The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon Blog tour.
There are many great things about The Summer of Secrets, but one of the things I love most about this book is just how many conversations it has started, as readers talk about not just the story itself, but their own stories: their own secrets and summers.
The novel is set in the summer of 1983, when sixteen-year-old Helen is saved from the mundanity of her existence when the Bohemian Dovers burst upon the scene. She strikes up an intense friendship with the domineering Victoria, roaming the canals whilst her single dad nurses a beer and pretends to fix up a boat. Whilst the characters and plot will keep you turning the pages, the writing is so skilful that everybody who reads it will find themselves recalling that ‘particular summer feeling, (where) everything was possible, all things within reach’.
I read it as part of the Curtis Brown Book Club, where it provoked powerful observations not just about the characters in the novel, but about our younger selves and the intensity of friendships during the teenage years. The conversations spilled over onto twitter and my timeline filled with intriguing posts about ‘The Summer I Was Sixteen.’ And last week, it inspired a laughter-filled conversation with my seventy-six-year-old dad, as we remembered the summer he bought a canal boat.
Now to understand the significance of that last sentence, you have to understand that we lived on a Council Estate in the middle of Birmingham, and that my dad was an ‘unskilled’ labourer at the time. People like us simply did not own boats. But my dad was never one for following convention, and so one day he came home and announced he had paid five hundred pounds for a canal boat. I wish I knew what on earth my mum said to my dad during that Jack and the Beanstalk moment. We didn’t own a car, we were always in need of shoes and coats, and my dad didn’t always have a job. But now we had a boat.
I must have been about ten at the time, but it’s only now after reading The Summer of Secrets, that I’m beginning to realise what it meant to have a boat. Like Helen’s dad, my dad became obsessed with ‘doing it up’. Weekends were spent ‘going to the boat’ all five of us cycling or walking the seven miles there and the seven miles back, because The Moocher (named after my dad’s love of mooching in second hand shops), always seemed to need painting or cleaning or work of some kind. It didn’t seem to matter that we didn’t go anywhere – the point is that we had the hope that one day we would. I realise now how important this must have been to my dad, an intelligent man working in manual jobs that he hated, and to my mum, a Housewife imprisoned by her home.
I have a vivid memory of one glorious summer holiday: two whole weeks where we travelled from Birmingham to Stratford upon Avon (one week to get there, another to get back – it takes 40 minutes on the train). It was hot enough to burn us, and my elder brother nearly died (twice), but we had a fantastic time, drifting through the English countryside and playing in the idyllic gardens of the canal side pubs. We didn’t get very far – if you measure a journey by the miles on a map – but for me and my family it was a perfect adventure and a total escape.
As we grew older, we visited the boat less and less, until eventually one winter there was so much rain that the boat finally sank to the bottom of the canal. Now it exists only in our memories, and every now and then, we remember those extraordinary years when we – We – had a boat. The Summer of Secrets reminded me so much of that summer, and as is often the case with the very best of literature, allowed me to see my own parents and childhood through fresh eyes.
You can read my five star review of The Summer of Secrets here https://johoganwrites.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/book-reivew-the-summer-of-secrets-by-sarah-jamson/ . I would highly recommend it, for it speaks to something we have all lost and probably still yearn for – our childhood selves and those endless, hope-filled summer days.