The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: family, summer, secrets, new friends, romance, best friendship
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: Four years after the death of her little brother at the beach, Frankie is still coping with the aftermath of his family tragedy. Her father is distant (and possibly off with their neighbor), her mom is dedicated to helping others and avoiding their home, and Frankie is left to her own devices. But the summer brings Frankie Sky into her life — a four year old boy that shares so many similarities with her brothers and makes her smile in way that she hasn’t in a long time. As a mother’s helper, Frankie spends a lot of time with Frankie Sky, who has a mother reeling from the lost of her husband. At the same time, Frankie is conquering past demons a little bit at the time, coming to terms with changes in her friendship with her best friend, Lizette, and trying not to fall harder for her Lizette’s boyfriend.
I told myself I needed to take a break from books about grief and then I started The Summer of Letting Go and could not let it go. Immediately I felt for Francesca, aka Frankie, aka Beans, who is still distraught over the death of her baby brother four years ago. She believes it’s her fault that he drowned in the ocean, and her mom’s incredible coldness toward her solidifies that her belief is the truth. With her dad secretly cavorting with their neighbor, Frankie’s family is falling apart and she doesn’t know how to fix it. She loves her dad and wants to believe her accusations are false so she follows their neighbor to the country club where an unexpected little fellow pops into her life — Frankie Sky — an adorable 4-year old who is so strikingly like her little brother that it takes Frankie some time to recover.
It seems that our Frankie has also struck a chord with Frankie Sky because he wants her to be his baby-sitter for the summer; this works out in the best interest of many people. Our Frankie needs to be kept occupied while her best friend, Lizette, is constantly spending time with her boyfriend and Frankie Sky’s mom has been stunted by her own grief and is not always entirely capable of taking care of her son.
There’s a lot of heavy sadness in The Summer of Letting Go, for sure, but bright lights like Frankie’s personality, enthusiasm for life, and his fitting dialogue paired with this anchor created by Frankie and Lizette’s friendship let so much hope into the story that I could not put it down. Even as Frankie went over and over again in her head the possibility of Frankie Sky being a reincarnation of her brother, as unbelievable as that was, I felt myself working through it alongside her as she was finally allowing herself come to terms with this tragic event that broke her family four years before. At 16 years old, she was making an active decision to be happy and move forward and live her life. This could not be easy for anyone to do, especially after watching her parents struggle in different ways as well.
The Summer of Letting Go is about those little miracles in our lives — sometimes a period of time, or in this case a person — who open our eyes to the past and also (maybe without them knowing) nudge us toward the future. Frankie Sky was that person for Frankie and I loved watching as their friendship grew over the summer. How protective she was of him, but at the same time how Frankie Sky helped Frankie to let go a bit and have faith in people, in nature, and in life.
I have to mention the incredible best friendship between Frankie and Lizette as well. It’s not easy when you want your best friend’s boyfriend, and it’s especially difficult when you feel like your best friend is everything you aren’t. It’s an interesting summer for the two of them because they don’t spend a lot of time together throughout the story, but for Frankie, Lizette is on her mind a lot. So many changes are already blossoming between them and I admired the loyalty and devotion these two had for one another. Even when things got tough and situations got messy and Frankie’s grief drove her to a lonely place, Lizette was there. Their differences never drove them from one another, but they also didn’t push and knew the importance of space.
There hasn’t been a book that broke my heart and put it back together quite like this one has. The Summer of Letting Go is so much about confronting truths from the past (even when they are uncomfortable) and finding the strength to heal. It’s about those small moments and people who come into our lives and turn everything upside down, teaching us more about ourselves then we ever could have thought. It’s about remembering those warm summer days at the beach with your best friend, the speed of your heart racing when the boy of your dreams looks your way, and making your home a safe and welcoming place once again.