The Other Side of Summer
Penguin Random House
The Other Side of Summer is a children’s middle grade novel exploring grief, tragedy, family and friendship.
Summer is trying to recover from a family tragedy, but it seems impossible when her family is falling apart around her. Her father has decided to move the family across the world to Australia, and Summer’s mother has decided that she won’t be joining them – not for a while, at least. Summer is struggling to cope with the loss of her brother Floyd, and so she clings to his Ibanez Artwood guitar in an attempt to feel connected to him.
After they arrive in Australia, Summer finds some sheet music and starts playing the guitar (Floyd was giving her lessons before she died). Upon playing, Summer meets a mysterious boy who seems to be magically connected to the instrument. And it is at this point where magic realism is interwoven into the plot, because Summer’s new friend literally starts drifting in and out of life and she seems to have no control over it and no understanding of what it might mean.
I went into this thinking it was a young adult novel. Perhaps it was the packaging, or the promotion and PR surrounding the book, or the buzz I saw on social media by lots of young adult readers. But after reading a significant chunk of the book, I felt that the main character – Summer – lacked the maturity and wisdom needed in a young adult novel protagonist. And that’s when I realised I’d gotten the demographic wrong. In saying that, I do believe older readers will enjoy this book. It’s a quick read and the writing flows effortlessly and although it explores tough issues, it’s a heartfelt novel that transcends ages so you don’t need to be of a young age to enjoy reading it.
Summer is feeling hurt and alone, and Emily Gale does a wonderful job of illustrating those feelings to the reader. Summer is a three-dimensional character and the reader sympathises for her. The Other Side of Summer is a great transitional book for those younger readers who are looking to make the leap to the next level of fiction. It explores serious issues without it being too heavy, and it will introduce younger readers to the YA genre.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The characters are all intriguing and they really drive the story forward. Emily sets each scene with descriptive imagery so the reader can really picture it. Additionally, Emily has crafted the characters so that it’s impossible not to empathise with all of them. Each of them are grieving in their own way, and each of them have their own problems to deal with. Not only is Summer grieving the loss of her brother, but she’s trying to adapt to a new living situation (without her Mum being there) and she’s only 13 years old, desperately trying to navigate her life at that age.
The development of the plot is swift, but a little predictable. The reader slowly finds out the circumstances behind Floyd’s death, but Emily drops a few too many hints along the way and therefore diminished the surprise when it got to the chapter that explained it all.
The Other Side of Summer is perfect for the 10-14 age of kids who are a bit too young for the hard-hitting young adult books, but are ready to step up from the junior fiction stories that glaze over difficult topics and keep things fairly light and humorous.