Meg Donohue’s All the Summer Girls is a thoroughly enjoyable book, ideal for a long weekend or a holiday—as Elin Hilderbrand writes in the front-cover blurb, it’s a “Beach Book Extraordinaire!” It’s the kind of book to save for when you have the leisure to put your own work and life aside and tear through a series of other people’s (characters’) problems.
Like any good “beach book,” All the Summer Girls’ main characters, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani, each have their own trials and tribulations: men, careers, children, romance, breakups, drugs, failure, secret pain. (And isn’t secret pain always best, from the reader’s standpoint, anyway?) The three are high-school friends who come together again when they are approaching the end of their twenties. They are held together by memories, not just of high school, but also of the time they spent every summer at the beach house in Avalon, NJ, owned by Dani’s father. That’s where they meet again to regroup. They are also held together by the loss of someone they all cared very much about: Kate’s twin brother, Colin.
The chapters rotate, each told in third person from a different character’s point of view: Kate, Vanessa, Dani; Kate, Vanessa, Dani. In moving between their lives today, we move between their flashbacks, too, seeing their friendship as all three of them see it. Other characters come and go; they remain. Each discusses and remembers her time with the others, and in that way the chapters begin to blur. Readers can slide into the chain of memories as they unfold, and get lost. It is hard to separate the characters’ memories: who had which flashback? Who has had the most capacity to hurt? To me, this made Dani, Vanessa, and Kate’s friendship feel very real.
Indeed, I liked the little authentic touches, revelations of what this friendship was like, perhaps most of all in reading: how true it seems that Kate, then Vanessa, would each think she held sole credit and duty for keeping their group of three together. How resonant it seems that all three women would take the blame for events that happened long ago, each without realizing her two best friends blame themselves, too. More than giving readers a picture of each of the “summer girls,” then, the book portrays their friendship. Together, these women are stronger, more courageous, and more interesting than when they are apart.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow Paperbacks. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.