September 3, 2013

YA Book Club: SECOND CHANCE SUMMER

Tracey Neithercott's awesome idea!

August's YA Book Club pick was one I've been wanting to read for ages, but still hadn't gotten to: Second Chance Summer by the incredibly talented Morgan Matson. If you've read Amy & Roger's Epic Detour then you know why I was so eager to read this book.


(In the interest of saving space, here's a LINK to the synopsis.)




I've said this before and I'll say it again: Stories featuring characters with cancer are not usually ones I tend to pick up very often. As someone who has experienced this in my own family, it's not something I like to revisit if I can help it. But after reading Matson's other novel, I felt confident in her ability to handle the topic carefully and with grace. While it was every bit as tough to read as I was anticipating, I wasn't disappointed. Here's what I loved about Second Chance Summer :

THE RELATIONSHIPS
Broken friendships from five years prior, the strained interactions with her siblings and her mother, or best of all, the closeness between Taylor and her father. Given the circumstances in the story (coming together for a final summer with a dying parent), it would have been so easy to bring everyone back together again quickly and unrealistically, but the mending of these strained and/or broken relationships takes its time. It unfolds in a way that feels both natural and true and the story is so much better for it. I especially loved the one-on-one moments with Taylor and her father, though that did make the inevitable tearjerker conclusion that much harder to power through. Despite that, it was worth it.

THE LOW-KEY SWOON
I like my books with romance, but to swoon up this particular book too much would have felt wrong somehow. Taylor's rekindled romance with Henry was sweet, the right dose of swoon, and exactly what this book needed to counter the heaviness of watching a much loved parent slowly slip away. I really, really liked these two together. Henry was the perfect love interest for this story.

THE POCONOS SETTING
I've never been to the Poconos, but Matson made the fictional Phoenix Lake setting leap off the page. I felt like I could picture it perfectly and loved all of the small-town details from the shops with quirky names to the beach to the heavily wooded areas.

TRUTHFUL HANDLING OF DISEASE
I think saying I "loved" this aspect of the book would be all wrong. Rather, I appreciated how cancer was handled. I was the same age as Gelsey, Taylor's younger sister, when my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, so this really hit home. While my dad survived, I could personally relate to how it felt watching a parent waste away from cancer. This moment stood out:
"But these changes didn't hit home until I saw the proof, like in a picture, or saw the way that other people looked at him. My father was attracting attention now, in a way that made me feel simultaneously embarrassed, angry, and protective." (p. 368)
I was struck by how much this mirrored how I felt in the same type of situation. And this was only one of several similarities.

I think Matson's use of the Dickens quote from A Tale of Two Cities perfectly sums up Taylor's story in Second Chance Summer :

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

All in all, despite the seriously sad but inevitable ending, Second Chance Summer was every bit as wonderful a novel as I was expecting it to be. The story is beautifully told, laced with tidbits and unique details that make it feel as though we're stealing a glimpse of a real family. This is one of those reads that sticks with you long after you've turned the final page. Highly recommend!

HAVE YOU READ SECOND CHANCE SUMMER YET? 
FEEL FREE TO JOIN OUR BOOK CHAT ON TRACEY'S BLOG!


20 comments:

  1. I don't have the personal connection, but definitely appreciated the way the cancer and father/daughter relationship was handled. I didn't feel as invested in the friendship drama but loved every page the father was on, even if most of those scenes made me cry.

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    1. The father/daughter relationship was easily the best part, as sad as it was. I really appreciated the way she portrayed it. Definitely a tearjerker!

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  2. I had hope to finish this in time for the book club today, but I still have the last quarter left! I'm really enjoying it so far. I'll read your review more thoroughly when I'm finished! :)

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    1. I was lucky enough to be stuck in a car for several hours on end, so I was able to get it read at the last minute. Definitely a great read, even if it's a tearjerker. Can't wait to hear what you think once you're done!

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  3. This is such a fantastic write-up, Jaime. We've had experience with cancer in our family as well, and for that reason I don't generally seek out "cancer books." But like you mentioned, Morgan Matson handles the subject with sensitivity and truthfulness. I also like how you pointed out that the swoon in this book is perfectly appropriate. I love a steamy read, but hot interactions between Taylor and Henry (who I loved) would have felt very wrong considering Taylor's situation.

