Judy Blume was one of my favorite authors as a kid. Her books at once made me excited to grow up and glad to not yet have to do it. When I saw Summer Sisters at a library book sale recently I couldn’t resist. The title basically insists you read it in a beach chair with sand in your hair and wavelets cooling your feet. I happily obliged on a few early evenings, feeling like quite the sneaky girly girl with painted toes and mamma’s special sauce in my travel mug.
This is a bittersweet story of two friends, Victoria (Vix) and Caitlin, the summers they spend together on Martha’s Vineyard coming of age and how those years change their lives. When 12-year-old Vic is first invited to leave her family in Arizona to spend the summer on the East Coast with Caitlin’s brother and dad, Lamb, she feels like the luckiest girl in the world; Caitlin’s basically the coolest girl in school.
Having never seen the ocean before, Vix pictures a tropical paradise. What she gets is a smelly friend in a house of sand, dead bugs and unwashed laundry. Conditions are ripe for friendship. That first summer, the girls are free of parental restrictions and surrounded by wilderness in a place with no television. Naturally they indulge curiosities about their bodies, invent secret rituals and vow to Never Be Ordinary.
They return to the vineyard each summer to explore, play and discover the joys of male attention. Vix and Caitlin are both romantics and obsessed with sex and everything that can’t be learned in grandma’s trashy novels.
Their Power had turned into an itch that never went away. But at least it was hidden, not dangling between their legs for all the world to see.
As the girls grow older their differences become more apparent. Caitlin is the kind of trust fund baby Vix’s mom speaks of with disdain, and she’s intoxicated with the drama of sexual attractions. Vix comes from a working class family. She feels guilty for leaving her brother Nathan, who’s in a wheelchair, but the people and surroundings of the vineyard fill her spirit. She knows she’ll always have to work hard to earn her way and in that she finds purpose. She finds herself. She even finds the wisdom to forgive Caitlin’s betrayals and lies.
They both know they’ll never get back the magic of those first summers, but they can’t help looking for some magic in their adult lives.
The story has heart and its first half is especially lively. It’ not a challenging book, but I didn’t expect it would be. The bulk of the story focuses on the girls’ messy teen years, sexual experiences and the brutal way first love quickly becomes a dead weight. The telling is honest and doesn’t try to be pretty no matter how privileged the surroundings.
This is considered one of Blume’s adult books, but I don’t think it’s too mature for teen girls. To me Summer Sisters feels more like YA than adult fiction. Though a few pieces of the plot dipped into melodrama, overall I enjoyed this quick read. If you’re itching for a fun, slightly emotional and sometimes dirty book that’ll make you bit nostalgic for summers past, pick this one up!