It has been a long time since I read Judy Blume’s books as a child, and as I began reading Summer Sisters, it was definitely not what I remembered, however it was no less enjoyable.
Summer Sisters is a coming-of-age story about two friends, Caitlin Somers and Victoria “Vix” Leonard, who spend every summer (beginning in 1977), since they were 11 years old until their late teens, in Martha’s Vineyard at Caitlin’s father’s house. The girls are complete opposites, Caitlin comes from a family of privilege, she’s beautiful, popular, a little bit reckless and free-spirited; while Vix is intelligent, reserved and shy, and comes from a lower-middle-class family. Their friendship experiences many ups and downs throughout the years. They go through it all together, learning about their “Power,” flirting with boys, summer jobs, death/loss, and eventually marriage and children.
Apparently this book is geared towards adults due to some sexual content as the girls explore their sexuality, but I could see this as a young adult book. I give Blume a lot of credit for exploring those themes of sexuality that all young people experience at some point in their lives. Also she explores themes of class differences, disability, life and death, truth and lies, betrayal, and family dynamics; you don’t often see these all in one book.
I did not realize until after I read the book that it was originally published in 1998 (a friend gave the book to me). However the writing style feels very current, and the characters feel relatable, even 17 years later. In my opinion, Blume was way ahead of her time in terms of addressing themes that some writers may have been afraid to explore. Possibly if the book had been released in 2015, it would be considered a young adult novel.
While reading Summer Sisters, even though you have Caitlin and Vix’s friendship as the main storyline, there is also this theme of mothers and daughters. Caitlin had a life of privilege and wealth, she seemed to have it all, but a distant mother (Pheobe) leads her to a life of depression and she feels like she doesn’t deserve better for herself. She feels like she has no choice but to follow in the footsteps of her mother.
Caitlin’s face crumples and she begins to cry. “I’m useless, worse than Pheobe ever was.” Vix holds her, strokes her hair, tries to comfort her. “How can you care about me after all I’ve done to you?” “To me? I don’t think that’s the issue…’ “But it is, I used you. I took everything I could from you.” “I never saw it that way. I was grateful just to be your friend.” – Summer Sisters, Judy Blume
Vix also struggled with a mother (Tawny) who was very closed off, therefore Vix became the kind of person who kept her emotions in check, never revealing her true feelings or too much about her personal life. However she eventually overcame that, and was able to release those feelings near the end of the book, leaving her happy with the path her life had taken.
“You can fill a lifetime of if-onlys…or you can get on with it. In our family, we get on with it.” – Tawny, Summer Sisters, Judy Blume.
At first I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy the book because it seemed like your typical coming of age summer story (I thought initially that it would be a repeat of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants). However Blume’s writing style sucks you in from the first page and keeps you engaged until the end. Character development was amazing. The only character I felt like I wanted more development of was surprisingly Caitlin. Throughout the book, Blume provides points of view from all of the characters (even very minor ones), except for Caitlin, and it left me wanting to learn more about her thoughts and feelings. By the end, I still felt like she was a mystery throughout the book. I stayed up quite late reading the last few chapters, and even though I was very tired, I desperately had to read what happened to Caitlin and Vix. When I can’t put the book down, then I know its good.
I give the book a 4 out of 5. Even though I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any young adult, I felt that the middle section had a bit of a slower pace, and there were still some questions that were unanswered at the very end. However I think that Blume did that on purpose to leave it open for interpretation.