Title: The Summer of Us (2018)
Author: Cecilia Vinesse
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 14th June
Read: 30th June 2018
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
“Five friends. Five cities. Two complicated love stories… Aubrey and Rae have been planning their European tour since the moment they met. It was meant to be the perfect way to spend their last summer together before university, but now it’s not just the two of them… There’s Jonah, Aubrey’s seemingly perfect boyfriend, and Gabe, who Aubrey may have accidentally kissed. Then there’s Clara, the friend Rae is crushing on, hard, even though there’s no hope because Clara is into guys, not girls. And on top of all that Aubrey and Rae’s friendship appears to be falling apart. Things are more complicated at eighteen than they were at ten. Set off on a romantic adventure that embraces warm summer nights, the thrill of first kisses and the bittersweet ache of saying goodbye to the past.” (Synopsis from the publisher)
The Summer of Us is the perfect summer read for flipping through whilst relaxing on a summer beach holiday or whilst sipping on an ice cold drink whilst sunbathing at your local park. I can’t also help but think it’d be perfect to read if you happen to be holidaying in any of the European cities which the 5 friends visit over the course of this book – setting off from London and hitting Paris, Amsterdam, Prague, Florence, and ending in Barcelona, with fleeting visits to Berlin and Rome along the way for good measure. I managed to read this book basically in one sitting on a summer’s evening, and it was enjoyable enough to pass the time and lose myself in a read which didn’t require a lot of effort to keep up with the storyline or its characters.
” ‘If Paris were a person,’ Aubrey said, ‘it would be so elegant.’
‘But also kind of a jackass,’ he said.
‘Paris isn’t a jackass,’ Aubrey gasped. ‘How can you say that?’
‘Because,’ Jonah said, ‘it’s aloof and beautiful and arro‑ gant. Total jackass material.’
Aubrey mock‑ scowled at him. ‘Fine. Then if you were a city, you would be Paris.’
‘And you’d be London,’ he said. ‘Hardworking. Practi‑ cal. And dull.’ “
The strength in The Summer of Us is in the idea of a group of 5 friends from school interrailing around Europe. I’ll admit, I didn’t understand why the characters needed to be Americans (of one form or another) that just so happened to attend school in England – if that’s even what they all did because it wasn’t explicitly explained for each of the 5 characters. I presume that, for the sake of easy plotting, it was better to have these young people based in London so they could quickly hop on the Eurostar to France and so then access the rest of mainland Europe. However, I didn’t feel it was ever really explored enough for me to understand, or utilised in any way in the characterisation or background of these characters.
“Everything about England had seemed so gray to her then—the damp and the fog and the flat, metallic sky.”
Disappointingly, some cities were skipped over and we barely got to see the characters doing anything there or even leaving the hotel/Air BnB or the train station. I get that it was something of a whistle-stop tour of Europe via Interrail, and that Aubrey might plan itineraries (earning the unfair mockery of her friends, to be honest) but these weren’t followed once relationships within the group started to crumble, but I just felt like some of the cities they visited could have been anywhere, since there were very few locations mentioned specifically by name or explored at any length. Prague was given slightly better treatment, and I got a sense of its cobbled, winding, maze-like streets. This was primarily because the character walking around exploring it was a photographer and artist and noticed the little details like this. What a character is drawn to, and notices, whilst on holiday says a lot about that person – different people prefer to do different activities, or have different priorities, and this is a great way to explore characters that, unfortunately, wasn’t utilised to its full potential within The Summer of Us.
“[…] a maze of narrow cobblestone streets. The buildings they passed were lit up like parts of a theater set: gold letters stenciled onto their façades, carved angels perched on window ledges. None of it seemed real. It was an image taken straight from a fairy tale.”
In fact, apart from at the moment when they were having full-on arguments with each other, the 5 characters mostly felt one-dimensional, even though a multiple POV “over the shoulder” narrative style was adopted so that we always saw the action happening as they did. Having said all of this, there were admittedly moments of Aubrey’s thought process in particular which I deeply related to, especially her tendency to over-think what could happen, and so not really “live” in what was happening. That is me, I do this, and to see it happening to Aubrey to her detriment really did actually emotionally hit me. Her anxiety about change and people moving on from her and being alone was also deeply relatable, and I think it likely would immediately be recognisable to anyone in their teens or twenties.
” ‘I was so worried we wouldn’t make this train. But look at us. Look at how early we are. I waste so much energy panicking about things that don’t actually happen. And the things that do happen never even occur to me.’ “
Unfortunately, this book also did a thing I hate – having a girlfriend (Aubrey) hate on another girl (Leah) who happens to be friends with her boyfriend (Jonah) based on the principle that she assumes something’s going on between them. I hate that trope, it fosters a lot of unnecessary distrust in actual relationships so I don’t think it’s a particularly healthy thing to explore in books either – it sews the fictional seeds for people in their “real life” relationships to assume that any friends of the opposite gender of their boyfriend/girlfriend must be treated with suspicion as a default, because there’s no smoke without fire etc. etc.. As it turns out, Leah did seem like kind of a crappy person, so not all of Aubrey’s ill-feeling towards her was wholly undeserved, but I didn’t like that this was established as the default position before the character had even been introduced to the reader. Besides, Jonah was kind of a dick to Aubrey, despite the fact he was dating her and despite the fact the book’s blurb claimed he was the “seemingly perfect boyfriend”, so I wasn’t altogether that sad once they had a confrontation about their relationship and how it would work once they were both going to separate colleges in New York. That confrontation took way too long of the book to happen, to be brutally honest because Aubrey seemed to have doubts from the very beginning of their trip.
“And all of a sudden, Aubrey knew what had been bothering her all morning. What she hadn’t been able to put her finger on: Jonah didn’t picture their lives together the way she did— he never would.”
Having said all of this (and yes, I’m aware I’m quite picky), the book was diverting enough for an afternoon. I very much enjoyed the easily incorporated LGBTQIA+ representation in the form of Rae and Clara’s relationship and I thought that the characters the author was clearly invested in (i.e. Rae, Clara, Aubrey, and Gabe) all fleshed out a bit and grew in the course of this book and their holiday across Europe. I particularly enjoyed the banter between Gabe and Aubrey and Gabe and Clara because Gabe was just funny. And, ultimately, the book did take a simple concept (a friends “road trip” holiday across Europe) and use that device as a backdrop to explore the feeling of worrying that your friends are all going to separate locations for the sake of college and will live their own lives, which you may not be a part of anymore, despite how closely entwined your lives have been up to that point. It’s a feeling a lot of people can easily relate to, and I think it’s extremely well captured in the book through the character of Aubrey. The downside of this book? It will make you want to visit all these cities immediately.
“Maybe she was about to lose a hundred things—things she was always going to lose, things she couldn’t help. But she was gaining a thousand more—things she couldn’t even begin to guess.”
Thank you to Hachette Children’s Group/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for kindly providing me with an eARC of the book via NetGalley – I greatly appreciate the opportunity to read and review titles prior to their release, but this does not affect my overall opinion or review of the book itself.
Please note: the quotes above were taken from the eARC copy of the novel – this may be subject to change and differ from the published text of the novel.