Book Review: The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

The Summer of Secrets: A compelling, emotional summer read for adults and YA

In the summer of 1983, fifteen-year-old Helen, an only child who lives with her neglectful dad, is rescued from the mundanity of her existence when the Dovers burst upon the scene: a Bohemian family who fill their ramshackle cottage by the canal with the scent of faraway lands and their unconventional ways. There are the cute and endearing twins, Pippa and Will, the handsome and elusive Seth, and Victoria: an opinionated, domineering fifteen-year-old girl who quickly becomes Helen’s best and only friend. Sarah Jamson captures perfectly both the never-ending feel of a long hot summer, and the claustrophobic intensity of teenage friendships as Helen tries to unravel the mystery of the Dovers, fearful that they will leave her to her lonely, friendless existence.

The author uses an unusual and effective technique to tell this powerful story, shifting between a past that is told in the third person, and the present told in the first, as the adult Helen struggles to piece together the events of that fateful summer. This technique helps create a sense of building tension and impending tragedy, so that even though the pages are filled with long, languorous days, you turn each page quickly, sensing that something unbearable is about to happen.

Sarah Jasmon is such a skilful writer, that she reminded me what it felt like to be fifteen: that ‘particular summer feeling, (where) everything was possible, all things within reach’. She has an artist’s eye and such a delicate touch with words that she manages to convey how a character is feeling just through the description of a particular bump in the carpet, or a flaw in the wall. I turned down the corners of so many pages of this book because of the skill of certain passages, or the beauty of a particular phrase.

It is hard to say much more without spoiling the plot, but if you love the poignant cover, then I guarantee you will love this book. Although primarily aimed at the adult market, I personally think that this book would appeal to older YA readers, particularly those who enjoyed We Were Liars by e.lockhart which tackles similar themes. It would be a great book to read on holiday, with the sun warming your face and the sound of children in your ears. But make sure you wear sunglasses, so that no one sees your tears.

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