Review: The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi


The Summer I Wasn't Me
Jessica Verdi
Series: Standalone
Released: April 1st, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating: 3.5 stars
Word Rating: Impressive
Reviewed by: Ellis

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Lexi has a secret.

She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she's afraid that what's left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there's nothing she wants more than to start over.

But sometimes love has its own path...



While I was definitely curious about The Summer I Wasn't Me, I didn't expect it to be so impressive. I started reading the book while I was in Italy last week. Let me break down my reading experience for you.

*announcement* "You now have four hours to yourself."

*sits down* *starts reading*

Person 1: "Hey, want to go to the Thermae with us?"

Me: "Can't."

Person 1: "Okay..."


Person 2: "What's so funny?"

Me: "You wouldn't understand."

Person 2: "OH RLY. Try me."

Me: "Shh!"

Person 2: *grumbles*


Person 3: "We're getting lunch. Are you coming with us?"

Me: "Not hungry."


Person 4: "So you're reading, huh? I myself like to read quite some-"

Me: *death stare* 

Person 4: "Never mind."


And so on.


I don't know how Verdi does it, but she manages to treat a serious issue very thoughtfully, while also delivering an entertaining story. Not that this is a requirement in any way. It's more of an added bonus, one absolutely makes the list of all the things that made me rave about this book to people who are only mildly interested in reading in general. (I know. It was horrible. The important thing here is that I survived that attitude.) So how about I recreate that list for a more appreciative audience?

The first thing is how extremely readable this book is. Even with the obligatory visits to churches and all things Rome, I managed to finish it in a day and a half. While it is Lexi herself who makes the decision to go to New Horizons, a Christian de-gaying camp, she doesn't really struggle with liking girls. Sure, she's been rejected by the first girl she fell in love with, someone she also considered a friend, which makes that girl's "Ew you're gay! You're' an abomination!" reaction all the more disgusting, but she doesn't see herself as an anomaly. What she does struggle with is her father's death, and the way it has affected her mother, who also has a bad reaction to Lexi's sexuality. Lexi's real motivation for going to New Horizons is that she thinks it will make her family happy.

That's another thing that impressed me. The kids at New Horizons are a varied bunch, whether it comes to their personalities, motivations, living situations, or how they themselves view their sexuality. Some are forced by their parents, while other truly believe homosexuality is something they can be cured of. The Summer I Wasn't Me goes into the very real struggles LGBT+ people have to face. Some people are there because they won't have a home to return to if they don't get "cured". Others - and this includes Lexi, who comes from a small and very religious town - feel pressured by their environment to "fix" themselves. (I'm sorry, but I really can't type those sentences without using air quotes.)

Many of their stories make mention of the pressure and abuse they've had to face, even though the latter isn't always related to their sexuality, and how they think this "de-gaying" will help and/or save them. It will later become clear that New Horizons isn't that safe a place either, which really brings the point across that in no way is this kind of camp acceptable. The peculiar thing is that all these disturbing elements are woven throughout what I'd otherwise describe as a rather light and humorous story. It's this strange blend of entertaining, disturbing and downright infuriating that makes the story so compelling

One critique I do have is that the ending seems a bit rushed. It's not exactly that everything is resolved. There's no magic fix that gives Lexi an instant happy ending. She realises her mother is coming to terms with her daughter being gay, but she's also confident her mother will get there. More importantly, she realises that she won't have to hide anymore, at least not from the people she cares about. My problem is that many things - most of which rather shocking and explosive - suddenly start happening towards the end, which makes the story seem a little uneven in pace, and results in a feeling that the ending just kind of hangs there.

The rest of it is fantastic, though. My favourite character is Matthew, a guy in Lexi's group who quickly becomes her best friend. From the beginning he's very clear that he's having none of this "pray the gay away" bullshit and he tries to do anything possible to make the others see that there's no such thing as a "cure" to homosexuality, and, more importantly, that you don't need one. He's funny, warm, supportive, and openly challenges authority and ridicules their "exercises". In no way is he, or any of the other campers, a stereotype. I loved the developing romance between Lexi and Carolyn, who have officially won the Adorable Couple of the Year Award by using The Great Gatsby to secretly communicate, but Matthew probably is the character that will stay with me the most.

So yes, The Summer I Wasn't Me definitely was a win for me. Also, this book kind of has the best answer to the "we ban Harry Potter from our lives because WITCHCRAFT" debacle. So if this is what convinces you to buy the book, it's all good. Come for the Harry Potter, stay for the thoughtful and entertaining story.

4 comments :

  1. Sounds like a great book that really absorbed you into the story, Ellis! I like the sound of Matthew who has a healthy attitude about being gay. Great review!

    Jeann @ Happy Indulgence

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  2. MATTHEW FOR PRESIDENT. I'm currently in the middle of this, so I can't comment to much but it is absolutely fantastico. It is breaking my heart and also making me giggle. HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT BOOK? The feels are so conflicting. Anyhoo, I must go read some more as I am in the death glare phase. Thanks for the rec, I lurve it.

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  3. This is one of the most favorable reviews. I love the subject matter, but I am a bit wary of the problems.

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  4. So this sounds fabulous and I can't wait to read it for my classes but I HATE the cover art. ~Sheri

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