Hale relies on recognizable details of shore living: sun-bleached pines, a breeze that smells like sulfur and salt and sunscreen, life jackets and insects, cliffs and a lighthouse. One aspect of her story that stands out is the reliance on watery terms, subtly reinforcing the backdrop of the story: memories leak and clouds sail, dreams dissolve and relief overflows.
In both stories, friendship is a major theme. Unsurprisingly, Ethan meets and befriends Juniper Jones in McQueen’s novel. Juniper reminds me of a cross between Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables and Beverly from Stephen King’s It (but with a different challenge in her family life). It’s ridiculous how quickly I wanted only good things for Ethan and Juniper. Their summer is divided into June, July, and August—like every western-hemisphere summer—but I wanted it to last all year.
Olivia’s friendships in Hale’s narrative are more complicated and only partly because of Olivia’s struggle to reconcile with the events of her past (also because the cast of characters is broader, and economic situations vary, which creates the potential for a different subset of challenges in teen life).
Both stories read quickly. Racism—systemic and overt acts—creates an underlying (sometimes erupting into major plot points) tension in McQueen’s novel (as well as simple prejudice, rooted in inexperience). Crimes in the Maine community add an additional layer to suspense to the question of whether Olivia will be able to recover having returned to the scene. (This aspect of Hale’s novel left me wanting a little more, but I’m more of a why-dunnit than a whodunnit mystery reader.)
What makes these stories work so well for me as summer reading? They both carefully navigate the divide between predictability and surprise. There were moments in which I thought I could chart the path (and was content to find that was so) and moments in which my expectations were overturned.
Extreme heat can leave me hungry for predictable storytelling, but I’m also easily frustrated when that’s all a story has to offer, so this balance makes for a satisfying diversion. Just what I was looking for in this hot spell. And a useful reminder that dismissing a platform sometimes does mean you’re missing out.
Have you tried something new with your reading lately?
Do you have seasonal selections in your stacks?