Judy Blume will always remind me of my childhood. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was one of my favourite books growing up, and while a recent re-read didn’t quite affect me as I’d hoped, I still remember getting caught up in Margaret’s concerns about filling out a bra and getting her period and all sorts of rites of passage young girls go through. Fellow Blume fans, say it with me: “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”
Great news for all of us who grew up with Judy Blume: she has a new adult novel coming in June! In the Unlikely Event hits shelves June 2.
I was fortunate enough to have attended the Random House Canada Spring Bloggers Event, where they told us about the upcoming novel. There were no ARCs available, but they generously provided us with copies of Judy Blume’s previous adult novel Summer Sisters. If you’ve ever read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, Summer Sisters reminds me somewhat of that novel, being about the strong bonds formed in female friendship when young, and how these can last in some form or another all through adulthood. And like Cat’s Eye, Summer Sisters took me right back to my childhood.
The novel is about best friends Vix Leonard and Caitlin Somers, who go to Caitlin’s family house in Martha’s Vineyard every summer. Caitlin’s family becomes somewhat a surrogate family to Vix, and helps her out with scholarships to the best schools. Over the years, the girls grow apart — having grown up with money all her life, Caitlin can’t understand why Vix would choose to spend her summers working at a restaurant rather than travel with her to Europe; Vix on the other hand finds it difficult to explain why she feels uncomfortable accepting Caitlin’s parents’ offer to pay for her ticket to Europe. Vix sees a degree from Harvard as a necessity for a stable life; Caitlin thinks it’s settling for an ordinary one. And as the novel opens, Caitlin invites Vix to be maid of honour at her wedding to Vix’s ex-boyfriend, whom they both met during a summer at the Vineyard.
The novel dips into the girls’ stories once a year, at first during the summer season, and then later on, during Vix’s school year. Even though the novel begins with Caitlin’s wedding, the romantic angle is secondary to the story of their friendship, and the boyfriend is as secondary a character as the girls’ parents. I love this glimpse into the girls’ lives, and their adventures in the Vineyard remind me of the unbridled fun summers were as a teen, when they were breaks from the school year, and where even a menial job like cleaning houses could be fun because you were doing it with your best friend.
Blume tells the story mostly from Vix’s perspective, and while various characters are given a chapter or two to tell their side, Caitlin’s voice is notably absent. This adds to her mystique as a character — we see her only as others do, and while Vix may know her more than most, even Vix eventually realizes that there are many layers to Caitlin that she will never know. I actually wasn’t a big fan of hearing from the other characters — with the exception of Caitlin’s stepmom Abby, none of the other interludes really interested me, and I would have rather stayed with Vix the entire time.
I hesitate to call this novel simple, because there is a lot that happens, and so much more in terms of family dynamics that remains unsaid. But in a way, there’s a wonderful simplicity that marks this story, and a forthrightness in Blume’s narration that again takes me back to childhood, to a time where summer friendships meant something, and the potential of the future appears limitless. This is a lovely read, and I can’t wait for Blume’s new novel in June.
Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.