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Fifteenth Summer by Michelle Dalton

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Synopsis: Chelsea isn’t looking forward to her summer at the lake. It’s the first time her family has been there since her grandmother died, and she can’t break out of her funk. But her summer takes a turn for the better when she meets a boy who works in the bookstore. Josh is cute, sweet, funny…and best of all, seems to like her as much as she likes him. As the days pass by in a blur of boat rides, picnics, and stolen kisses, she can’t believe how lucky she is. No one has ever made her feel so special, or so beautiful.

But Chelsea knows her days with Josh are numbered. She’ll be heading home at the end of the summer—and he’ll be staying behind. Will this be Chelsea’s summer of love? Or will it be the summer of her broken heart?

Review: Fifteenth Summer is being adeptly marketed at the right time, the beginning of May, before the start of summer, since it is a summer novel. You know those summer novels, being not only the kind you can take to the beach, or on a flight, or curl into it on a window seat, but having a limpid, comfortably lazy feeling. A small lakeside town, for example. A lantern party. A no-rush line for frozen custard.

What some summer novels—of which Fifteenth Summer is one—fall into is forgetting that while it is always nice to relax, it doesn’t mean we’ve lost all ability and desire to feel. Chelsea is in the backseat of the family car with her sisters Abbie and Hannah, when it begins, and the sisters are chattering about the boys they remember from last summer in Bluepointe, Michigan, a pleasant, peaceful spot to get away from Los Angeles, where they all live, but soon to drop to four, as Hannah is going to the University of Chicago after the summer is over.

Predictably, while Abbie and Hannah are excited about the boys they might meet in Bluepointe, Chelsea is the one who will have that one great summer romance that will change her, that will help her discover things about herself she never thought seriously about before, such as being a writer, although it’s also because of the sadness of Granly, their beloved grandmother, dying, and the difficulty of spending the summer in Granly’s cottage, where she moved to full-time after their grandfather died.

All we get for most of Fifteenth Summer is a gauzy curtain between us and the story. We can see what Chelsea and her family are going through, missing Granly so much, and we can see the Dog Ear bookstore where Chelsea meets Josh, the son of the slightly irresponsible owner of the store, and we can see the town itself, but the writing doesn’t let us in. Even the lantern party, which at least sounds interesting, doesn’t make us feel the awe that should be there when the partygoers launch their lit lanterns, that feeling of the stars being replaced with lanterns.

And yet, there is hope with Elizabeth Lenhard, for whom Michelle Dalton is a pseudonym. It turns out that Fifteenth Summer is her second novel under that name. I think her third novel will be her strongest. She presents bits of promise in the latter half, such as with blueberry picking at the farm of Chloe and Ken, awful artists who wanted to create brilliant art, but found themselves saddled with being successful blueberry farmers. They reluctantly added free-range eggs to their repertoire and are miserable at that success too. That’s a sign of an author who has a lot more whimsy in store, nearly making up for the listless feeling given off in the first half.

Toward the end, Chelsea meets her favorite author and that’s when Fifteenth Summer has all been worth it, because Lenhard knows how strongly writers and budding writers feel about their own favorite authors. She’s obviously been there. It adds greatly to the appealing nature of Chelsea’s family, with her supportive parents and equally supportive sisters in their own way, which is nice to see in YA novels. It can work and it does work here.

After the Chicks with Sticks series and Charmed and Spy Kids tie-in novels, Lenhard has found her happiness in summertime. I’m sure she’ll tell another summer story soon enough, and I hope she takes the pure delight of reading about Chloe and Ken, and Chelsea’s meeting with that author, and expands it to a novel. Not necessarily those aspects specifically, but just that delight. I think she can do it.

Reviewed by: Rory

Rating: 3.5/5 DIAMONDS
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