And the winner for most delicious book cover of the season is … Terra Elan McVoy’s The Summer of Firsts and Lasts. As a gal with an unrequited desire to go to summer camp and three sisters, I was predisposed to like this novel. A story about three sisters at summer camp for three weeks? Gimme
Calla, Violet and Daisy are second generation campers. Calla would’ve graduated to counselor this summer, but chose to work in the office assisting the camp director instead. About to go off to Smith to study Resort Management, this could be the beginning of her career. She’s your typical type-A oldest sister, a neurotic people-pleasing marshmallow who adores her sisters and is convinced this is the summer her best camp friend Duncan realizes he loves her back. Her chapters are a little maddening because she’s wound so tight it feels like nothing interesting can happen, but she also embodies the happy well-adjusted person I assume all campers must grow up to be.
It’s Violet’s last year as a camper and she wants to take it all in – profound nights sneaking out to float naked on a raft and mundane mornings in the waffle line. She’s about to be a senior then go off to college in a year so she’s looking for meaning everywhere. She’s open to new people and naturally befriends the one abrasive girl at camp nobody else likes. An old fiend turned counselor catches her eye and gives her “balloons falling from the ceiling” feelings, which is one of the most innocent descriptions of infatuation I’ve come across.
Daisy is the youngest and my favorite character. This is her second year at camp and she’s asked her sisters not to baby her this year. Now that she has some space, she’s learning how cruel girls can be to each other for no reason. She’s also learning not to care. Her concentration is running and this summer she finds the legs to keep up with the long distance boys. As she gets comfortable in her athletic body, she chooses to try her best instead of make fun of those who do. She discovers how good it feels to run off frustrations, that running commando is to be avoided, and befriending other runners rocks.
The relationships make this story. Aaand the chance to vicariously attend camp because it sounds like so much fun. I’m really hoping American Horror Story will do a creepy camp season, but that’s off topic.
That their experiences vary shows how different they are from each other. The sisters struggle a little to handle problems on their own because they’re used to leaning on each other. Much contemporary YA focuses on heavy evocative issues and that’s fine, lots of it is really fantastic, but its also nice to read a coming-of-age about girls starting to flex the go-after-what-you-want muscle.
Not that this is a grrrrl power kind of book. It left me with the impression that all any girl campers want to do is kiss boys. Except Daisy. I liked the writing, loved the setting and realistic sister dynamic. The 400+ pages flew by, but I would’ve liked it much more if it were Daisy’s story instead of dividing time between each sister. The multiple points of view weren’t necessary, though I get why the author chose to write it this way.
This is the first book that made me miss living with my sisters. Every time I set it down I found myself picking up the phone to call one. We see each other often, but it’s hard to borrow their clothes and fling rubber crocodiles at them from a distance. For some reason, my younger sister is terrified of rubber predators and that is why she wakes up to one on her pillow every birthday. What are sisters for if not to help you face your fears? Some day she’ll thank me.