heart, this is one gem among the masses. Sarah Ockler is definitely one whose work will go far, so keep an eye out.
"Don't move, Anna Reiley. Right now, everything is perfect" (213).