September 20, 2013

All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

What if all those people who had told Dani that the best was ahead of her were wrong? What if childhood is like summer- the time when life is at its lush peak, before everything begins to wither and fall.
-from All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

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Since summer doesn't officially end for another day or two, I wanted to end the season on a thematic note with Meg Donohue's All the Summer Girls. Set primarily in the (non-MTV-esque) Jersey Shore, All the Summer Girls is the story of three best friends straddling the line between youth and adulthood as they press into the next phases of their respective lives while confronting their difficult pasts. In Philadelphia, Kate is a lawyer whose fiance breaks off their engagement the day she learns she's pregnant. In New York City, Vanessa, who struggles with the fact that she traded her art career for motherhood, is dealing with her husband's "indiscretion". And in San Francisco, nomadic Dani, whose curiosity for drugs and alcohol is bordering on dependency, has just lost another dead-end job. Their friendship (that dates back to kindergarten) has struggled ever since the summer they were all 21 and Kate's twin brother Colin died. Now, eight years later, they return to the beach town where Colin drowned to support each other during their current struggles and ultimately deal with their past.

This book might be a favorite to others, but it really missed the mark for me. There was nothing wrong with the writing; in fact, I enjoyed the dialogue, depth of characters, setting, and secrets a lot. I identified with Kate and Dani both (not so much with self-absorbed Vanessa). But even with all of these ingredients, somehow the end result was a chore for me to get through. I think the greatest issue I had with this book is that I had no emotional connection to Colin whatsoever when the author wanted me to feel as pained as Kate, Vanessa and Dani regarding his death. Yes, the fact that he died was sad, but as a reader I felt rather indifferent because I've never felt what they experienced first hand and Donohue did not equip me with the tools to understand what the women were feeling. I wish there had been a prologue or Part One that built Colin up so that I could have been shocked and pained by his death as much as the girls. My lack of a connection affected the entire read.

Another thing I disliked was how much time was spent building the characterization of Kate, Vanessa and Dani. There are too many inconsequential details that prevent the story from moving forward. The girls don't even share the same space until 1/3 of the way through the book, and by then I was pretty resigned. By the time the story really picks up and I had gained enough feelings to finish the novel, it's already 3/4 of the way done. I couldn't tell if I was happy the story was picking up or happy that I was going to finish the book soon. I liked a lot of the ideas of missing your former self once you're catapulted into full-fledged adulthood, or Dani's struggle to immerse herself in adulthood at all; but none of that reconciled my early experiences enough for me to enjoy the read.

I really wanted to love this book. It had a cute cover, it's about girls precisely my age dealing with the exact things my friends and I are experiencing (sans Colin), it's about friendship, and the prose is well-written (despite irritating shifts between present and past-tense). The execution, however, was disappointing and never connected for me. I don't doubt that this could be the favorite book for someone else, but it just wasn't mine.

Bottom Line: It has all the ingredients for a great read, but it didn't resonate with me the way I think it was supposed to. Maybe if you're from a super tight knit group of friends that date back to kindergarten you would appreciate it more, but I can't recommend this whole-heartedly. 3/5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen this one and wondered if it was any good! I like friendship books but it sounds like this one was too much work. And they're not even together until 1/3 of the way in? That sounds like a lot of setup. And the Colin situation sounds odd. I'm sorry this one wasn't as great as you expected it to be!


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