June 4, 2009
Review: Summer Sisters, by Judy Blume
This is not your childhood's Judy Blume.
Summer Sisters begins with a phone call, as someone named Vix (Vix?) finds out that someone named Caitlin is going to marry someone named Bru (Bru?). Then Vix runs to the bathroom to puke, and then BAM! It's flashback time.
It keeps being flashback time for about the next forty chapters, as the readers meet Caitlin Mayhew Somers, and Victoria Leonard, and then it's all cottaging on Martha's Vineyard, and having le sex, and growing up and going to college, and boo hoo I am poor, and Caity is a right self-centered slattern, and oh yeah, more sex. I have to warn tell you, it's pretty explicit. Sensitive readers: be aware. (A lot of it is kinda squicky, too -- movie stars making out with 15-year-olds, people sleeping with each other's fiancés the night before the wedding, etc. Even if you don't accept moral indictions against extra-marital sex, there are still things that just aren't ethical. But perhaps I digress?)
That being said, this seems like the type of novel something like Firefly Lane was trying to be. The two books have a lot of the same elements: two friends from different backgrounds thrown together as pre-teens, the story taking place largely in the 1970s-90s, the narrative mostly flashbacks, etc. Summer Sisters pulls it off, though -- it's the sort of book that you should be able to dismiss as trash, but can't, quite. As with all Judy Blume, there are some Big Issues that get touched on / worked through, and though it's definitely summer reading, it's not brainless by any means.
One thing that personally surprised me is the way that it touched on AIDS. Now, I wasn't surprised that a book would talk about AIDS -- far from it -- but it was strange to me in the way that it was talked about. Two peripheral characters (who exist offscreen) die of "the disease", as it's styled, and everyone's freaking it out and the token neurotic character starts covering toilet seats with toilet paper just in case ... and it occured to me that I've never actually known a world without AIDS in it, and that I've never experienced that sort of new-disease freak-out (SARS doesn't count, surely?) that occured in North America in the late 1980s. Isn't it strange, sometimes, to think of the things that have always existed for you? TV and computers. Compact discs. AIDS.
Blah, blah, blah, me. Summer Sisters was a basically entertaining novel, and would make excellent beach reading.