Lexi has a secret.She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.But sometimes love has its own path…
Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire and NetGalley for the review copy. This in no way affected my views of the novel. Disclaimer: I will try to rein it in but I might tackle my beliefs and I mean no disrespect to anyone. These are my opinions and we can always agree to disagree. And yes, Oops! I Read A Book Again is a pro-LGBT blog. Oh and yeah, there could be spoilers (obvious ones only).
I’ve had My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi since last year and it was one of my anticipated reads for 2013 but I just couldn’t start it. The topic was heavy – a girl finding out she has AIDS – and knowing myself and my tear ducts, I knew it would be a very emotional read for me. But I’ve heard nothing but praises and exclamation marks and bawling over that book that I know Jess must have been doing and writing something great. So when the chance to read her sophomore outing THE SUMMER I WASN’T ME came up, I immediately took the chance. I thought “Hey, this is infinitely easier to deal with. I can definitely deal and I love reading LGBT YA and I don’t think I’ve read one dealing with a lesbian.” but I WAS VERY WRONG. The topic might not have been a matter of life and death but I still cried and my heart felt like a lemon being squeezed.
The first chapter opens with Lexi going to New Horizons, a de-gayifying summer camp her mother enrolls her in. Lexi’s dad recently died of pancreatic cancer, resulting to her mother becoming a shell of what she once was. Lexi feels like she lost her mother too when her dad died so when her mother discovers that she likes girls, she’s ready to do whatever her mother wants her to do. Lexi doesn’t want to lose her mother as well and she wants to fix her family even if what that entails is becoming straight.
And that was the first thing that broke my heart about Lexi. She knows she’s gay and even though she’s still in the closet, she never felt embarrassed of who she is. She owns it and has never felt shy or ashamed of being gay. But it truly broke my heart that she so strongly believed that her being straight will make everything right. She grew up in a very loving family and make no mistake, her mother loves her and treats her right. But they’re from South Carolina and their small town is a Christian town. Where religion is first and being homosexual is deemed and perceived as a sin. How painful and difficult could it be to get told that your God doesn’t love you because of who you are? I could only imagine what Lexi is going through because even my LGBT friends aren’t facing this much even if we’re in a Catholic country.
So back to the novel. The camp has an eight-week reparative therapy, which includes having a pink uniform for girls and blue for boys among other things. For the first day, all sixteen campers get introduced to each other and here comes the foil to Lexi’s plan of being straight – Carolyn. Carolyn is beautiful and intriguing and Lexi can’t deny her attraction to her. She keeps on telling herself not to fall for her but as they get grouped together and as they get to know each other week after week (bonding over The Great Gatsby oh good lord), it’s obvious that not falling for Carolyn is an impossible task.
Aside from Carolyn, Lexi gets grouped with Matthew, who right from the start rejects everything New Horizons teaches them. He doesn’t want to be straight and actually has a boyfriend. He’s just in camp because of his father. Rounding up this quartet is Daniel, a fifteen-year old boy who can’t wait to become straight. They’re an interesting bunch and what’s great about The Summer I Wasn’t Me is that these four kids each get the spotlight. It might have been Lexi’s story but we get to know Carolyn, Matthew and Daniel so much that you’ll love them. Especially Matthew because Matthew is awesome. Each has their own story, their own problem, and Jessica Verdi expertly weaves into each without ever making the reader feel that it’s just another plot arc. Ultimately, to read about them getting close to each other and being each other’s support group was heartwarming.
The novel has that slice-of-life feel and a somber one at that, given the gravity of what this camp is all about. But it was never boring because the author has written characters you care about, which makes you invested all the way. You’ll follow them in the eight weeks they’re in camp, reading about all the lessons and activities this de-gayifying camp makes them do. While I don’t agree with the whole concept of this camp and all the activities they’ve been put through, I could see the logic in them and how a person could believe it would work. Some were ridiculous and some were outright painful to read about. I even felt bad for the minor characters and that’s a testament to how Jessica Verdi can make you feel things (and cry!!) if she wants to.
Then the romance. Carolyn and Lexi were just such a perfect fit for each other that I just wanted them to get out of the camp and be together and be happy. But of course, so much conflict lies in their set-up. Carolyn really wants to be straight and Lexi wants that too but she wants Carolyn as well. Add that they’re in New Horizons, where it’s kind of the worst place to fall in love to a person of the same sex.
I thought the novel will just chronicle their stay in the camp and Lexi and Carolyn’s romance but I was wrong yet again. Near the end of the novel, Lexi finds something about New Horizons camp which intensifies and adds another layer to the plot. With this, it felt like Jessica Verdi hit the punching bag again, with my feelings being the metaphorical punching bag.
I know my review is all choppy and uninspired but the emotions that ran through me while reading The Summer I Wasn’t Me are just so fresh that words elude me. I felt sad, happy, giddy, enraged, what-the-heck, are-you-serious, poor-bb, POOR-BB-STOP-HURTING-THEM, you-are-a-dick, aaaaaaaaawwwww, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwww and UWAAAAAAAAAAAA. But in the end, I felt absolutely touched (and I was completely crying my heart out) because that ending? More than romance, I dig family love more and that was a prime example on how to tug my heartstrings. And of course, I felt inner peace and an assurance because in my mind, somewhere out there, Lexi and Carolyn are forging their path. They might not be together forever but their summer at New Horizons taught them that it’s not about who you love but it’s just about loving. Period.
So I heard that The Summer I Wasn’t Me was inspired by the song Hair by Lady Gaga. Of course I had to ask Jess about her playlist for her own book! And here it is and the songs, you guys. The songs are GREAT!
1. “Hair” by Lady Gaga, particularly the acoustic version she performed on the Howard Stern Show. (This was the song that inspired The Summer I Wasn’t Me!)