It's the summer before high school, and three girls who were once the best of friends are going their separate ways.
One is heading off to her first job at the beach. One is about to find herself stranded in the wilderness. And one will be left alone.
For the first time, they're on their own. Free to make their own way. To kiss the wrong boy, put their life in someone else's hands, and discover who they are. And maybe, to find their way back to each other after all.
I've never read a book by Anne Brashares before, but I have seen the movie version of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. I loved the strong sense of friendship between the four very different leads, and I picked up The Summer That Changed Everything hoping to find a similarly unbreakable bond between main characters Ama, Polly and Jo.
At first, this wasn't what I found. The story opens on the last day of junior high, when the girls run into each other on the way home. The atmosphere between them is awkward, and although we learn that the three were once inseparable there's little sign of it now. They've already gone their separate ways, and stopped visiting the three willow trees they planted together in third grade and tended lovingly for the next few years. As Ama, Polly and Jo hail from the same hometown as the Sisterhood themselves, there are references to the legendary jeans - and the fact that this new group of MCs even tried (unsuccessfully) to recreate the magic with their own pair of denims. And a jacket. And a then scarf. But somehow it just didn't work, and since then they've drifted apart.
This wistful sense of a good friendship lost continues as the girls head off separately to pursue their own summer plans - without so much as a pair of travelling pants to connect them. Overachiever Ama has won a summer study grant that isn't at all what she anticipated, and finds herself having to brave the great outdoors (and a sheer drop down the side of a cliff) minus her emergency hair rescue products. Self-assured Jo has taken a summer job at the beach, and distracts herself from her parents' breakup by pursuing a reckless flirtation with an older boy. Finally, lonely Polly longs to follow in the footsteps of the grandmother she never knew, and sets her heart on going to modelling camp - whatever it takes. I soon found myself enchanted by all three and utterly captivated by their stories. Perhaps most enchanting for me was the story of Polly, who has been left behind as Ama and Jo drifted away and found new friends, and misses them both deeply.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are curious little facts and myths about willows - the same type of trees our MCs planted five years ago when their friendship was just beginning. Initially it's unclear how they relate to the stories of the girls' separate summers, but by the end of the book everything clicks beautifully into place. These three girls don't have a pair of possibly magical jeans, but they do share something else that's truly heartwarming and, if you're anything like me, will have you wiping away a few tears of the happy variety.
The Summer That Changed Everything is a novel about friendship, growing up, and finding strength in your roots. Its honest voice and easy-to-relate to characters make it likely to strike a chord with most readers, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining story with an uplifting message at its heart. A perfect read for spring or summer.
Out: 4th March 2010, UK
Many thanks to Corgi / Random House for sending me a review copy of this book.