Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release: May 8, 2013
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.Second Chance Summer spills over with the essence of a summer vacation. Sunny even in sad scenes, Matson's writing enlivens the rustic beach town in which her story is set. By bestowing her book's backdrop with small quirks—punny shop names like "Borrowed Thyme"—and plenty of memories, Matson builds a setting that compliments her story perfectly.
Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.
As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.
The setting fits the story so well because Matson uses it to inspire a sense of nostalgia. Taylor and her family have not visited their lake house in five years, and now, with previous summers frozen in a bittersweet amber in the backs of their minds, they must reconcile the past with the present. Setting the story in a place that inspires reminiscence and recollection adds depth and emotion to the characters' present-day relationships.
The plot first introduces readers to the fact that the protagonist's father only has a few months to live, a premise that the author makes heartbreaking by placing it against past experiences. By sending her characters back to their old lakeside house, Matson creates ample opportunities for them to remember happier times, which makes the family's daunting future seem even more sorrowful. Throughout the story, Taylor and her father grow closer by recalling their shared past and learning small, previously inconsequential but now tremendously important details about one another, and their bond amplifies the bleakness of the father's growing weakness. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the novel, which is saying a lot because I almost never cry over fictional stories.
Second Chance Summer is not just about death, though; Taylor also has the chance to rekindle friendships and romances with people she abandoned five years ago. Again, Matson calls upon happy lake town-related memories as she uses the classic trick of placing the past against the present to add depth to a relationship. I loved watching seventeen-year-old Taylor reconnect with her old best friend and first boyfriend as flashbacks gradually elucidate the reason twelve-year-old Taylor left them behind in the first place. Seeing the characters' childhood experiences—both their happy, carefree days and their regretted decisions—helps readers understand why their present-day dynamics slowly shift from a painful strain to the easy comfort that they used to embody. Without the glimpses at the characters' younger selves, their reconnection may have seemed forced, but thanks to Matson's masterful flashbacks, readers understand why the protagonist and her friends cannot help growing close once again.
These second chances created by this book's setting give the novel its name and the story its poignancy. Second Chance Summer's emotion stems not only from sickness, but from the way impending tragedy forces each character to remember what is important. Matson's ability to show not only the characters' pain, but how it redefines their relationships, creates one of the most well-rounded stories about cancer I have ever read. Most importantly, the characters' reconnections show that even in the worst of times, second chances can chase people down during the last days, and while catastrophes may be inevitable, the memories and bonds forged in their faces can be the strongest of all. Second Chance Summer knows no limits in its emotion and impact, and its heart-wrenching and inspiring story is sure to make readers value the people they love and even strive to repair relationships with those they have lost.