Monday, 21 October 2013

Morgan Matson: Second Chance Summer

Taylor Edwards has made leaving things behind into an art form. When things get tough, she gets going. Then her Dad gets some terrible news and the whole family decide to spend the summer at their old lake house, where Taylor is forced to confront her past. She hasn't been to the lake for years and isn't keen to go back, but then she starts to reconnect with the people she thought she'd left behind - including Henry, her first crush, who's even cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve...

With fireworks, fireflies and midnight swims, the summer feels full of possibility and, for the the first time, Taylor wants to hold on to the moment but is one summer really enough to have a second chance - with family, friends and love?

Morgan Matson first appeared on my radar with her debut novel Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour back in 2011. It was a great coming-of-age book about two teens on an epic journey of self-discovery, complete with novelty postcards and roadmaps. I didn’t think Matson could top Epic Detour but her second novel is a beautiful surprise.

With similar themes to Epic Detour, love, death and grief are again prominent in Second Chance Summer. The author doesn’t delay the revelation and makes it quite obvious from the start that Taylor’s father is cancer-stricken and only has a few months left to live. I thought that this was the best way to face the novel’s premise – the structure of the plot echoes Taylor’s emotional journey. Like Taylor we are burdened with the knowledge that Robin Edwards will die and then as the novel develops we begin to love him as though he were our own father.  With Taylor we suffer a horrible sense of foreboding and it becomes harder and harder to stand the thought that he will die at the conclusion. And when it does finally happen the impact is stronger – we have learned to know and love this man. The inevitability hurts the most and you will need a tissue to dry your eyes. Matson’s approach to this difficult situation is tactful and highly emotive.

The subplot is unfortunately where you will find the novel at its weakest. At first it started off very well and a mysterious aura surrounded the history between Taylor, the childhood sweetheart, Henry, and the former best friend, Lucy. What did happen five years before? Why was Taylor so ashamed of her past? Why was Henry, the cute boy with the hazel-green eyes, so hostile? I was intrigued at first but as the occasional flashbacks to five years before revealed more and more, my desire to find out dissipated. After so much build up I felt let down by the author – it was not nearly as damaging and dramatic as I thought. Looking back I actually think that the hostility, particularly from Lucy, was quite harsh. The secret was really nothing more than a bit of miscommunication and a playground quarrel.

The strongest point for me was the growing relationship between Taylor, her father and the rest of the family. While the romantic subplot between Taylor and Henry has a lot of focus, the dialogue between Taylor and her father is what makes this novel special. Usually with the YA genre it is the romantic entanglements that are in the foreground, and I’m not saying that as a negative, but it was refreshing to see in this novel that the romance didn’t overshadow the main plot. The book centres more on the family as a whole – the parents are important characters and haven’t been brushed aside, so the protagonist is not allowed to wander off freely as she pleases. The family behaves like a real family – the kids do chores, get in trouble, tease each other and the parents are there to support, listen and occasionally scold. Matson captures family life in a plausible way and makes you want to be part of the family – by the end you are part of the family.

Second Chance Summer isn’t just a light summer read. It’s thought-provoking and emotional and will make you appreciate family, friends, love and life. Matson draws you in then simultaneously breaks your heart and pieces it back together again. It must be added to your TBR list.

Rating: ****


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