Title: Twenty Boy Summer
Author: Sarah Ockler
In short: gut-wrenching. Just the kind of painful I want from contemporary YA.
Goodreads: “Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?”
“Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?”
According to Anna’s best friend, Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie–she’s already had her romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
TWENTY BOY SUMMER explores what it truly means to love someone, what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every beautiful moment life has to offer.
Okay, so I really loved this book. I’ve said it before, Sarah Ockler really knows her stuff. And I applaud you, ma’am. This book made me cry my eyes out, just like The Book of Broken Hearts did. It’s an amazing story of friendship and of grief, tragedy and finding happiness again.
Twenty Boy Summer follows Anna, the less outgoing and boy-crazy one out of a pair of besties. Anna and her best friend Frankie are neighbours, so close they’re practically sisters. Frankie’s older brother Matt is really close to the two of them as well—and Anna’s had a huge crush on him for a very long time. Of course, she doesn’t say anything about it, partly because she’s scared and partly because she doesn’t want to ruin their bestie dynamic, not to mention risk upsetting Frankie. It’s always been the three of them, after all, and she doesn’t want to be the one to mess things up. Until, at her birthday party when no one’s watching, Matt kisses her and admits he has feelings for her. Anna’s over the moon, but she and Matt decide to meet in secret until Matt tells Frankie. But before he can, Matt dies in a tragic car accident, and nothing is the same as it was.
Flash forward a year, and Anna’s joining Frankie’s family on their yearly vacation to Zanzibar Bay. Anna wonders if she will ever get closure about Matt and fix her friendship with Frankie, who’s jarringly different. The girls make a pact: twenty boys between them, and they’ll have the time of their lives in the little beach town. But each of them is hiding their own hurt about Matt, and in their search for healing, they could end up pushing each other apart.
This book is, quite simply, heartbreaking. Every single relationship, every sad remembrance, is beyond touching. Sarah Ockler really captures the grieving family in crystal clarity. Each of them have their own ways of grieving, and that’s what brings the tension between them—the memory of Matt is an unspoken weight on everyone’s heart, and no one really understands each other, not when they all reacted to his death so differently. Anna’s dilemma is especially sad—she wants nothing more than to share her secret with Frankie so they can grieve together, but at the same time she feels she doesn’t have the right to miss Matt the way Frankie does, because what was their relationship compared to a brother-sister bond?
The Frankie-Anna dynamic was, to me, one of the best parts about the book. Two best friends since forever, and then suddenly there’s a wedge between them. Frankie starts acting out, smoking, and Anna only follows, confused and hiding her own hurt. The girls come to realise that Matt’s death has changed them as people, but not necessarily for the worst, and neither of them need to be fixed. I really like nice girl friendships ok don’t judge me~~
So, Twenty Boy Summer gets a well-deserved four stars, and if you’re looking for a nice midnight cry and many sad feels, I’d definitely recommend it.