It’s summertime, to paraphrase the song, and the livin’ ain’t easy, not for Francesca “Frankie” Schnell. It’s the summer she turns sixteen, and it’s supposed to be filled with frivolity and magic, but Frankie is sullen. She’s healthy, yes. She’s reasonably pretty, in a string-bean, not-busty way, and she has her best friend, Lizette Sutter to share adventures.
The first problem is named Bradley Stephenson. He’s hot, and he’s Lizette’s boyfriend. This means Lizette is always busy. It’s even worse, because Frankie has always had a huge crush on Brad. The situation—even when the three go out as friends—is nigh on untenable.
Problem two is that Frankie is convinced her father is having an affair with the sexy woman across the street.
Problem three…problem three is the killer. During a family beach outing four years ago, Frankie’s little brother, Simon, was swept away in a strong current when Frankie was supposed to be watching him. She just walked back to the family beach blanket to get snacks, and when she turned back around, Simon was out in the water. She did her best to save him, but it was for naught. Ever since that horrible afternoon, Frankie has felt crushing guilt that it was her fault, and that her mother has ever since blamed her for Simon’s death.
The bright spot in Frankie’s life is the part-time job she falls into. She takes on a role as a mother’s helper. The little boy is also named Frankie, which amuses him to no end. Young Frankie is a handful. He loves living dangerously, climbing trees, diving into the deep end of the pool, swinging impossibly high on the playground swing set. He’s an energetic and smart little boy, and he looks exactly like Simon. He’s even the age Simon was when he died.
As if juggling all the drama of her best friend, her best friend’s lusted-after boyfriend, her father’s apparent affair, and the ever-present guilt about Simon’s death weren’t enough tsuris for one girl, Francesca begins to wonder if there isn’t some sort of connection between Frankie and Simon, something beyond her comprehension. As she investigates, her world becomes an Etch-a-Sketch, with clearly demarcated lines and forms, which disappear as her summer moves toward its ending, as if The Universe shakes it. Then new lines and forms appear, and Francesca’s world changes.
This book is totally addictive; I read it in one sitting. In Francesca—who narrates—Gae Polisner has created a young woman who can’t seem to catch a break. Circumstance torments her, and all she wants is normalcy in her life, the normalcy she used to have. She needs it in order that she can grieve properly, then let go of her guilt. She needs it now.
I also like that Ms. Polisner gave Francesca the surname “Schnell,” which means “quickly” in German. She’s suffered enough, and Francesca wants the status quo with her mother to change quickly. She wants her grief to resolve itself quickly. She wants a boyfriend quickly. She wants answers to difficult questions quickly.
And by the book’s end, things do change. The ending isn’t necessarily what I expected or wanted, but by damn, it’s the ending that fits. The malleability of the human soul—and the innocent spark of a little kid—bring that ending to fruition. “The Summer of Letting Go” is the perfect title for this book. It’s a gem, filled with the mixed emotions we all feel: joy and pain, hope and despair, all contrapuntal, and the relief we feel when we let go the negative. Francesca finds her place on The Universe’s Etch-a-Sketch. Here’s hoping we all do.
Most Highly Recommended