I delayed reading this book for young adults because I thought from the title that it was a frivolous beach book that I would not like. On the contrary, it is a serious beach book, and I absolutely loved it. It’s sad and sweet and fun, all mixed up together.
When Anna Reiley turned fifteen, her best friends and next-door neighbors, Frankie (short for Francesca) and Frankie’s older brother Matt, helped her celebrate. After the party, Matt kissed her – a grownup kiss that showed he felt the same way as Anna had come to feel about him.
For the next month, they carried on a secret relationship. Anna always told Frankie everything, but Matt, ever the protective older brother, wanted to tell Frankie himself about Anna and him when his family went for their yearly trip to Zanzibar Bay in California. Horrifically, the day before they left, Matt’s heart stopped, and he died.
Since then, both families struggled to deal with their own grief and with each other’s. Frankie became wild, and Anna turned inward: how could she ever get close to another boy and thereby “erase” Matt from her memory? She keeps a journal in which she writes letters to Matt – reminiscing, trying to keep him close, trying to keep her memories of Matt fresh and in that way keep him alive to her.
Frankie’s family invites Anna to go along with them to Zanzibar Bay the next year, hoping the trip will return their family to a sense of normalcy. Frankie dubs the coming vacation A.B.S.E. – Absolute Best Summer Ever – and vows to help Anna get rid of “A.A.” – Anna’s Albatross – i.e., her virginity. Frankie insists they take a challenge to meet at least twenty boys.
In the end, they meet only two that count – Sam and Jake. Anna thinks she feels love for Sam, but she worries about the sanctity of her memories of Matt. Nevertheless, at a party the two girls attend, Sam and Anna go off alone, and Anna resolves to throw off her “albatross” with Sam. Meanwhile Frankie discovers Anna’s journal in her backpack, and reads it. It is in this way that she first learns about Anna and Matt.
Evaluation: Ockler has an incredible talent for summoning up realistic thoughts and dialogue for teens, as well as for their parents. The emotional ups and downs of their grief and anger, expressed in myriad ways by the different characters, are a revelation of creative writing and psychological insight. Additionally, although Ockler’s prose isn’t fancy, she evokes the sensations of the beach and the ocean and the moonlight so well you will feel as if you have sand on your feet. The lessons they all learn at the beach are “something beautiful.”
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to age groups 15 and above.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009