The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Target audience: young adult
Keywords: family, obligation, homosexuality, “de-gaying” camp, summer
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other RBR reviews by this author: My Life After Now
Summary: Lexi is primed and ready to focus on controlling her sexuality for the better of her family. She arrives at New Horizons ready to make this work. Even meeting the beautiful and smart Carolyn doesn’t deter her at first. But when the methods of the camp start to unveil herself, she starts to believe they have no idea what they are doing despite their shiny track record. Who will she be after the summer is over?
Where Verdi’s debut, My Life After Now, felt cumbersome, her latest was focused, more streamlined in subject matter — making it one of those books I rarely wanted to put down. Sentencing your character to a summer at a “de-gaying” camp is certainly a form of cruel and unnecessary punishment and it came as a surprise that Lexi, a teenager from a small town in South Carolina whose dad has recently passed away, was so open to it. She’s not kicking and screaming and her mom isn’t some scary villain. She believes she’s doing right by her child because of the uber-religious and small-minded town they came from.
Shockingly enough, I found Lexi’s attitude admirable. She was so focused on keeping her tiny family together (her mom was suffering a ton since the death of her husband), making life as “simple” as possible that she was prepared to give “de-gaying” her best shot.
She might not like the rules (having to forgo her wardrobe for a pink uniform, lights out super early) but she sure as hell was going to follow them. A high point of The Summer I Wasn’t Me was the cast of characters that Verdi assembled to be in Lexi’s group — shy and determined David, the gorgeous and dreamy Carolyn, and comic relief and rebel Matthew. As they experience intense therapy and role playing sessions together, this group, despite their backgrounds and hopes for “recovery,” need each other. New Horizons is not a place you can get through on your own, and I really enjoyed watching their friendships develop, especially as the mission of the camp grew more questionable.
While Matthew is suspicious of New Horizons from the get-go, it takes Lexi a little while to realize things might not be as they seem. But she is understandably torn. Her mom has paid just about $10K for her to attend this camp, and change — be the best hetero woman she can be — and Lexi is positive that her ability to stay straight will right the wrongs of her mom’s depression and make their family whole again. How can she choose between family and being true to who she is? Isn’t that selfish of her? (It’s even strange as a reader because you are rooting for her to get what she wants… even if it’s against nature.) I was impressed with Lexi’s self-control from the beginning, especially after she realized she was attracted to Carolyn but I also wasn’t surprised her focus wavered after being objectified to the camp’s horrific methods.
With her feelings for Carolyn growing stronger and her suspicions that New Horizons isn’t exactly as advertised in their promo material, Lexi is faced with even more complex emotions and decisions to make. Here’s the thing: I was riveted and already horrified about the subject matter in The Summer I Wasn’t Me up until this point and when a few massive reveals were made, I could not wait to see how they would be handled. This novel may have started out as a simple story — a girl willing to sacrifice herself for good of her family — but as you get deeper into the story, the complex situations and emotions were not given a chance to dig as deeper as I would have liked. The momentum was on par for so long, and, unfortunately, just dropped off at the end — causing the intensity to poof into thin air.
A lot of times I campaign for “a little more” at the end of books because I’m selfish and don’t want my time to be up with these characters but in this instance, to create such a heavy situation that deserved attention and development and not fully execute it? It was the difference between a good read and a fantastic one. I like Verdi’s writing (The Great Gatsby references in this were a highlight) and I was glad to see a lot of growth between her first book and her second but I’ll be curious for the time she conquers a story that is driven more by well-developed characters and earned emotions rather than by a situation.
P.S. One book I truly loved that deals with this subject was The Miseducation of Cameron Post. SO SO good.