Monday, June 20, 2011

Nerds Heart YA: Summer Song by Louise Blaydon

This is the second of two books Arianna and I are judging for the Nerds Heart YA contest. Stay tuned for our decision!

Billy is the epitome of awesome: remarkably handsome, smart, charming, and captain of the football team. He liked the ladies, and the ladies loved him. That is until the summer before his senior year 1955. His best friend Kit is gone for the summer, and he's filling this void by befriending the new kid in town, Lenny. Lenny is introverted, intellectual, and has a certain flair that draws Billy. And as the summer progresses, the two boys realize that what they're experiencing goes beyond friendship, they need one another. This is especially true when the school year starts and they must strive to hide their budding relationship from everyone.

I need to make this statement before we start the overall review: I did not think this was a young adult book. If it had been a young adult book there would be different critiques and accolades. I'd like to remind everyone just because teens are the main characters, doesn't mean it's a young adult book. I explain myself later in the review. So now let the rest of the review commence:

First off I was a bit confused when I first started reading this book. The secondary character of Kit starts off the narration, and then it jumps to Lenny, and then Billy. But you're never sure when each chapter starts who it's going to be. It also seems that whenever you're finally getting to know the character the perspective changes. It kept jarring me out of the story, and it seemed a bit unnecessary.

I did like the themes that Louise Blaydon tried to integrate into her story: homosexuality in the 1950s, male friendships, sexual awakenings, Jewish culture in the 1950s. Unfortunately it didn't feel like these themes were carried throughout the book. They were just mentioned once and it was assumed that this would create continuous plot tension. Which it didn't.

I also never felt emotionally engaged by any of the characters. I just didn't care for them, not in they weren't good characters but they were rather one-dimensional and so I just felt rather neutral about them. Just when I felt like I was starting to see what made a character tick it moved on.

The story felt a bit rushed and unfocused. No I take that back, there was one focus - sex. Lenny and Billy are greatly motivated by sex. It's 1955 and homosexuality is illegal. ILLEGAL! Yet this isn't a huge deal for Billy and Lenny. They are more focused on discovering the physical aspects of their relationship. Let's be honest sex is an important part of any romantic relationship. But I don't want nor need to have it be the only topic for the book. And here's why I don't think this is a YA book. While I'm definitely not opposed to having sex described in young adult books, e.g. Forever by Judy Blume and let's be honest Twilight is rather titillating so that's not the issue either, it's that sex is really the only thing that's talked about. There's no character development, no strong plot line, just sex. Either the physical act or thoughts about how great sex is. Give me something else to work with.

So in summary: This felt like it could've been a great book, something that could have really reached me emotionally and kept me engaged. But there wasn't any depth. I got the plot, got the themes, but the overall emotions just weren't there. There wasn't any emotional conflict, no real growth, just sexual exploration. It was a one-note song. I think if given even fifty more pages of character development I would have a different opinion of this book. But there wasn't. I also think if there would've been 100 more pages I would consider this to be an important young adult realistic fiction as opposed to a one-dimensional adult romance.

Sorry Summer Song, you were not great.

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