Just when everything seems to be going wrong, hope and love can appear in the most unexpected places.
Summer has begun, the beach beckons and Francesca Schnell is going nowhere. Four years ago, Francesca's little brother, Simon, drowned, and Francesca is the one who should have been watching. Now Francesca is about to turn sixteen, but guilt keeps her stuck in the past. Meanwhile, her best friend, Lisette, is moving on most recently with the boy Francesca wants but can't have. At loose ends, Francesca trails her father, who may be having an affair, to the local country club. There she meets four-year-old Frankie Sky, a little boy who bears an almost eerie resemblance to Simon, and Francesca begins to wonder if it's possible Frankie could be his reincarnation. Knowing Frankie leads Francesca to places she thought she'd never dare to go and it begins to seem possible to forgive herself, grow up, and even fall in love, whether or not she solves the riddle of Frankie Sky.There is something about a YA contemp that's set in the summer. Mythical, magical summers of yore. I don't read oodles of contemporary books in any genre, be it YA, MG or Adult fiction, but when I do, it seems they are mostly set in the summer. It's like a tiny little taste of those lovely long days with no commitments and school still way off in the distance. Obviously I need to get rich so I can once again languish in a hammock for two months.
The Summer of Letting Go was by no means a perfect read, certain aspects of the story were too simplistic, some of the hurdles too easily achieved, but it was charming and it's charm swept me away and won me over. That, and Frankie Sky stole my heart.
What I loved the most about this story, beyond Francesca's story or Frankie's story or any of the rest, was how Polisner sets up a really big what-if (reincarnation) and then leaves it up to our imaginations what might be true or possible. Francesca does not find all her answers, and although the hints are there that Frankie Sky's mom knows more than she's saying about Francesca, her brother, and about a connection with Frankie, nothing is ever explicitly said. It doesn't need to be for this story to wrap itself up. Francesca gets what she needs from the relationship, without the esoteric answers about her brother and Frankie and their possible connection. Yet it's a beautiful supposition, it adds this really positive feeling to a sad story without cheapening the tragedy that's marked all these characters lives.
I guess on another level I connected with this book as well. My family has a very similar story to this one, the drowning element of it anyhow. When my mother was four, one of her brothers drowned at the beach. He was a bit older than Simon, I believe he was 7, but my mom's eldest brother was 15 and tasked with watching Ronnie (the seven year old). Ronnie ran into the water and was likely elbowed in the head by another swimmer, it was a busy day at the beach, and drowned. I'm in my thirties, and both of my grandparents have passed away now, but this tragedy was such a massive thing in the family that it certainly left it's mark on my life as well, even though I was born 20 years after he'd died.
Seeing how it affects Francesca's family, reminds me forcefully of my grandparents. My grandparents retired to a beach side house on a lake, and so I spent a lot of time in the water. My grandmother had come a long way, but she still bought my swimsuit every year, and every year we found the most neon, bright bathing suit available so she could always see me. She had strict rules about roughhousing or silliness near or in the water and God help you if you went in without telling her you were heading out for a swim. If there was ever a scene on TV or in a book about someone drowning or even struggling in water, you made sure she didn't see it, and she did not approve of anyone going to public beaches, like ever, she didn't stop them, but she worried and fussed, and expressed general disapproval.
My mom was so very young when it happened, but the effect of watching your parents cope with such a shattering tragedy, and losing a sibling is something that has no real age limitations. After all, although you might have been too young at the time of it happening, the repercussions go on for years. While reading The Summer of Letting Go, it was easy to see my mom in Francesca, and my grandparents in Francesca's parents, Polisner has captured that dynamic very truthfully, at least in my experience.
In the end, so much about this book was good I could easily overlook some of the simplistic solutions or outcomes in Francesca's relationships with her mom and her best friend. Yes, Lisette ends up being more of a plot crutch then a character, but with Frankie Sky stealing the show, I just couldn't make myself care. The Summer of Letting Go was a charming read, well worth a lazy summer day in a hammock. Now that Spring is finally rearing it's head all you really need is a hammock.
The Summer of Letting Go, by Gae Polisner
Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, march 25th, 2014
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
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