Summerlost by Ally Condie was published in 2016 by Dutton.
It’s been a year since the devastating car accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are spending the summer in her mother’s hometown of Iron Creek and trying to mend their broken pieces. Memories surround Cedar, including strange gifts that begin to appear in the night—the type of small household items her brother Ben used to collect. Until one day a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike, and everything about Cedar’s summer changes. Soon, Cedar not only has a job working at the renowned Summerlost theater festival, but also a growing friendship with Leo that will blossom as they piece together clues about the short and tragic life of one of Iron Creek’s most famous residents.
Summerlost is not a gut-puncher nor an enthralling, mesmerizing read, but it is a good read and it hits a lot of important notes. After my disappointment with Condie’s Matched trilogy, it was nice to read something like Summerlost and see what I love about Condie shine through in the writing.
The book addresses loss, tragedy, friendship, and the sort of guilt someone might feel over having negative feelings about someone only for that someone to die—typical middle grade serious fare, but still important to address. My one complaint is that I felt Condie was hitting all the right notes but too quickly. It leaves Summerlost feeling a little shallow and not as powerful as something that lingers a little more on the topics. Not that I think the absence of significant angst is a negative, since it was quite refreshing to read a story about loss without massive amounts of protagonist angsting going along with it. And perhaps Condie’s light touch is better suited for a middle-grade novel, anyway.
As with The Penderwicks, I enjoyed the nebulous setting of Summerlost, the uncertainty of when, exactly, it takes place. Perhaps it’s wrong of me to assume that because the book features children riding around on bikes, going places without parental supervision, and no mention of phones or computers it takes place in, say, the 1980s. Perhaps there’s no time mentioned because it doesn’t need to have a time mentioned to be relevant. Loss is loss, whether it’s experienced in 2016 or 1916. Still, I liked the setting, if only because, as you know, I love “children go outside and do things” novels.
Summerlost might go through issues more quickly and shallowly than I would like, but it still hits a lot of important notes and has some good things to say about moving on from loss. I wish the Lisette plot angle didn’t feel as random and disjointed as it does, but overall, Condie has written a nice novel—not as moving or as powerful as some, but still important.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Realistic, Middle Grade
“But if they tear the theater down,” I said, “the Summerlost Festival logo won’t make sense. It’s a picture of the theater. And the logo is all over the place. On the bottles, the programs, the signs.”
“I bet they’ll keep the logo the same,” Leo said.
“Even if the theater’s gone?”
“It’s an icon,” he said. “I guess it was around for so long that it doesn’t actually have to be here anymore to have meaning for people.”
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