As the years pass by, we wistfully reminisce about the magical summers during our childhood and adolescence spent visiting special places. These memories, softened and enriched over time, capture moments of freedom, change, pleasure, and revelation. This summer, relive such nostalgia in the pages of these novels, all of which focus on the experiences and life-altering events that occur in unique seasonal locales.
After disgracing her family through her involvement in a tempestuous love affair, 15-year-old Thea is sent away to a horse camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1930s North Carolina in The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. (Riverhead. 2013. ISBN 9781594486401. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101616284). Anton DiSclafani fills the leisurely paced and neatly plotted tale with lush descriptions, insight, and empathy. Thea’s life at camp, her entanglements with other students, her illicit lust for the headmaster, and her eventual reconciliation with her family all reveal much about her character.
Fourteen-year-old, German-born Erik Schroder is determined not to feel like an outcast. After adopting the surname of an elite American family, he attends a New England summer camp that completely transforms his life. Amity Gaige’s Schroder (Twelve. 2013. ISBN 9781455512126. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781455512140) tells the heart-wrenching story of his new identity as Eric Kennedy, complete with a made-up fairy tale past. Years later, Eric’s marriage begins to crumble under the weight of his lies, and a desperate custody battle ensues. Eric takes his daughter, Meadow, on what should be a short trip to New Hampshire but is instead understood by his wife and state officials to be a kidnapping. Eric’s first-person account of his actions is by turns unnerving and tender.
In The Interestings (Riverhead. 2013. ISBN 9781594488399. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101602034) by Meg Wolitzer, a bunch of high school students at a summer arts camp become a tight-knit group. In a gleeful bit of narcissism, the clique names itself “The Interestings.” Included among their members are a musician, a talented cartoonist, and a wannabe actress. The dynamic and steadfast relationships shared by these friends continue to intersect as they make the transition to adulthood in spite of their vastly divergent paths. Wolitzer’s captivating and poignant novel involves rich characterizations and seethes with secrets, resentments, hopes, and aspirations.
Justin Cronin’s touching saga The Summer Guest (Random. 2005. ISBN 9780385335829. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780440335009) explores the profound secrets of the inner soul, a deep sense of place, being true to oneself, and the importance of connections. Knowing that he is dying of cancer, wealthy Harry Wainwright returns to his beloved fishing lodge in northern Maine one last time. While in his final refuge, he does an unexpected good deed that echoes through the lives of many, including his wife, Lucy; their daughter, Kate; the lodge’s owner, Joe; and the camp guide, Jordan.
Every summer Olivia travels back to her beloved cottage on the South Carolina coast to tend to the loggerhead turtles during their nesting season. The house has long been her center of peace, a place where she experiences a sense of seacurity and serenity and the setting for her work with sea turtle conservation. Mary Alice Monroe’s touching novel Beach House Memories (Galley. 2013. ISBN 9781439170946. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781439171042) depicts Olivia’s turmoil as her marriage falls apart. She is caught between the untenable union and her concern for her two young children. What is the right course of action and how can she decide? She finds solace when her work brings her into contact with marine biologist Russell Bennett. Their affair further jeopardizes her failing marriage, but it shines much needed light on Olivia’s inner conflict.
A run-down lake camp well past its prime and on the verge of being sold is the setting for Sarah Addison Allen’s Lost Lake (St. Martin’s. 2014. ISBN 9781250019806. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250019813). The lake has become a sanctuary and home to many of the characters, including Eby, the elderly owner; Lisette, her French friend and cook; and the quirky Bulahdeen and Selma, guests of long standing. Widow Kate Pheris needs such a place, for herself and her daughter, Devin, before she loses herself to the sway of her domineering mother-in-law. Making a dash for Lost Lake and her Aunt Eby, Kate escapes to a happier place filled with gentle magic, deep love, and healing.
This column was contributed by freelance writer April L. Judge. She lives in Morris Plains, NJ, and is Director of the Bernardsville Public Library, NJ
Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net