Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review of "The Summer I Wasn't Me" by Jessica Verdi

The Summer I Wasn't Me  by Jessica Verdi.  April 1, 2014.  Sourcebook Fire.  352 pages (paperback edition).  Teen & Adult.

During the summer before her senior year, seventeen year-old Lexi finds herself on the way to a conversion camp for gay teens.  Not because she truly feels bad about being gay or really wants to change, but because she fears what will become of her mother and their relationship if she doesn't.

Just when her mother seemed like she might finally be starting to recover from her deep depression following the death of Lexi's father six months earlier, she discovers Lexi's secret, and is devastated by it all over again.  Fearing that this may completely destroy her mother, or at least their relationship, Lexi agrees to go to the conversion camp suggested by their pastor in a misguided attempt to preserve what's left of her family.

At first Lexi wants to believe conversion is possible, and really makes an effort to do everything the camp's director, Mr. Martin, and the counselors tell them, even though she can't help but feel like some of it is ridiculous.  She bonds with her group members Matthew, Daniel, and Carolyn, who have each come to the camp for very different reasons.  As the summer progresses, Lexi continues to question whether real change is possible, while she continues to hope that it is, and eventually to question the ethics and motivation of the camp director himself.

My Thoughts
This is a fairly well-paced book about self-discovery, and learning that while you may be willing to go to great lengths to protect and please those you love, in the end you have to be true to yourself.  While I would expect this book to appeal to teens who are in the LGBTQ community, I think it would have a broader appeal as well, as many of us sometimes struggle with figuring out who we are and what we want, especially when that doesn't necessarily fit in with what is expected by our families and/or community.  It might also be of interest to those who are curious about these "conversion camps" are like, though the author doesn't really mention what kind of research she did to support her portrayal, and I think would be a good first book for someone who hasn't read any LGBTQ fiction before.

Overall, I thought it was a good story, though it did have some weak points I would have liked to have seen fleshed out a little more.  I did really like how the four characters each came from different backgrounds and had very different reasons for being at the camp and very different views of homosexuality in general, and their own sexuality specifically.  One thing that bothered me was that Lexi was portrayed as thinking of herself as Christian and attending church regularly, but there was no mention of how she reconciled that with being gay.  She is shown to be uncomfortable with some of the sermons and teachings, but not with being gay.  It just seems to me that someone who was religious would at least have some inner struggle with reconciling that with being gay at some point, and I think including that in her story would have made her seem more real.

I felt that Carolyn's character was not as believable or as well-developed as the others.  Her whole story and reason for being there just didn't really make sense, and it seems her character's only really purpose was to be hot and serve as Lexi's same-sex crush at camp to cause her to doubt the possibility of conversion.  I loved Matthew's character the most, and found him to be the most "real", and I was left still worrying if he was okay and wondering what happened to him after camp.  I felt the most sorry for Daniel, being tortured by his deep-seated religious beliefs and self-loathing, and I worried about him throughout the whole story.  I really wish there had at least been an epilogue that summarized what happened with each of the characters and their relationships with each other and their families after they left camp, or better yet, a longer story with a more complete ending.

Other Books By This Author
The Summer I Wasn't Me is Jessica Verdi's second book, with her most recent being What You Left Behind.  My Life After Now was her debut novel. 

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