Second Chance Summber by Morgan Matson [website | twitter]
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Keywords: Family, Cancer, Growing Up, Friendship, Love
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback from TLA (Thank you!)
Summary: Taylor’s father is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given approximately three months to live. Her family (Mom, Dad, sister Gelsey, and brother Warren) decides to abandon their previously planned summer activities to spend this last one together at their lake house. They haven’t been there in five years, and the last time they were there, Taylor massively screwed up things with her best lake house friend, Lucy, and her first boyfriend, Henry. It’s a summer of saying good-bye to her father and confronting her past. It’s time for Taylor to stop running away from all of the things she’s afraid of.
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson has landed a spot in my top ten favorite books of all time.
This story is layered and complex, but so rich with detail and overflowing with emotion. It’s about the power of apologies, confronting life head on, falling in love, losing a parent to cancer, and growing up. From the very beginning, I was drawn into Taylor’s world and emotionally invested in her family’s story.
Matson did an incredible job of crafting the characters and building relationships. Taylor always seemed to suffer a bit from “middle child syndrome” and didn’t feel like she had any distinguishing traits or talents like her siblings (Warren was a brainiac and Gelsey a talented ballerina). It was Taylor’s bond with her father that really tugged on my heart strings because even though she didn’t feel special by comparison, he showed her he loved her through his words and his actions. They had secret breakfasts together where they played fun trivia games to get to know one another. He always seemed to know exactly what she needed and would offer advice in the most nonchalant ways. Taylor’s character was mature and it was really admirable to see that she understood her time with her dad was precious. Their relationship made me think about my [future] children and how I want to have that kind of profound relationship with them and be that kind of parent.
Taylor would frequently run from situations she didn’t want to deal with in the past; this was the summer of her growing up and defying her fears – not just with her father, but with the two people she left behind five summers ago. Being back in (incredibly small) Lake Phoenix, she is forced to see her ex-best friend, Lucy, and ex-first boyfriend, Henry. As readers, we don’t immediately know what happened five years before to separate these three. Via a few flashback chapters that catch us up to present day, we get the full story.** Henry was full of a lot of hurt that had to be mended between he and Taylor. He was intriguing and quiet — one of those strong, silent types that will make girls’ hearts everywhere skip a beat. Taylor and Henry were wary of each other and their inevitable run-ins were so entertaining and awkward. Lucy seemed much more difficult to crack. Though they had summer jobs together, Lucy would barely glance in Taylor’s direction. Matson realistically brought these relationships to life; the timing and progression (of the entire story, actually) flowed so effortlessly.
The word I could not get out of my head when I sorrowfully closed Second Chance Summer was linger. This will be a story that will stay with me; it has implanted itself in my heart. Maybe that sounds cheesy to you, but I cried (sobbed, to be precise) as Matson weaved this story together, allowing me to fully grasp the dynamics of the family and friendships. As I became more and more absorbed in the story, my eyesight became blurrier as the cancer progressed. This was definitely a difficult and sad book to read, forcing me to constantly be on the verge of tears until I was so emotionally overwhelmed about 100 pages from the end and I could no longer hold them back. I cried big, fat, ugly tears the entire rest of the way through.
Second Chance Summer is a book I want to shout about from the rooftops. It’s beautiful, gripping, and has no doubt, set a much higher standard for everything I am to read after it.
**Just a little friendly comparison:
While I was reading Second Chance Summer, I found myself making many comparisons to The Story of Us by Deb Caletti. The stories are similar in that Taylor and Cricket both made decisions in their past that affected other people; Matson and Caletti chose to slowly unravel what they did throughout the course of the book instead of letting us know immediately. I was bothered by how long it took to get to the point in The Story of Us, but didn’t feel that way at all in Second Chance Summer. For me, the difference came down to how well Matson’s characters were developed. I felt like I knew Taylor and could understand the decisions she was making. They were logical and I identified with her very much. The secondary plot line of Taylor’s dad dying of cancer was just as intriguing as finding out what happened with her ex-friends. I never felt I could identify with Cricket in The Story of Us in the same way because I didn’t feel her character was developed as well; the decisions she was making in real life conflicted heavily with the things she wrote to her ex-boyfriend in her letters. The secondary plot of her family gathering together for her mother’s wedding celebration was also just so, so overwhelming. I wanted to know what Janssen and Cricket’s story was… not learn about all the family dynamics.