In which I Give Away a Prize and also review The Summer of Skinny Dipping

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.

Amanda Howells

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.

74 thoughts on “In which I Give Away a Prize and also review The Summer of Skinny Dipping

  1. Genevieve says:


    I have all of the SVU William White books and somehow do not have that one. Crazy racist that sees Elizabeth as the epitome of Aryan perfection? How can I NOT want to read more about this character?

    Count me in.

  2. Nora Dalton says:

    I remember loving William White. Only because he and Margo would’ve made an awesome diabolical pair if they teamed up to kill Elizabeth. Imagine the lunacy then.

  3. Ashley says:

    Wow!!! I loved the interview with Amanda. What were they thinking indeed. Thanks for the chance to win her books. The William White cover is hilarious.

  4. Whallie says:

    Oh, what oodles of fantastic fun! I so want to escape the world of SVH for a change and explore new summer lovin’ the way it’s meant to be – in one summer not about 137! You’re a real doll face, IHW!

  5. Robyn P says:

    Oooh! Me! Pick Me! I’m waving my hand wildly in the air, can’t you see? Pretty please? With a cherry on top of a Dairi Burger banana split?

  6. Nic says:

    Um, yes. That sounds awesome. I know summer is ending but I could totally use a beach read! And by beach read, I mean William Wright of course

  7. Michelle says:

    Ooooh, that sounds like it’s right up my alley. I will read the book anyway, I’m sure, but it would be nice to win a signed copy! Thanks for the review.

  8. Sarah says:

    Loved the interview and would kill to get my hands on that SV “bible” she mentioned. Can’t you give one of those away too? 😉

  9. Alison says:

    The book sounds awesome! And I need some more summer reading, as I’ve been tearing through books like crazy this summer.


  10. Jen S says:

    Comment comment comment comment comment comment! Yay, do I win?

    Seriously, I really would like to read these. The S of SD, because it sounds really good (and I love the idea of the “I know I don’t deep down, believe X–but I kinda wish I did” theme being written about) and the SV because–come ON man, that kinda plot glows in the dark!

  11. Sarah says:

    I have to admit i’m not sure why I’m entering this competition as since I’ve found this website I’ve been obsessed with re-reading these books, I literally have no life now, lol. Seriously though I love this website and if you ever get to see the bible – you have to let us know.

  12. Amanda Howells says:

    Beloved readers, Beloved Robin:
    I can’t tell you what a blast this has been for me–coming to the Dairi Burger and sharing my William White nonsense with you. And how can I ever thank Robin for this incredible, glowing, overly generous review (it is…and I am eternally grateful). Thank you for your enthusiasm and hilarious comments everyone, both in this post and in the others. I can’t wait to send the winner her autographed William White collector’s item, and my new book too. YAY! DOUBLE YAY!
    Here’s the thing about Sweet Valley: decades on,it still brings us all joy, friendship, and yes–good laughs. You can’t knock that.
    Amanda Howells
    p.s. Sadly I lost the SV Bible in one of my many moves…what was I thinking not guarding that with my LIFE?!

    • maplesstraveler says:

      I loved reading your interview, Amanda! As for the SV Bible – I’ll just go ahead and admit that I emailed Alloy (who I understand now owns all the materials) several months ago to ask if they still had a copy of the Bible they would be willing to provide me for review and research purposes – sadly, they never responded!
      I cannot wait to read your new novel.

  13. Kim says:

    I’ve been desperately craving a good summer beach read (too many crime dramas have left me in need of something lighter), and if it’s by the author of one of the best SVU books EVER, that’s just a bonus! 🙂

  14. Fizz says:

    absolutely agree with this being the best SV book cover ever…
    plus, suave moody-looking psychotics make the best story & cover combos ever

  15. Ellen says:

    I never noticed the similarity between Amanda Howells and Amanda Howard (aka Elizabeth’s favourite mystery writer). Loved the interview and would love the books.

  16. Kay says:

    Yeah, win or not I think I’ll read The Summer of Skinny Dipping anyway based on your review. It’s hard to find smart yet readable ya fiction (hell, chick lit too). I’m in!

  17. Lynne says:

    I want to read that book based on your review. Pick me please! Plus, today is my birthday. It would make the perfect present.

  18. Kelly says:

    First off, I love this site. It just brings back so many crazy memories of me going to the library and borrowing Sweet Valley Kids, then followed them to middle school in Sweet Valley Twins, and then ultimately Sweet Valley High, and yes, I even read SUV (up until Liz and that bookish Tom guy got together).

    But I’m ready for something more….please pick me! I would love to read Amanda’s book!!!

  19. Vanessa Saxton says:

    Pick me, pick me! Seriously, though, pick me 🙂 Sounds whiny but I just got a job as a Reading Specialist and I need to create a classroom library. I need to stock it with good reads and not SVH… thanks for doing a contest, IHW!

  20. Whallie says:

    Wow! After reading how many people want this book I have to say that I don’t care who gets picked. I just hope that they will enjoy the reading, cherish it, and pass it on to someone they know who will enjoy it as well.

  21. Magpie says:

    Damn, my computer breaks for five days and I miss out on a giveaway! Oh well, I hope whoever wins the book enjoys it 🙂

    Anyway, this sounds like a really interesting read, and I have to amass some reading material for my holiday later this month, so excuse me while I head over to Amazon…

  22. Jenna says:

    oooh!!! i need this! I re-read my copy after the review and it’s a bit too pre-loved to be acceptable these days 😦

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