Summerlost is the latest book from Allie Condie, author of the Matched trilogy and standalone Atlantia. I’m not sure why I keep picking summery books in the middle of winter, but this standalone will have you longing for bright and sunny days!
It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer.
They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.
Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.
For better or for worse, most things about this book are simple.
It’s an easy read; I started and finished it in one long day of travel. It goes down smooth. The plot tends not to venture into wildly unexpected territory, and there are no glaring flaws. The writing tends toward the economical, which means there aren’t a ton of stunner quotes, but it’s always accessible.
There’s nothing saying a recipe with simple components can’t be delicious, though. In Summerlost, Condie finds an awful lot of sweetness.
This novel finds Cedar Lee trying to reckon with the loss of her brother and father, but also remembering how to be the leading lady in her own life and step out of the shadows of grief and into her spotlight.
In the process, she winds up befriending a fellow misfit-of-sorts, Leo. I enjoyed how real this friendship was. The two bond and help bring out the best in each other, but there’s some trial and error involved in that endeavor. They each mess up, sometimes, but grace and empathy make their friendship stronger each time. It is also refreshing and gratifying to see them comfortable as just friends, even when people in their lives misunderstand their relationship.
As great as Cedar and Leo’s exploits are, by far the highlight of the book is Cedar’s nuanced relationship with her late brother, Ben. Her complicated love for her brother gave me so many feels, y’all. I’ll leave it at that, so that if you read the book, it will be fresh and ready to grab you by the heartstrings.
“And I should have realized that he would fit in because that’s one thing I do know for sure. That it is possible to be different and still belong to your family. For them to love you like crazy.
“Ever since the accident I’ve worried that Ben didn’t know that. Or feel that.
“He had to, right?”
Another huge pro for this book: awesome diversity! Cedar’s Chinese-American heritage and discussion of differently-abled characters were included elegantly. Condie didn’t dance around the topics, either; they were addressed straight-on, in a no-nonsense way that befits the MC’s personality and narration without ever lacking sensitivity.
Summerlost certainly had elements I adored, but unfortunately, I didn’t love everything. The beginning was lackluster, with events happening simply for the sake of moving the plot along, and without making terribly much sense. At the other end, the falling action was somewhere between nonexistent and meh. It took me forever to get lost in this read, and it made a hasty exit stage left from my mind as soon as I was done. This middle grade book doesn’t have the weight to tie down an older reader for long, so I wouldn’t recommend it to that many teen and adult readers.
For middle grade readers (and maybe even a bit younger), though: read it! Read it now. This has so much to offer young bookies. Confident, entrepreneurial kids. Kids navigating the ups and downs of friendship. Kids of all ages enjoying Shakespeare! Excellent, age-appropriate inclusion of diversity and heavy topics like grief. Loving families, awesome siblings.
Give this book to anyone in your life who’s thirteen or younger, and maybe get it for yourself, too, when growing up and a changing world make you nostalgic for the summers when anything could happen.
All in All…
- 3/5 sea stars
- Published March 29, 2016, by Dutton Books for Young Readers
- 272 pages
- For fans of great siblings, crying at books, kids with a sense of adventure, theatre