Saturday, 9 September 2017

The Girl's Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

Title: The Girl's Guide to Summer
Author: Sarah Mlynowski
Published by: Orchard Books
Publication date: 15th June 2017
Pages: 352
Genres: Young Adult/Contemporary/Romance/Travel
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Sydney Aarons is leaving her Manhattan townhouse for a summer backpacking around Europe with her best friend, Leela. They're visiting London, France, Italy, Switzerland and everywhere in between - it's going to be the trip of a lifetime.

BUT... The trip gets off to a bad start when Leela's ex-boyfriend shows up on their flight out of JFK. When they touch down in London, Leela Instagrams their every move in the hope Matt will come and find them... Which he does, along with the most gorgeous guy Sydney has ever seen.

Will Sydney's summer fling last the distance? And what will happen when they all head home?

Much earlier this year, lusting after a new book or two, I came across I See London, I See France - Sarah Mlynowski's latest YA novel. Her debut, many books ago now, was one of the first books I ever reviewed, and it had been far too long since I'd had a good dose of her writing. Unfortunately, this new one wasn't publishing here across the pond, and after tweeting the publisher to check only to get no response (le cry) I kind of gave up on it. Then I saw a tweet in my timeline which included a photo of a Sarah Mlynowski proof... called The Girl's Guide to Summer. And lo and behold, it was the same book! Cue happy Amber.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I love to travel vicariously through the books I read, hence why the original title grabbed me in the first place. A book about a summer spent backpacking around Europe? Get on my shelf immediately, please. I really liked that aspect - it was fun, summery, and everything you might expect from two American teens taking on Europe. Hostels; making three outfits last several weeks; awkward flings; making new friends; accidentally going way over budget, and making memories to last a lifetime. In that respect, it was what I wanted and what I had expected.

However, some of it felt rushed and unfinished, including the ending which was pretty anti-climactic. As well as that, I had no idea until I started reading that Sydney's mum was agoraphobic and suffered with panic attacks. Some of you will know that I have experience of this myself, and I always appreciate literary representation when done well. But I wasn't 100% sure about this one. It seemed to me that she was treated like a burden a lot of the time, and I get that many kids probably do feel like that towards their ill parents if they're having to look after them all the time - not all of them, of course, but it's no easy achievement. However, the constant sense of the mother being a burden jarred. I'm not saying that it shouldn't have been written like that, because that would erase the experiences of a whole group of young people who struggle with caring for their parents, but I think it could have been handled slightly better. It read like the mother was pathetic and weak, and... I don't think people who are inwardly battling demons whilst outwardly smiling and trying to look okay for the sake of others are weak. Maybe that's the problem - that there wasn't much strength placed on the mother, if at all; the focus was always on what she couldn't do, not on what she could. And plot-wise, there didn't seem to be much need for it - or much room. It always felt like an add-on. Instead of a lacking sub-plot which in hindsight detracted from the main chunk of the novel, we could've had a strong, focused, steady plot, done well with no distractions. Like I said, I appreciate mental health representation in books - but please either do it well, or not at all.

I liked the idea of The Girl's Guide to Summer, and most of it I genuinely enjoyed... but it could have been so much better, too. It's an entertaining read full of travel, drama, and adventure, but as much as I love Mlynowski's previous work, don't expect this one to be your new favourite read.

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