What I Did on My Summer Vacation

While the rest of the nation is in the midst of a crippling heat wave, here in the Pacific Northwest we have barely hit 80 (and then only for one day). Instead of soaking up the sun, we have been dodging rain squalls. The advantage of so many gray days is that there is plenty of time to read how other people enjoy their summers. Here are a few ideas, including stories of summer jobs, summer mysteries, and summer love.

 What I Did on My Summer Vacation  What I Did on My Summer Vacation  What I Did on My Summer Vacation  What I Did on My Summer Vacation  What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Barkley, Brad & Heather Hepler. Dream Factory. Puffin. 2009. 250p. ISBN 9780142412985. pap. $8.99. F
“I wasn’t at all surprised when Cinderella gave me the finger.” The first line of this costumed rom-com, published in 2007, introduces one funny setup: Disney World’s costumed characters are on strike (“Mickey Can Kiss My Glass [Slipper]“), and teenaged scabs are working the summer crowds. Alternating between the perspectives of Ella (whom the shoe fit) and Luke (the Dale half of the Chipmunk duo), the story gives the reader an all-access pass to the Happiest Place on Earth. Despite their best intentions, (Cinder)Ella finds herself dating Prince Charming, and Luke cannot be separated from his other half. When the two are paired on a scavenger hunt, they discover that real love doesn’t follow a script. For another unusual summer job story, try Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner, in which a teen learns more than he ever thought possible about the game of bridge.

Brashares, Ann. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ember. 2003. 336p. ISBN 9780385730587. pap. $9.99. F
Four best friends-born to four mothers in the same prenatal aerobics class-share a magical pair of blue jeans. Found in a thrift store, the pants fit each girl perfectly and inspire the confidence required for the life-changing summer ahead. Before Blake Lively and America Ferrera starred in the movie of the same name, teens and grown-ups alike followed the adventures of Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby through another two sequels, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (2003) and Girls in Pants (2005). (And before the second “Sisterhood” film came the next book, Forever in Blue [2007]). Brashares celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the original sisterhood with Sisterhood Everlasting (2011). This adult-marketed book takes our girls ten years forward in time, reuniting them for a Greek vacation that goes in a direction none of them (or the reader) expects. Uninitiated readers searching for a total-immersion chick-lit experience have a full summer’s worth of reading ahead.

Horner, Emily. A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend. Dial. 2010. 259p. ISBN 9780803734203. $16.99. F
While I was researching “Not Just for Teens” (LJ 6/15/11), one of my sources turned me on to a book that I tragically missed last year. Cass Meyer is mourning the death of her best friend, Julia, not just because Julia was a brilliant actress and the creator of the musical Totally Sweet Ninja Death Squad but because Cass was more than a little bit in love with her. To get her head together, Cass takes Julia’s ashes on a cross-country bike trip, where she kisses a boy, has her first girl-girl relationship, and learns that grief goes easier with friends. She returns able to face the new feelings she has for Heather-a girl who once tormented Cass in middle school and has now been cast as the musical’s lead. With Heather, Cass learns that love is as easy and as hard as getting back up in the bike after a fall. Readers looking for another quirky cross-country adventure can follow it with As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth, in which a resourceful would-be camper is stranded in the middle of nowhere with $83, an unreliable cell phone, a pocketknife, and no family to call for rescue.

Johnson, Maureen. 13 Little Blue Envelopes. HarperTeen: HarperCollins. 2006. 317p. ISBN 9780060541439. pap. $8.99. F
Ginny’s Aunt Peg was always a free spirit. Not only did she leave home as a teenager, she has spent the last few years mostly out of touch with her family, traveling and creating art. Now she is dead, and Ginny has received a unique inheritance-$1000, a one-way plane ticket to London, and 13 airmail letters. Peg’s instructions are to open the letters one at a time and complete the tasks within, all the while traveling from Edinburgh, to Rome, Paris, and Greece. Armchair traveling does not get much better than this, and now, six years later, followers of Ginny’s adventures can continue with The Last Little Blue Envelope, published last May. Spoiler alert! At the close of 13, Ginny lost the last letter when her backpack was stolen. In Last, a stranger calls, saying that he has the letter…for a price.