    I'm so glad we got to read and discuss this book... I'm a new Morgan Matson fan, and now I'm dying to read AMY & ROGER. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Katy. I'm glad we had an excuse to read it, because I think I might have kept putting it off due to the cancer aspect. I think Morgan Matson got everything right here. It was all perfectly balanced, which I imagine was HARD to do. Too much of one thing could have ruined the story (the sad parts, the romance, the family dynamic, etc.) I think you'll definitely like AMY & ROGER!

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  4. I was in my 20s when my dad got really sick (and thankfully better), and it was hard enough to deal with as an adult; I can't imagine being a kid. That quote you included really sums up so much of what it's like to have people looking at your loved one and you know they're thinking: SICK

    I still need to read AMY & ROGER!

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    1. I think watching a family member suffer is difficult at any age, really. And I think so many of us can relate to this story in some way. I think that's why it resonated with all of us. And yes, you definitely need to read AMY & ROGER! It's much lighter, but also awesome.

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  5. This book really hit home for me too and I mention that in my post as well. And while I was thirty, I felt a lot of what Taylor experienced in the book. And yes - while it was a very sad situation, I still felt so happy at moments. I think my grin may have dribbled off my face and onto the page when Taylor and Henry finally sealed the deal. I really, really loved this story and Jaime - when you mentioned this book a while back, I just happened to see it in the store (on sale - cheap Alison here) and picked it up because you were so excited about reading it. So, thank you for that. And for pressuring Tracey to put it up this month! Best read all year.

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    1. I think so many of us can relate to Taylor's story, no matter the age or the disease. Morgan Matson handled this so, so well. Like I said to Katy above, I think she struck the perfect balance between all of the elements in this story. Too much romance or too many heavy sad scenes could have ruined the story. So hard to do, but she nailed it. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, too!

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  6. Pancreatic cancer has affected my family and friends, so I was a little wary of how it would be handled in SECOND CHANCE SUMMER. But like you, I think the author portrayed it really deftly. I loved how this was a book as much about hope as much as grief. Now I'm looking forward to reading AMY & ROGER!

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    1. You're so right about the grief and hope in the novel. Morgan Matson struck the perfect balance there, which I imagine would be so hard to do. AMY & ROGER is an awesome story as well, though definitely a lighter read. It's one of my favourite contemporaries!

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  7. I was just talking with a friend about how we avoid cancer books (for different reasons from yours, but still), so maybe we will have to check this one out!

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    1. It's definitely sad and doesn't shy away from the toll that the disease takes on Taylor's father, but it didn't feel too heavy to me. (And this coming from a girl who avoids cancer books like the plague usually.) I hope you like it! :-)

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  8. Yes, yes, yes. You mentioned that one of the things you liked was the slow resolution of strained relationships, and I completely agree. I like that her family didn't automatically come together in this time of need. I remember Taylor commenting on this actually, how she thought they'd hang out together and be together but they split and did their own things. The way they slowly came together as a family was perfectly paced, heartbreaking and wonderful.

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    1. I think, too, that if the author had Taylor tell Henry or Lucy earlier on what was going on with her dad, that might have forced resolution sooner, which wouldn't have felt right. I'm glad she had Taylor hold off on revealing that. I think this works well with her family, too. Similarly, it wouldn't have felt realistic if her family had just all of a sudden started getting along. The pacing of this was perfect.

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  9. I picked this one up at the library this summer and then chickened out because I wasn't in the mood for something that would inevitably make me cry. Obviously, having grown up in the same family as me, you know how I feel about cancer books. I'm glad you enjoyed it though. I loved AMY & ROGER'S EPIC DETOUR, so maybe I'll give this one a "second chance" someday, hardy har. (feel free to heckle me for that one, but I had to say it :P)

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    1. The parts about her father and his illness were definitely tough to read given our own experience with it, but Morgan Matson really balanced these out with other more hopeful things. I think you would end up liking it even though it does deal with cancer. Basically, Morgan Matson is a pretty darn good writer and I'll probably read anything she puts out. :-)

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  10. I loved this book. It´s been more than a year since I read it and I still think about it. I probably will pick it up again one day. It´s sad and I cannot imagine how hard it must be to experience seeing one father´s illness. But I thought she handled it with a lot of sensitivity and the story still had a hopefulness tinge that I loved. The relationship between the characters simply leaped out of the page and stayed with me.

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    1. It's definitely hard seeing a parent waste away like that, even if they end up surviving in the end. I think that I will read this one again someday, despite the fact that it is really sad. It was that good of a read, in my opinion. Basically, I plan on reading anything Morgan Matson writes from here on on, between AMY & ROGER and this one. Both were awesome!

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