In Shannon Greenland’s The Summer My Life Began, Elizabeth Margaret is presented with an intriguing offer. Her heretofore unknown aunt, Tilly, invites her to spend the summer between graduating from high school and heading to Harvard with her at her bed and breakfast in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. Turns out, Elizabeth Margaret’s mother and grandmother have concealed Aunt Tilly’s existence from “Em”, as Elizabeth Margaret’s beloved younger sister, Gwenny, calls her. But why?
So Em heads to North Carolina, where she meets “sexy loser” Cade, a young man who works for her aunt. She also meets a cousin, Frederick, she did not know about, along with a quirky chef named Domino and a houeskeeper named Beth. Within a few weeks, Em goes on dates with two different men, uncovers the family mystery, and admits – out loud – that she does not want to go to Harvard, but instead dreams of culinary school.
And there you have it. That, faithful readers, is the sum total of this book.
I wanted to like it, I really did. I wanted to like Em more than I did, and I wanted to care more about her. But instead, I was frustratingly disinterested. Her life is too perfect. Rich girl, valedictorian, gets into Harvard, finds out her parents have lied to her about something important, but with preternatural aplomb, gets over the lie pretty darn quickly. She breaks up with one guy, but stays friends with him. Everyone loves her. She’s perfect.
There is no real conflict here. We all know that she’ll give up Harvard and go to culinary school. We all know she’ll get together with Cade. We all know that she’ll muddle through the family trauma and come out just hunky dory.
Here is what would make this a better read:
- Explain why Em is so agreeable to her parents’ wishes for her future. All we get is a “I don’t like to make waves” vibe from Em, but why? What does she get out of it?
- Have her struggle some, for goodness sakes! The most we get is a page or two of angst over the family mystery. It’s all too neatly solved. There is no mystery.
- Explain what, exactly, happens the night she stays with Cade. Don’t be coy. Did she sleep with him? I know this is a YA novel, but don’t play these games.