Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Five Summers by Una LaMarche

Five Summers by Una LaMarche

Publisher: Razorbill
Release: May 16, 2013
Source: Library
Four best friends, five summers of camp memories.

The summer we were nine: Emma was branded “Skylar’s friend Emma” by the infamous Adam Loring...

The summer we were ten: Maddie realized she was too far into her lies to think about telling the truth...

The summer we were eleven: Johanna totally freaked out during her first game of Spin the Bottle...

The summer we were twelve: Skylar’s love letters from her boyfriend back home were exciting to all of us—except Skylar...

Our last summer together: Emma and Adam almost kissed. Jo found out Maddie’s secret. Skylar did something unthinkable... and whether we knew it then or not, five summers of friendship began to fall apart.

Three years after the fateful last night of camp, the four of us are coming back to camp for reunion weekend—and for a second chance. Bittersweet, funny, and achingly honest, Five Summers is a story of friendship, love, and growing up that is perfect for fans of Anne Brashares and Judy Blume's Summer Sisters.
Five Summers promises to be one of those achingly familiar friendship books, the kind that makes readers overwhelmingly thankful for their own companions while simultaneously convincing readers they want to abandon them in favor of joining the group of comrades in the story. Its synopsis screams summer and nostalgia and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and the kind of struggles that have an empowering if predictable happy ending, so, going in with expectations of hilarious fun and post card-worthy memories, I had unusually high hopes that they would be met.

At the beginning, it seemed as if they would. Told from a variety of time periods-the present as well as rotating flashbacks to previous camp years-it shows readers the events that made the girls so close side by side with the more destructive current pressures. This gives their relationship a bit more depth and provides a slice of much-needed understanding when their seventeen-year-old selves experience conflicts that come across as a bit too superficial.

However, I soon saw that these four girls' intimacy is not the strong, story-carrying element for which I had hoped. While I understood their bond, I never truly believed because each character is unrealistic herself, creating an uneven base on which to build a friendship.

The biggest reason that the main characters are so hard to visualize lies within the fact that they are all highly stereotyped based on their socioeconomic backgrounds, family situations, and few key personality traits that come to define their entire existence. Emma is the hardworking, studious, innocent one; Skylar is the promiscuous artist with daddy issues; Maddie's lower-class background makes her meekly hide behind lies, although she does have a streak of free spirit; Jo is the tomboy. This is essentially all anyone learns about them, so it is almost as if they mesh into one person, making a new being and combining their characters to form a person with almost as many facets as a real one. No camper has enough background to stand for herself, so the empathy they are all upholding shakes over an insubstantial substrate.

This simplicity also results in little character growth with mental capacities that change very little from age ten to seventeen. They all seem to hold a small emotional range that only has room for romance, friendship, competition, and anger, and worst of all, the only way their voices and spans of thought change from flashback to present is in regard to boys, shifting from viewing their male counterparts as disgusting nuisances to objects that can be judged and obtained. Such mindsets and lack of development on them builds a monotony that only adds to the kind that their clich├ęs create.

And yet, I still enjoyed this story because somehow, despite the way it blocks off its characters with their boxes, it manages to be sweet and bittersweet while haunting readers with from memories of summers past. Although the girls' friendship is not relatable or vivid, readers willing to suspend belief can strain the last drops of poignancy from it's every word, and listen to the way it it calls to mind pictures from one's personal past; reminds of concepts about rites of passage one has experienced, will experience, or will never experience; and sparks a desire both to move on and hold to the escapades of yesteryear. The main characters' journey through growing up is so recognizable that anyone of any age can easily relate to their nostalgia for past years, a subconscious desire to cling to youth blended with an inevitable aging.

I will not be making broad demands for everyone to read Five Summers, but it is a worthwhile novel for anyone who wants to feel warm summer rays, friendship, and the freedom and responsibility that comes with growing older. While the characters may not be relatable, their adventures absolutely are, and the feelings they fuel will hover long after the final page. This story that aches with remembrance of the past, a painfully powerful emotion, will drive readers to move forward but also force them to live in the moment and recall their histories, which is the hardest but most rewarding thing most rewarding thing about reading this book and the most redeeming aspect of life.


  1. I felt the same! The authors put the characters into boxes, but I still enjoyed it. There were a lot of things that I didn't particularly liked, but I still stayed up late reading it enjoyed it. It captured something great about friendship. Great review :)

  2. Even though you didn't lovelovelove this book, I'm still looking forward to reading it. I read a lot of heavy contemporaries, so it's always nice to read something lighter for a change. Also, this might sound awful, but sometimes I like stereotypical characters, probably because I lived a very stereotypical teenage life. Plus, I rarely read friendship books, so this will be a nice change of pace!


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