Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Last Summer (Of You & Me) / by Ann Brashares

Best known for her Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants novels, Ann Brashares has become a staple of Young Adult fiction. Her first contemporary adult novel, published in 2007, explores the relationship between two sisters and a long-time male friend during one summer at a Long Island beach community, and the subsequent times thereafter.
Riley and Alice have summered at their family's Fire Island (NY) beach house for as long as they can remember. Now in their 20's--Riley, 24 and Alice, 21--they're spending what could be their last summer next door to Paul, a boy who's the same age as Riley but belongs to the social sphere of the wealthy elite. Through all the summers together and despite any social barriers, Paul's become not just a close friend but practically a brother to the two girls, sharing in lifes ups and downs and connecting on an especially companionable level. Though technically just friends, Alice has long been in love with Paul and Paul with Alice though neither have ever been able to own it. Riley, always the independent tomboy, headstrong and uninhibited in everything, recognizes the romance but has a difficult time reconciling herself to the fact that one of her best friends and only sister seem destined for each other, especially as she herself harbors her own unresolved feelings about Paul.
When Riley is diagnosed with a serious, possibly fatal heart condition, Alice is told but Paul is kept in the dark. Quickly, things between the friends become complicated as Alice struggles to balance her love for Paul with loyalty to her older sister while Riley must face her own mortality and bear a falsehood which goes against her honest, genuine and forthright nature. Paul does his best to sift through the awkwardness of things while trying to come to terms with his own conscience and convictions. As the knowledge and secret of Riley's illness takes hold, a rift steadily arises between the two sisters, and ultimately Paul, as the trio is forced to confront a pivotal period in their young lives and the bond between them which has sustained their friendship for so long.
Brashares is intuitive and understanding when it comes to characteristics which drive relationships, but she doesn't quite hit the mark on this one. With a talent for establishing an intriguing premise and introspective characters, the author seems to be at a loss to resolve any of the interconnected conflicts and things become stagnant amid too much self-evaluation and dreamy meanderings. Memories of better times are constantly rehashed in the minds and hearts of all three protagonists; a perhaps deliberate, but altogether confusing device detracting too much from the present tense. As the plot evolves, the three lives are well-fleshed out but any personal revelations fail to grow the story or break through the cycle of sad and troublesome quandaries constantly lingering in the context.

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