One of the books that I was looking forward to reading this year was ‘The Summer of Letting Go’ by Gae Polisner. I read Polisner’s ‘The Pull of Gravity’ last year and loved it. (It is about a boy and a girl who go on a quest and read John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ on the way, and learn a few life lessons through the book and through their quest). So, when ‘The Summer of Letting Go’ came out at the end of March I went out and got it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.
‘The Summer of Letting Go’ is about Frankie (Francesca) Schnell who is going to turn sixteen soon. She lives with her parents and there seems to be a pall of gloom at home. The reason for that is that Frankie’s brother Simon died a few years back. Frankie and her family had gone to the beach that day and while her parents were taking a nap asking Frankie to keep an eye on her brother, Frankie turns her attention away for a short while and at that time, as disasters normally happen when we are not looking, Simon goes to get a pail of water and a big wave pulls him into the ocean. When Frankie notices it, it is too late and though she tries to jump into the ocean to save her brother, more and more big waves come and pull him in. Her father wakes up and comes to the rescue but to no avail. Frankie is traumatized by the event and she thinks that she is responsible for the loss of her brother. Her mother stops talking to her in the normal way and Frankie feels that her mother blames her too. Only her father is still nice to her. A few years later, at the present time, one day Frankie spots her father’s car on the street, but her father doesn’t come home. Then she spots someone who looks suspiciously like her father at a neighbour’s home. The beginning of a suspicion crosses Frankie’s mind – on whether something is going on between her father and her neighbour, Mrs.Merrill. Frankie decides to investigate. She follows Mrs.Merrill into a club. And she meets young Frankie Sky there. And the biggest surprise of all is that Frankie Sky looks suspiciously like her brother Simon. And Frankie Sky mentions Simon’s name which stuns Frankie. When Frankie discovers that Frankie Sky is four years old and was born at around the same time that her brother Simon died, Frankie wonders whether he is the reincarnation of Simon. She starts investigating that topic. Frankie’s best friend is Lisette. Lisette’s boyfriend is the handsome Bradley. But unfortunately for our heroine Frankie, she likes Bradley too. When Frankie asks Lisette about reincarnation, Lisette tells her that Bradley knows a lot about that topic and she can talk to him about it. The stage is set for sparks to fly.
Will Frankie talk to Bradley about reincarnation? Will sparks fly during their interaction? Will that impact her friendship with Lisette? Who is Frankie Sky? Is he really the reincarnation of Frankie Schnell’s brother Simon? Does Frankie discover the secret behind the relationship between her father and Mrs.Merrill? And can Frankie ever forgive herself? And win her mother’s love back? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the story.
I loved ‘The Summer of Letting Go’. The story is beautiful and makes us want to turn the page to find out what happens next. Gae Polisner’s prose is smooth and elegant and flows like a river. There is not a single superfluous or redundant word. Reading the book was like taking a boat ride on the river on a warm summer day – very beautiful and enjoyable, though some of the themes that the book covers were serious. I liked all the characters in the story – it has been a long time since I last read a book where every character was likeable. The way some of the scenes were crafted with tension and conflict eventhough all the characters were likeable – that was very nicely done. I loved the way Frankie Sky spoke – his was a beautiful and original voice. It made me think of Jack from Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ whose voice I liked so much. In a book in which both the main characters have the same name, things could get a bit confusing, but Polisner navigates those waters masterfully and so though the same name leads to many interesting moments, there is no confusion. I loved the way the relationship between Frankie’s dad and Mrs.Merrill was described – so many things were left beautifully unsaid. I also loved the descriptions of nature that Polisner gives through the voices of her characters – they were some of my favourite passages from the book. I was a bit worried about the ending, because things could have turned out in many different ways that would have depressed me, but the ending was perfect. I won’t tell you though, whether it was happy or sad or something in between. You have to read the book to find out.
‘The Summer of Letting Go’ is a beautiful story. It is a tale of love, loss, forgiveness and finding love again. It is the story of a girl and her little brother, beautifully told. I am glad that I read the book. Now, I can’t wait to read Gae Polisner’s next book.
I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.
I always love when she brushes my hair because it makes me feel cared for without words.
I stare at my feet and think of this photograph I once saw of grains of sand magnified under a microscope, each grain its own tiny but perfect full-blown shell. I try to picture this now, how, under my feet, a whole miniature world exists – pink coral shaped like antlers, translucent raindrop hearts, amber spirals, each grain a complete miracle, too small for the naked eye to see.
As we walk, Bradley points out plants and animals, amazing things I never knew existed here. Not just horseshoe crabs, but miniscule bugs that skim the very top of the water. He makes Long Island sound like some sort of exotic paradise. He points out eel grass (which grows in meadows and can grow up to four feet tall), eastern oysters (their pearls are pretty, but not worth much), and orange-billed winter cormorants (his favorite birds, even if they’re common, because they all stand facing in one direction, their beaks making goofy expressions). He tells me how when bluefish feed in a frenzy, it appears as if the water’s surface is boiling. He shows me how clamshells have rings that tell you their age, the same way a tree trunk does. As he talks and points and digs, his eyes sparkle, and it gets harder and harder to remind myself that he’s Lisette’s boyfriend rather than mine.
I reach out and poke the tattoo on his belly, and he giggles. The superhero wrinkles and disappears into the folds.
Have you read ‘The Summer of Letting Go’? What do you think about it?