Review: Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Twenty Boy Summer
by Sarah Ockler

ISBN-13: 9-780316-051583
Published: June 2009 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I loved it!

“Don’t worry, Anna. I’ll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it.”
“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 reached into my chest, wrapped its words around my heart and did not let go. From the first page I was pulled into Anna’s story and I loved it.

Anna is going with her best friend Frankie and Frankie’s family to Zanzibar Bay for 20 days as a summer vacation. The trip comes one year after their third best friend, Frankie’s older brother Matt, died. Anna and Matt were together in secret for only one month before the tragic accident, and even though it’s been a year, Anna doesn’t know if she’s ready for Frankie’s idea of a whirl-wind 20 boys for 20 days romance plan. But Zanzibar Bay proves to deliver more than Anna, and Frankie, ever expected and the vacation is filled with ups and downs.

Anna. Oh Anna. She’s so strong and loyal it’s ridiculous. She is such a good friend to Frankie, and comes across as one of those girls you would love to be friends with. While Anna only agreed to Frankie’s 20 boys in 20 days plan to get her to stop harping on it, she finds herself falling for Sam, the cute boy she meets the second day on the beach in Zanzibar Bay. But Anna’s first, and still, love is Matt. Anna is torn between staying true to her memory of Matt, or calmly letting go of that part of him and moving on with her life – moving on to Sam. Seriously, this book just hits all the right heartstrings to wrench the emotion out of you. Anna’s confusion, worry and sadness is palpable. And Sam is such a nice guy! I was so glad to see that there was no hidden assholery in Sam. He genuinely cares for Anna and is a good person. I loved them together.

Even though we don’t get to see Frankie’s thoughts – the book is from Anna’s point of view – I connected with her right away. Sarah Ockler had Frankie and her family’s emotions over the loss of a brother and son feel very real. According to Anna, Frankie has changed since her brother’s death and seems to hold in her grief – as do the parents. But as much as this story is about Anna coming to terms with Matt’s death, it’s just as much about Frankie finally confronting a lot of her feelings about it as well. I would have loved to read more about Frankie and her family, because Frankie is hurt and struggling and it is only through Anna’s interactions with her that we get to see any grief, emotion or dealing, and then it’s all filtered through Anna’s perception of events.

Despite the heartbreaking subject matter Twenty Boy Summer is such a good story, about overcoming grief to begin to really live again. It shows that remembering the person and living your life to the fullest is better healing than dwelling on the past and what life was like “before.” This book is a story about friendship, love, healing, and life. Twenty Boy Summer is calm and mostly quiet. There are moments of raw emotion and gritty reality but it’s life. Everything isn’t always perfect and happy, but it’s not always dark and sad either. It’s a wonderful combination of the two, and I think this book pulls it off perfectly.

I read Twenty Boy Summer for Banned Books Week, and I can’t even begin to imagine this book being challenged or banned. Besides the two brief, detail-free sex scenes (and maybe a few curse words), there is nothing in this book that would do anything other than entertain, help or comfort someone. I wish I had had this book to read after my brother passed away because Frankie’s feelings are so close to my own at that time. It’s a beautiful story and I can’t imagine depriving someone of the chance to discover it.