The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

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Helllllo readers another review for you today and this one I’m in two minds about. Before writing the review I did a little goodreads/google/twitter research to see the general consensus as to this book and it comes up at a 5 star rating across the board but for me it missed the mark a little. I’m not sure if I missed the reasoning for the book or it was my dislike of the characters, I found this a bit hard to swallow, however without further delay onto the review.

The summer the Dovers move in next door, sixteen-year-old Helen’s lonely world is at once a more thrilling place. She is infatuated with the bohemian family, especially the petulant and charming daughter Victoria.

As the long, hot days stretch out in front of them, Helen and Victoria grow inseparable. But when a stranger appears, Helen begins to question whether the secretive Dover family are really what they seem.

It’s the kind of summer when anything seems possible . . .

Until something goes wrong.

The book as the blurb suggests follows the summer of sixteen year old Helen a quiet and shy character. Lacking a friendship group and struggling to deal with her parent’s separation and her dad’s slump towards depression and a growing alcohol addiction she sees the summer becoming a tired affair. When a Bohemian family, the Dovers take residence in one of the little cottages along the canal Helen’s summer appears to be saved. But what will happen over the course of that very summer will change the two families lives forever.

A little bit of plot to get your teeth into but down to the nitty gritty. The book weaves between two time periods; the summer of 1983 where Helen and Victoria first meet and then thirty years later when a now forty-six year old Helen notices a poster in town advertising the work of her once friend in an exhibition of her photographs. Seeing the post pulls back so many memories of that summer  and we start to unravel what Helen had buried in her memory so long ago.

In terms of positives the characters are full of personality; Helen is a naïve and haughty in her beliefs as to family and the things she should and shouldn’t do however this is continually pushed by the carefree Victoria who constantly shoves her over the edge trying to overcome her caginess. From smashing the green houses to downing alcohol Victoria attempts to make Helen come out of her shell and enjoy freedom. In herself Victoria is a little selfish, irrational and foolish but she has a loveable side that spills over. Pippa and Will the younger twins are a delight and Seth adds a little normality to this bunch of siblings. Alice, their troubled mother and Piet their estranged Uncle add colour to the story and help to continue to interweave the stories.

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As the book continues weaving between the two time periods, Helen becomes fixated on the night, nearer to the end of the summer which she can barely remember, except for the fact it was the night the Dover’s left for good. She knows that something truly terrible occurred but is unable to conjure up the memories. Here in the present we encounter her mother, Victoria and the secrets of that night are finally revealed. As Helen spirals out of control trying to wrack her brains for the answers we learn more and more about that fateful night and the interweaving characters of the family that she has come to love so much.

The issue I have relating to the book are that Helen’s life is so heavily impacted by this events, quite dramatically as the tale winds on and yet until she sees the poster she doesn’t seek any answers until it is too difficult and too late to make a positive impact on the lives of any of the many characters including her own. Throughout she is needy, struggles with trust and is often selfish and condescending and yet she fails to realise that she needs to get out there and make a life for her own. Through this she ends up causing destruction to the people in her life that loved her dearly. It made me a little mad to say the least.

The writing is good but I couldn’t connect to Helen in a positive way and therefore as the book finally came to a close I felt a bit cheated. Saying this, the writing is strong and flows naturally. The description is evocative and carefree, and it lilts back and forth in a way you don’t always see in debut novels. For me, being unable to connect with Helen made it a bit of a difficult to read however I’m glad to have read this it just missed the mark for this reader which was a shame.

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