I’ve always loved Judy Blume’s books for their honesty, and the way they tackle ‘taboo’ female issues. Her books speak straight to young women, and this one certainly wasn’t afraid to tackle issues head-on.
‘Summer Sisters’ is about Vix Leonard, a girl living in Santa Fe at the end of the 1970s. Her family life is hard, with a disabled brother and stressed-out Mum, and their lives are constantly burdened by their financial worries. So when Caitlin Somers, the popular, rich, mysterious girl in school, asks if she’d like to spend the summer at her family’s home in Martha’s Vineyard, Vix jumps at the chance to escape.
“All Vix could do was shrug then smile. She wondered if Caitlin heard the music, too, if music followed her wherever she went. From then on, whenever Vix heard “Dancing Queen” she was back in sixth grade on a sunny afternoon in June. The afternoon some fairy godmother waved her magic wand over Vix’s head and changed her life forever.”
Blume’s book recounts the lives of the two girls as they return to the Vineyard each summer, with Vix becoming part of the Somers family, practically being adopted by Caitlin’s crazy family. Vix learns that, while these people are rich, this does not equate to happiness, and as she spends summer after summer on the Vineyard, she gets swept up into Caitlin’s crazy lifestyle, until one summer, where everything comes to a head at a mysterious party on the beach.
The book starts when the girls are first hitting puberty, and ends with their fortieth birthday, showing the progression of their lives. Blume maps each of their relationships and friendships, perfectly capturing heartbreak and disappointment along the way. Blume captures every teenage girl’s anxieties growing up, from worries about boob size, to when they will first lose their virginity.
Like in ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret’ Blume shows the way in which growing up is made into a competition by young girls, and she speaks honestly and frankly about issues such as sex, female masturbation and orgasms, topics rarely tackled by young adult authors in such an honest way.
This was as much a story about two girls coming of age and finding out about their bodies, as it was a story of their lives. Their sexual experimentation, and the blurring of certain boundaries, also led to an interesting read about female sexuality.
I really liked the colourful characters in this book. Most characters got a little chance to narrate, except Caitlin, but it was Vix that narrated the majority of the book. Her voice was so down-to-earth and honest, and she was so easy to relate to. While Caitlin was exciting and flighty, Vix was straight-forward, and her point of view was one which really appealed to me. I liked how she was both attracted to, and repulsed by, Caitlin and her lifestyle.
Vix benefitted from Caitlin’s rich dad and step-mum, but she always kept her head, whereas money, materialism and poor mothering led to Caitlin going off the rails. I found Caitlin difficult to like. She was intriguing in her lifestyle, and her thoughts were definitely interesting, but you could tell pretty early on that she was messed up, mainly because of her upbringing by a selfish, neglectful mother. She had a very warped sense of relationships, love and sex, thinking love and sex should never be mixed up, leading to some unhealthy life choices.
“Why can’t you see me for what I am?” Caitlin asks. “A self-centered bitch who doesn’t give a flying fuck about anybody but herself, who takes off when the going gets tough, who lies and cheats to get what she wants… who lies to her best friend just to stay ahead of the game.”
I loved the descriptions in this book. I thought the things the girls did on the island sounded so cool, and their beach parties with Bru and Von, two hot boys living on the island, sounded so magical. The descriptions of Caitlin and her many travels were also interesting to read, and Blume definitely created a quick-paced book that kept me hooked throughout.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I loved its portrayal of these very real female figures, and the way in which Vix narrated her coming of age experience. Blume’s style is so easy to read. I read this book over a couple of days, while on holiday at the beach. I thought it was a fitting location to read it, seeing as a large part of the book is set on the coast!
Have you read this book? Do you like Judy Blume’s young adult books, and have you tried her adult fiction? Which of her books have you read in the past? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!
Picture credits here