Three friends, three cities, three completely different lives . . . and one summer house filled with memories, ready to be revisited — or best left in the past.
In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can’t seem to put down a book — or a cocktail — long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired . . . again.
In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier — and the secrets that only now threaten to surface. (Goodreads)
Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls is a story of friendship.
Oh, it’s about more than that, too — like motherhood and substance abuse and grief and first love. But beyond those tiny, inconsequential little topics? It’s friendship. Sisterhood. The bonds of women — the marks we make upon each other, and how we flounder or thrive in the aftermath of loss.
A fateful night one summer eight years before drove a wedge between this once-inseparable trio: three friends who grew up visiting the same beach house each summer in Avalon, New Jersey. It took me about 30 pages to clarify who was with whom and what they were doing and where they lived, etc., but once I had the principle players down, I was hooked on Donohue’s latest. Her sophomore effort delved much deeper into her characters’ interior lives than How To Eat A Cupcake, which I really appreciated. And who couldn’t use a little literary vacation to the Jersey Shore? (Sans Snooki, of course.)
Almost a decade later, each woman is carrying a secret — or a half-truth — about one tragic night. Though Kate and Vanessa have moved jerkily forward, Dani is as broken as ever. Despite her messy edges (or maybe because of them?), Dani was my favorite character. An aspiring novelist and lost soul who wanders San Francisco like a ghost, Dani dances with too many personal demons . . . and I really felt for her. More than the others. When she reunites with Vanessa and Kate after losing her twelfth job in seven years (no small feat), we know her tough, somber exterior is just a mask.
Vanessa. Despite empathizing with her desire to sift through the painful end of a first love, I found something about her to be off-putting. Despite all she’s gone through in her marriage, something about her was alarming. But she didn’t irk me, persay; just functioned more as an enigma. I knew her the least of the women — and was the least interested in her.
But Kate. My Type-A side could relate to this serious, steadfast lawyer; my tender side broke in half as she struggled with the end of an engagement and new, unexpected pregnancy (all facts revealed almost immediately, so no spoilers). She’s never come to terms with what happened in Avalon eight years ago, changing her family forever, and her fiance’s ultimatum that she come to terms with it was heartbreaking. And that her friends would declare A Kate is a Kate is a Kate felt, to me, like the highest kind of compliment. She’s loyal, honest and true.
The book is quick and fast and, dare I say it, an excellent “beach read.” I hesitate to use the term too often because we hear it all the time as soon as Memorial Day rolls around. Plus, you know, some readers dismiss “beach reads” as fluffy entertainment — and All the Summer Girls has real heart. I felt the ends were wrapped nicely without convenient “tied with a bow” packaging, and I appreciated the resolute — even hopeful — close. After the heartache, it was a balm.
With mystery, beautiful language and a gorgeous beach backdrop, Donohue’s story will appeal to fans of women’s fiction, novels on friendship and books laced with emotion and drama in equal measure. All the Summer Girls deserves that much-coveted spot next to your SPF 30 — or the spot on your nightstand to simply take you away.
4 out of 5!