Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Last Summer (of You and Me)

Author: Ann Brashares
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Released: 2007
Genre: Romance/Women's Fiction

Sisters Riley and Alice are as close as sisters can be, even though Riley is sort of a tomboy and Alice is a sweet, girly girl. They spend all their summers on Fire Island, where they became fast friends with Paul, their beach neighbor. After two years spent away, Paul returns to the island for the summer and the trio tries to resume their friendship where they left off. But Paul and Alice change the rules of their relationship when Paul acts on the attraction for Alice he's almost always felt. They keep their romance quiet for fear of hurting Riley with the changed dynamics, but that becomes a moot point when Riley gets sick, making Alice promise not to tell Paul, and Alice abruptly leaves the island without explaining anything to Paul, feeling that she is being punished for her relationship with Paul. While Alice and Riley struggle with Riley's disease, Paul struggles with memories of his past. The trio seems about to be  torn apart, but real friendship and deep love can withstand the tests of time and trouble.

This is the type of book where you just feel a constant ache in your heart as you read it. What I kept thinking is that the emotions are really the main characters in the story. For the first part of the book, not much happens, and after the big events halfway through, not much else happens, but the emotions are stark and clear, and that's what makes this story.

I love Alice. And I love Riley. I like Paul, too, but not as much as the girls. Although the story is told from three points of view, letting the reader into each character's head for a few pages at a time, I sympathized with Alice and Riley a lot more than with Paul. The thing is, I think he's supposed to seem like a bit of a jerk in the beginning, though he does change towards the end. Especially when he and Alice get back together, he has to change a lot of his character in order to do that.

This is more than a romance, which is why I labeled it romance/women's fiction. Because the main point of the story is not so much the romance between Alice and Paul, but the dynamics of strong friendship and how real friends and sisters can overcome anything together. Publisher's Weekly says, "It's a beach read, for sure, but a mediocre one." I cannot disagree more! It didn't feel like a beach read to me. It's full of heartache and almost made me cry a few times. And I think it's anything but mediocre. It's brilliantly written, with a matter-of-fact voice belying the tremendousness of what's going on. I love this book!

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