Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

34 years ago my brother died in a car accident, I was  a little over a year old, he was three. I don't remember much about him, save one strange memory of him standing outside the car entertaining me while my mom pumps and pays for gas. I recall the car, the sun sparkling off of the metal on the window and the smell of the summer day mingling with the smell of the gasoline. And, of course, I have the stories, of how he called me Finnie Shell for Stephanie Michelle, how he would chase me around the house, how he could make me laugh...it hurts that I only have these stories and not their memories.

2 years ago I gave birth to a tiny person, I was a little over 33 years old, she was a surprise. I remember everything about the night I found out I was pregnant, everything about the day the doctor confirmed it, showing us the ultrasound of our little girl already 5 months in the making and every moment anxiously awaiting her arrival. And, of course, I have the stories, of how she calls me Mommy and Mom and sometimes Mommy Stephanie, how she comes to school with me on Saturday Publication work days, how she makes me laugh...it hurts to realize I used to think my life was complete without her.

It's these two people, the brother I never knew and the person I didn't know who could make me, well, a better me, that I think about when I think about Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.
From Goodreads:
"Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it." "Okay." "Promise me? Promise you won’t say anything?" "Don’t worry.” I laughed. “It’s our secret, right?"  
According to Anna’s best friend, Frankie, twenty days in Zanzibar Bay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there’s a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there’s something she hasn’t told Frankie–she’s already had her romance, and it was with Frankie’s older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago. 
TWENTY BOY SUMMER explores what it truly means to love someone, what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every beautiful moment life has to offer.
This book has so much in it and it speaks honestly about love, friendship, family and what it means to grieve the loss of a loved one.

I am more than willing to believe that when you are still grieving the loss of someone you truly love that having sex for the first time helps to heal the wound, that blocking it out and drinking and pretending to have sexual exploits makes it a little easier to be alive and that when your child dies a piece of you dies and living doesn't even seem possible. I believe that each of the characters in this book acts how people act when their hearts hurt so much they can't feel it.

I like that the parents and other grown-ups in this book are ancillary to the true narrative. I do not mind that the girls sneak out of the house to hang out with boys, go to a party by lying and making up imaginary girl friends. I believe that grieving parents who are just as lost as their still alive children, in this case the very lost Frankie, don't know how to act or how to feel, I believe they ignore and believe what they want to believe. Here's what I don't like, here's the part that makes me sad and here's the part that I hope makes me a better parent...neither of the girls talk to their parents about how they feel and I believe Anna's parents, would listen and trying to help. While I don't need to know everything that my daughter is doing or will do I hope that she knows that she can always talk to me and she can always share her most personal thoughts with me. I hope that she knows that I love her no matter what.

Everything in this book is real and honest and tender and I wouldn't change a single word of it.

My niece is reading this book right now and I know that I'm going to make sure this book finds its way into the hands of my daughter and then we can have a talk about love and friendship and when it's appropriate to have sex and I hope that while I am not her peer she sees me as someone to go to when she needs to do so.

While I write this my daughter is singing "Happy Birthday to Mommy", it isn't my birthday until next May, but it sure feels like a celebration.

5 Stars
This book has now become part of my foundation and is an extension of the very essence of me...I laughed, I cried [or some other emotion] and am sad this reading is over...gush, gush, gush...

Teacher Advisories
Sex 4/5 
There are two sexual situations, neither is graphic, the first, however, is described in realistic and honest terms, some examples include talking about ripping the condom out of its wrapper, and "It doesn't hurt exactly--it's just kind of--strange." The second act involves the same couple and is describe with the same kind of realistic language, but does not actually describe the sex act. No adults find out about the sex and neither of the under age participants are scarred or troubled afterwards. This 'lack of remorse', has caused this book to be banned.
Language 1/5 
To quote the school board in Missouri that banned this book from its curriculum, there's 'questionable language' used to describe boys and sexual situations. This language may be inappropriate in a classroom setting or for church, but its definitely a norm among teenagers.
Substance Abuses 3/5
One girl talks about past exploits while drunk, and we find out that these prove to be a lie, the drinking was real. The two main characters go to one big party where there is drinking and one girl proceeds to get drunk, while the other one does drink. There is a drinking game at the party. Beer is consumed on a regular basis by people who are underage.
Violence 1/5
Arguments, yelling, walking off in anger. One girl lashes out at the other by destroying property.

Touchy Subjects
Be prepared to have an honest conversation about death and dying and what it means when a friend or boy/girlfriend dies. Be prepared to cry like a little baby.
Telling lies
It's important to understand the lying and scheming in this book in context. I think it is also important to note the reasons why Anna and Frankie lie and how they atone for this, even if they aren't punished. Does a child really need to be punished to learn a lesson? Can't students read this book and understand the lessons learned without all the questions answered and the ending wrapped up in a little neat unrealistic bow?
Parent/Child Relationships
Like I said, I'd like my daughter to talk to me. I understand why Annie and Frankie did not. I also think it's important to note that these girls are making adult decisions, but they are also quite mature. If anything there is a lesson to be learned here, teenagers who act like adults should be treated like adults and should be spoken to like the mature people they are.

How this book is used in the classroom
1] Independent Read option

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