Glad you all liked the interview with Amanda Howells, I think you are all going to like her book too. And you know I wouldn’t just say that if I didn’t mean it!
I’ll admit, I was very skeptical at first. I figured I had seen it all before: summer vacations, trying to fit in with the “in” crowd, arguing with mothers, summer romances…But familiarity is a comforting thing. The Summer of Skinny Dipping has all these familiar themes, but when it is done this well, familiar can be very satisfying.
The short of it is: Sixteen year-old Mia and her family are staying the summer with her cousin’s family in the Hamptons, just as they have every year since she can remember. Only this time, she comes to fin her cousin/best friend Corinne has changed dramatically. Now interested in running with the “it” crowd, Mia finds it harder to connect with her. At the same time, Mia is finding it harder and harder to be accepted by her mother and dealing with rising tensions between her parents. While staying at the beach, Mia meets and befriends Simon, whose family is renting the house next door. They become friends and later become involved. Simon and Mia connect because of their similar issues with parents, finding their place, and expectations of others around them. And then some other stuff happens, but if I told you, you wouldn’t need to read the book! Oh, and Snape kills Voldemort. Or something like that.
Simple enough right? However, the way Howells portrays these events is really smart and subtle. Things aren’t spelled out, we learn them gradually from Mia’s first person narrative. A lot of what Mia is going through has more depth than your run-of-the-mill coming of age story:
- Mia is self-conscious, but she’s not a total sack sack of sh*t loser (i.e., Lynne Henry). She is unique- she’s smart and insightful, she likes science, she is just insecure about who she is, due to her high school boyfriend seemingly dumping her for no reason, and her mother constantly giving her “advice” in the hopes to “help her”; As in, which bathing suits would be more slimming on her. Most of the time, she has strong convictions, they just get muddled by insecurities.
- Mia has never been jealous of her cousin Corinne, who has always been beautiful, talented, cultured, and wealthy. Mia has always just been grateful to have Corinne in her life, because she gets to be in the presence of her wonderful qualities, and Corinne has always given her unconditional friendship. We’ve all had a friend like that (haven’t we?)
- When Mia firsts meets Simon, it’s not some dumb love-at-first-sight ridiculousness that Jessica Wakefield may have. She doesn’t even find him particularly attractive at first. They become friends and she comes to like him the more they talk about their interests, family and life. Although they get a bit mushy and makey-outy when they first get together, they do actually still have real conversations with each other. This is something that id often missing from teen romances (especially all the bs vampire romance stuff). I know I’ve mentioned before how the lack of meaningful conversations between dating couples has been one of my biggest beefs with SVH writing.
- The author does an amazing job of conveying a feeling that prevails throughout teen-hood and never really goes away (at least for me); the desire to be accepted by the group you are not a part of, despite not even liking them. Mia is fully aware that her cousin and her friends are shallow, mean, and actually all not that interesting. yet shew still yearns for those fleeting moments of acceptance. Mia’s mother is super critical and wants Mia to be more into glamour and performance; despite Mia knowing that is not what she is interested in, she can’t help but wish she could be more like that to get her mother’s acceptance. It seems to be a simple enough concept, but I have seen many of past and recent young adult fiction depicting the “I just wanna be popular” character because popularity is the ultimate prize.
- The depiction of the adults in Mia’s life (her parents and her aunt and uncle) are realistic and smart. Mia seeks to understand their behavior, and comes to realize they are not as idyllic as she thought when she was younger. Mia struggles with watching Corinne’s relationship dissolve with her aunt and uncle, again shattering her idyllic view of Corinne.
I really wish this book had been available to me in my teens, especially at the beginning of high school. Not to sound trite, but I could have used some validation that this book can bring to being sure of yourself and seeking out those friends that accept you for who you are.
And just to think, what Mia would have to say to Jessica Wakefield if they were ever to meet.
The best news is that Amanda Howells has provided a signed copy of this book and a signed copy of The Return of William White (a.k.a. the best Sweet Valley book cover ever) for a giveaway! Just leave a comment with a valid email address by Wednesday at midnight and I’ll pick someone at random as the winner.
And Amanda, hurry up and publish your next novel!
Read more about Amanda Howells here. And if you like the book, tell your friends.
UPDATE: Congrats to Caitlin, our winner! (No not that Caitlin). Please go out and buy The Summer of Skinny Dipping. It’s a great read! You know I wouldn’t just say this if I didn’t mean it.