Thursday, August 9, 2007

Review: The Last Summer (of You and Me)

The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares

Summary: Boyish, spirited Riley and sweet, feminine Alice are sisters who have spent every summer at their beach house on Fire Island with their parents. Their neighbour, Paul, chooses to spend time in their old, falling-down house instead of his family's mansion because it's more of a home - his father is dead and his mother is mostly absent. A summer of secrets and changes threatens to tear the trio apart.

Favourite parts: I loved the way Brashares evoked the feeling of the beach house, such a beloved childhood place. Like Riley and Alice, my family has a mouldering beach place with 70's wood-effect wallpaper and spongy floors, where you can smell the sea and my dad goes through the riutal of closing it down every winter.

I was also taken by the way that Riley, Paul, and Alice described the beaches and named them for themselves:
"As children, they had dozens of names for the beach, like Eskimos naming snow, and they were ever finding need for more. A placid, white-sand and sparkly turquoise affair was a Tortola beach after an island in the Caribbean that Paul had been dragged to with his mother. They scorned such a beach. The Riley beach, also known as Fight beach, was when the little grains of sand whipped like glass against your skin and the surf was ragged and punishing. An Alice beach was truly rare, and it involved tide pools. "
I love the last line - I wish I had a truly rare beach!

Overall: I loved the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, so I was eager to read Brashares' first foray into adult books. I wasn't too disappointed, but my general feeling for a lot of the novel was a feeling of fuzziness - there's so much in the past that the reader doesn't know about - what kind of relationship Paul and Alice had, why he seemed to both love and hate her, why she loved him so much, why he disliked their father, even whether Riley was a man or a woman at the very beginning... Some of it becomes clearer as the book goes on, but the word "fuzzy" kept coming back to me. I even thought about giving up on it a it a few times.

I enjoyed Riley and Alice's sisterly bond and their relationship with their parents - while their parents weren't perfect and had their problems, it was nice to see a loving family. And the girls' relationship with Paul was interesting. They have so much history together - their whole lives - but they only spend 3 months of the year together. Island life is completely separate from life during the rest of the year.

Perhaps it's because of this, but the trio seem to be unable to grow up much. Paul can't finish his incomplete course to get into grad school. At 24, Riley seems to have never had a relationship with a person of either gender and appears to be content to be a lifeguard forever. And Alice, the one with all the potential, ends up getting sidetracked (albeit for a reason) into meaningless odd jobs. Paul and Alice's relationship, when it does finally happen (basically when she forces him to stop acting like a sullen brat around her), doesn't move past the passionate puppy love phase and fails at the first sign of a crisis. I found myself putting myself in Alice's place, having conversations with Paul in my head to try and save the relationship, but neither of them even try until the end of the book.

I'd probably still recommend it to Brashares fans and it's not a bad summer read, but it's a bittersweet book and I definitely prefer the Pants girls.


Anonymous said...

I like how certain "fuzzy" subjects in the book were revealed throughout the story, it kept me interested and guessing.
I never thought that Riley was a male in the beginning just because she was a tomboy! That thought never even crossed my mind.
I loved the book, and felt such a connection to the characters. I too, am in my early twenties and have experienced so many of those same feelings.
I loved the sisterhood books but i thought this was just as good if not better than them. I only hope she will make a sequal to this book as well!

tinylittlelibrarian said...

I think I thought Riley could be a guy at first because in addition to the unisex name, Paul was described as the best friend, so I thought it was going to be a girl with a crush on her brother's buddy story. I soon figured it out, it was just at the very beginning that I was a bit confused on that one.