When people lose loved-ones in their life, it is hard for them to envision things getting better. It feels as though they are drowning in a shallow pond; in order to save themselves, all they have to do is stand up. But, something keeps anchoring them down. At first glance, this book may seem like a light-hearted summer read, but Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, is a cleverly titled story of the emotional vulnerability of teenagers in crisis. Readers watch as Anna Riley finds a way to cope with the loss of her first love while being an emotional support system for her best friend, Frankie Perino. Ockler wrote Twenty Boy Summer in order to show how true love never dies and how much like the cover, things are not always what they appear to be. More importantly, Ockler utilizes stream of consciousness – or inner dialogue, extraordinary metaphors, and imagery in order to convey that everything always has a way of coming back together.
From crushes to dreams, Anna and Frankie have not hidden any secrets from each other. That is until Anna’s secret summer romance with Matt, Frankie’s older brother, comes into full bloom. Anna cannot help but to feel as though she is betraying her best friend, but it’s only temporary; in just a few days, while on a family vacation in Zanzibar Bay, California, Matt plans to break the news to his little sister. As the count down to California quickly comes to it’s final hours, Matt is also brought to his final hours. A confounded Anna is forced to lock away all that remains a mystery between her and Matt, as well as her and Frankie. When Frankie asks Anna to join her and her family for a vacation back to California, it is with initial reluctance that she accepts. This is going to be the first time the Perino’s will be back to the beach house since Matt’s death; Anna understands that the Perino’s façade of normality cannot be attained without Anna being there to act as the strong one. Continuously having to put on a brave face, wears Anna down. Throughout the book, Ockler shows the private thoughts that Anna would never dare to share through stream of consciousness. When Frankie finally finds out about Anna and Matt, she doesn’t give Anna the chance to tell her all that she felt; Anna realizes that talking about Matt hurts Frankie so again, in an attempt to be the strong one, Anna tells the reader, “I just swallow hard. Nod and smile. One foot in front of the other. I’m fine, thanks for not asking.” (273). Although Anna wants to be strong for the Perino’s, reader understands that she cannot always be the support system. She too has her breaking point when it comes to Matt’s death. It is not until their summer vacation comes to an end that Anna realizes things will be okay.
Throughout their stay in Zanzibar Bay, Frankie devises a game for the girls to play and it involves ditching the A.A., Anna’s Albatross, a.k.a. Anna’s virginity. As Frankie names the game to Anna by saying they have to meet twenty boys to find the right one, Anna only smiles and nods, something she has grown increasingly good at. Frankie could have said that it had to be fifty boys and it would not make a difference; Anna would still only be thinking of one. For her, “all the ghosts [she] tried to leave home float like dandelion seed wishes [into the room her and Frankie share in the beach house]” (85). That is until Sam Macintosh comes around. AS their relationship begins to prosper throughout the summer, Anna’s feelings for Matt start to fade. Without Sam, Anna would have been anchored down to Matt for the rest of her life. Sam shows Anna how to love again and that sometimes good things fall apart so that others can begin to sprout.
At the party where Anna looses her A.A. to Sam, Frankie stumbles upon Anna’s journal – where all of Anna’s deepest secrets about Matt swim across the pages. In a livid rampage, Frankie throws Anna’s journal into the ocean. Anna, astonished at what had just happened, gather’s all of the strength left in her to not “dive back in and follow it down, down, deep to the bottom of the sea, lost for all eternity like the broken, banished mermaid” (223). The imagery in this passage gives the reader a sense of how Anna is feeling. She lost the only connection she had to her memories of Matt. As if things could possibly get worse. When enough time passes, Anna begins the conversation that mends the fragile dynamic between herself and Frankie. Broken in so many ways, the two girls miss Matt together as they silently pledge to pick up the pieces and carry on.
Sarah Ockler has written a novel that speaks wonders. The strong, organic presence of Anna’s inner thoughts, metaphors, and imagery make this novel a standout. Some people may see the title, read the first few chapters, and assume this book is about sex, but it couldn’t be further from that. Twenty Boy Summer is about picking up the pieces when they shatter to the floor. It sends a powerful message to young adults alike, that no matter the circumstances, there are always brighter days – that every storm runs out of rain.
Ockler, Sarah. Twenty Boy Summer. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2009. Print.