Books Are Pretty

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Last Summer (of You & Me).

Here's what I know about Fire Island: 1.)It is an island 2.) Where many gay men have summer homes, and who 3.) Call me at my job in Chicago to yell at me for not knowing how to have furniture delivered there.

It wasn't easy to reconcile Ann Brashares' soft, ethereal novel of passing youth with someone heatedly screaming into my headset, "FIRE. ISLAND. FERRY. What do you mean, 'What are their delivery hours?' Aren't you going to ask me which ferry? There are three! Three! And you have to tell them which beach to drop off the furniture! You incompetent! Am I really going to get my furniture? I have houseguests coming!"

Reading Brashare's novel, I'm sorry to say, did not clear up any of my burning issues regarding furniture - I still have nightmare visions of ottomans and sofa cushions just washing up onto the beach in a soggy free-for-all - but she did establish that, yes, there is a Fire Island Ferry, and more interestingly, that Fire Island has lots of separate towns. Sixteen, in fact. I had no idea.

The Last Summer (of You & Me), Brashares' first novel written for adults, plays out mostly in one of these small towns, Waterby, a quiet, village where everyone knows everyone else, and the kids grow up together, hair bleached and soles blackened from endless days on the beach. Beach life is as constant as the ocean itself, always moving but never changing, lulling the islander into a languid complacency.

The novel focuses on two sisters, 24-year-old tomboyish lifeguard Riley, and her younger sister, 21-year-old Alice, a beautiful dreamy girl always struggling to keep up with Riley and her best friend, their next door neighbor Paul.

After a lifetime of summers spent together, Paul disappears from the island for three years, and at the beginning of the story, he has returned. (on the ferry!) Instead of things picking up where they'd left off, Paul and Alice realize that life is going to move forward, pushing them into adulthood whether they want it to or not. As Paul and Alice struggle to deny their growing attraction to each other, they both hide behind Riley. As Alice observes,

Some people had gifts that made them great at being kids. Riley had those gifts. She was fearless, and she was fair. She was effortlessly expert at skateboarding, sailing, running fast, coaxing a fish off of any line. She was the pitcher on the winning corkball team for seven years in a row. She was the first kid up on a surfboard. She was even good at indoor things, like card tricks and video games. She didn't believe in hierarchies - not even mothers. She was the one kid every other kid wanted to befriend, and she never used her power for ill.

[...]As they all grew up, the qualities that defined success changed. Girly-girls had been customarily shunned by the central group, but the summer after eighth grade they got their moment...It seemed wrong to Alice that the child-gifts became trivial - hobbies at the most. It seemed wrong that what made Riley a superstar among them had so little currency anymore and that she was so distant from the things that did matter.

Riley is as constant as the ocean itself, never altering, effortlessly staying forever twelve years old. But the ocean has currents that are rough and deep, and the water that Paul and Alice cover themselves with to avoid facing their future overwhelms them when Riley experiences the biggest change of all, that strips away what they were and leaves them no choice but to move toward what they will become.

Brashares, author of the best-selling young adult novel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants , has created a novel for adults that is like the ocean itself - simultaneously riveting yet predictable. A skilled writer, Brashares gives the reader a perfect novel to dive into (I'm trying so hard not to say a perfect beach read, but damn it, I can't help it.) Although there is really no turn in the book that could not be predicted, it's still like eating your favorite comfort food - you've had it before, but it's still good.
The Last Summer (of You & Me)

by Ann Brashares
to be released June 5, 2007 by Riverhead Books
Hardcover, 306pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59448-917-4

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