McNamee, Graham. Acceleration. Laurel Leaf. 2005. 240p. ISBN 9780440238362. $6.99. F
Originally published in 2003, this page-turner begins with the ominous words, “This is a nightmare.” That is exactly what Duncan’s summer job in the Toronto Transit Commission’s Lost & Found department becomes when he discovers a leather-bound diary among the dusty Stephen King paperbacks on the lost book shelf. The diary was penned by a serial killer, a man now hunting for another victim on the trains. Duncan is torn between knowing he should turn the book in to the police and his morbid desire to keep reading. The claustrophobic sub-basement in which Duncan spends his days may be a chilly refuge from the scorching heat above, but as the summer wears on, the possibility that the book’s owner may come to retrieve it looms ever more real. Amid the page-turning suspense, McNamee offers one of the best ideas ever for cooling off on a hot night-watching the ice house scene in Dr. Zhivago.

Peck, Richard. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts. Puffin. 2006. 190p. ISBN 9780142405079. pap. $6.99. F
In a column rich with great first lines, this one may be the topper: “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it.” Fifteen-year-old Russell Culver is not the least bit saddened by his schoolmarm’s demise. He sees it as an opportunity to close the one-room schoolhouse before he has to pass his eighth-grade graduation exam. No such luck. When the fall arrives, the newly minted instructor of the Hominy Ridge School in turn-of-the-20th-century Indiana is none other than Russell’s sister-an intolerable situation for them both, as Russell wants to take off for work in the Dakotas. This fine demonstration of Peck’s folksy humor (A Long Way from Chicago) takes the reader back to a slower time and serves as a welcome antidote to the back-to-school rush that is already hitting a store near you.

Silvey, Craig. Jasper Jones. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2011. 312p. ISBN 9780375866661. $18.99. F
Jasper Jones is the most hated boy in all of Corrigan, almost a caricature of what happens when bad parenting meets bad schooling meets bad-to-the-bone attitude. Charlie has only known Jasper as a cautionary tale until the summer night when he knocks on Charlie’s window. Jasper takes him to a hidden glade to show him a secret that he cannot share with anyone-the body of beautiful Laura Wishart swinging from a tree. Charlie understands that Jasper will be blamed for her death unless he helps him hide the body, and together the two make a pact to find Laura’s killer. The investigation leads them to uncover even more ugly secrets in their small town, and Charlie falls deeply in love with Laura’s sister, Eliza. This winner of the Australian Indie Book of the Year Award makes frequent reference to the American classic Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, with good reason, but its evocative first-person narration and chilling conclusion may be more reminiscent of John Knowles’s A Separate Peace. Follow it up with another story of tragic death and secrets revealed: Martha Brooks’s Mistik Lake spools out over the course of a year, but its steamiest chapters are reserved for the summertime, in which its protagonist, Odella, falls in love with a boy from the small town where her mother was once the only survivor of a car accident. Both books rely on distinctive prose and a unique sense of place.

Uhlig, Richard. Last Dance at the Frosty Queen. Laurel Leaf. 2008. 358p. ISBN 9780440239840. pap. $6.99. F
Arty Flood has one dream: to leave his small Kansas town in the dust after graduation. In the spring and summer of 1988, there are a few things holding Arty back. Money is the first. His boss owes him over a $1000 in back pay. Then there is Geraldine, the sheriff’s daughter, who is determined that Arty will be her first (and after which possibly her baby-daddy). There is the teacher with whom Arty is having an affair in the backseat of the Death Mobile-his family’s funeral home hearse. And then finally, there is Vanessa, who emerged like a mermaid from the lake where Arty was just trying to find a little peace from his predicament(s). New girl Vanessa and her California ways start Arty wondering if there is a reason to stick around after all. Adult readers who came of age in the Eighties will appreciate the author’s references to the pop culture of the day (Hubba Bubba, anyone?) and the razor-sharp insight with which he approaches a story as old as American Graffiti. Originally published in 2007; frosty fun.

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