Twenty Boy Summer is a thoughtful and original novel about grief, friendship, love and being a teenager. A year after Frankie's brother Matt dies suddenly, she, her family and her best friend Anna take a holiday in California. Trying to put aside all the memories the place holds for them both - although Anna has never been there before she knows all about it from Frankie and Matt - Frankie decides to use the time in order to set Anna up with a boy. Anna is less willing but goes along with Frankie's plan, but she has a secret. Just before Matt died, she had just discovered that her years-old crush on him was reciprocated, and they were just working up to making their relationship official. She had promised not to tell Frankie before he did, but he never had the chance. A year later, Anna is still holding on to that promise, trying to reconcile her loyalties to Frankie and Matt.
The novel is told from Anna's point of view, and superficially she reminded me a little of some of Jacqueline Wilson's narrators: a shy girl who follows her more glamorous best friend into situations that she doesn't really feel comfortable with. The two girls' friendship is more balanced than it seems at first glance, however. Anna is no broken reed, but shows remarkable strength in supporting Frankie in her seemingly superior claim to grief - losing a brother rather than just a "friend" - without betraying her own emotional turmoil. Although we don't see it in the novel, Anna tells how Frankie went to pieces after Matt's death, and a friendship between two very different individuals, which in some books seems unlikely, is given life as Anna expresses relief that Frankie is out of despair, even if she has changed drastically. If the Twenty Boy challenge makes Frankie happy, then Anna will go along with it.
Despite the book's title, which no doubt to Scroggins screamed, "PROMISCUITY!" Frankie and Anna only meet a few boys, and only two are given character. Frankie immediately strikes up a flirtation with Jake, while Anna becomes drawn towards Sam. At first she struggles against her feelings for Sam out of loyalty to Matt:
If I kiss someone else, the spell will be broken, and my memories of Matt and everything I wrapped up in them will be erased. No, thank you.The novel explores the complexities of moving on from a love cut short unnaturally, and allowing the past, present and future to co-exist, neither one invalidating the other.
But is this book suitable for the teenage market, or should we go to all the high schools and remove every copy from the libraries and classrooms? My answer is of course it is suitable. Yes, sometimes the girls are irresponsible and make wrong decisions, but no more so than in every other young adult book out there. Who would want to read about good little boys and girls who always do the right thing, anyway? Not only would it be deadly dull, but you would learn nothing from it. Even the March girls of Little Women mess up sometimes.