Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler
According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie—-she’s already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
Here’s the scoop:
Thirteen months ago life was pretty gosh darn perfect for Anna. The summer stretched before her and she looked forward to spending it with Frankie (short for Francesca) and Matt Perino, her next door neighbors and best friends since before any of them can remember. More exciting than anything else was the secret Matt and Anna had been keeping from Frankie—one of sneaking out to meet late at night for some under the radar smooching and stargazing. Now, mind out of the gutter please. This was pretty innocent and was no passing crush. Anna and Matt were truly in love and were planning to tell Frankie until Matt was suddenly killed by an unknown heart condition. With him their secret died and a year later, after months of being the supportive best friend to a grief-striken and newly wild Frankie, Anna still privately mourns the loss of her best guy friend who was actually so much more.
The story of Anna and Matt, and of the relationship between all three characters, is told through a series of flashbacks. As we meet Anna she is preparing to accompany Frankie and her family on their annual beach vacation to California. On that trip Frankie hopes to drown herself in the attention of a long list of summer flings (hence the title) while encouraging Anna to do the same. Anna plays along for the sake of the friendship when in truth, boys—other than Matt—are the last thing on her mind.
This book had me from the very first pages. Listen to how Ockler describes a flashback of Anna and Matt’s first kiss; a surprise encounter at a family birthday party (after a serious frosting fight):
“Happy Birthday,” he whispered, his breath landing warm and suddenly close to my lips, making my insides flip. And just as quickly as he’d surprised me with the cake, he kissed me, one frosting-covered hand moving from my hair to the back of my neck, the other solid and warm in the small of my back, pressing us together, my chest against his ribs, my hip bones just below his, the tops of our bare summer legs hot and touching. I stopped breathing. My eyes were closed and his mouth tasted like marzipan flowers and clove cigarettes, and in ten seconds my whole life was wrapped up in that one kiss, that one wish, that one secret that would forever divide my life into two parts.
Up, down. happy, sad. Before, after.
Yet this is not just a story about romantic love. More than anything, Twenty Boy Summer is about friendship. Anna feels a myriad of emotions regarding Frankie— everything ranging from guilt over her secret, to concern over Frankie’s behavior, to sadness that Frankie doesn’t understand that some fling (or twenty of them) could never compare to what she had in her short time with Matt. So she stifles her feelings and together the girls do normal BFF things— like getting glammed up for hours just to sit on a beach, flirting with guys, and sneaking out at night—while they avoid the truth about their silence. And when tension grows between them, it’s painfully real.
Reading this took me back to the time in my life when everything hinged on my friends. To that time when my mood, my hope, my everything rested on the bond I had with my closest gal pals. It was touching to relate my own life experience to the adventures of Anna and Frankie. And it was a little sad to think of the friends I thought I’d have forever that I haven’t spoken to in years.
I loved this story. Though it has moments of pain and sadness, it’s also a reminder to embrace every moment in life. It speaks of love in the truest sense; taking the good and the bad and just muddling through. Ockler did it with humor, realistic dialogue, and a good balance of present day events mixed in with flashbacks of life “before”. While I didn’t agree with every decision ultimately made by Anna (it’s the mom in me, sorry) I understood her. I felt her grief and was uplifted by her hope.
Crush Intensity: 4/5 This one carved a hole in my heart early on and stayed there. Also, as a sidenote, Matt sort of reminded me of MMFMOMD, so I was totally hooked.
Soundtrack: The Killers
There’s not much anger left between us, just a great divide—like best friends in high school who go to different colleges, lose touch, and move on in parallel lives that never cross until years later, in a random bar or grocery store, and after a brief hug and five minutes of small talk, they both realize that the threads that connected them so long ago have frayed and blown away, leaving nothing to discuss.
So they nod and smile. And bid one another farewell.
and one more because I can’t help myself…
A new wave of butterflies flutters in my chest as I consider this, and I have to close my eyes to beat them down. Matt’s gone, remember? Those butterflies have nowhere to go but darkness, beating and tangling their tiny wings until they break.