Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Although I am a weeper by nature, I am not a book weeper. The last book that really left me sobbing what If I Stay by Gayle Forman, until last week.  True story: although I adored The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, I didn’t really cry when I finished it.  Then, I read two books in a row that made me sob.  The first was Waiting by Carol Lynch William.  And the second was Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson.  I sobbed through the last 30 pages of this book. But it was the sobbing that comes from just reading a really good story and being a satisfied reader as you close the back cover.

Taylor Edwards family sets out to spend one last summer with their father who has been given 3 months to live; maybe less and maybe more, but basically 3 months.  So the family sets off for their summer home that they haven’t visited in more than 5 years.  This is the last place that Taylor wants to be because of what happened that last summer.  From the outset, it looks like this will be the worst summer ever.  But summers always have a way of surprising you.

Taylor is a runner.  No, not an athlete.  She runs away when things get hard.  She runs away from herself, her emotions.  But this time, there is no running away.  Sure, she tries. But sometimes in life all you can do is hunker down and face the music.  Second Chance Summer is about facing the music and allowing it to change you. 

Full disclosure, I met the man who would be my father in law exactly once.  At that time, he was already in the midst of dying from cancer.  The Mr. was in his teens when his father was diagnosed.  I have seen a family wading through those troubled end of life waters and Second Chance Summer rings true.  Each person responds in different ways, just like in real life.  There is the atmosphere of loss hanging over every page, even as everyone tries to go about their “normal” lives and ignore the elephant in the room. As I read SCS, I felt .that there was an honesty and a sincerity in dealing with loss that would touch the core of any reader.  For teens with experience, SCS could be that type of cathartic read where their life story is affirmed.  For teens without experience, SCS is the magical type of storytelling that genuinely lets you walk in the footsteps of another and get a glimpse into a life that is touched by the looming certainty of death.  But even with that looming certainty, SCS still finds a way to be a magical summer read that captures those moments when the summer sun shimmers brightly in the water. For me, this is part of what makes Second Chance Summer such a beautiful read: in the end Matson is telling a story about opening yourself up to the painful moments in life because in order to truly feel life, you must feel all of it.

Like in If I Stay, the Edwards family is basically a healthy family, which I appreciate tremendously as it is so rare in teen lit.  Taylor spends the summer soaking up last minutes with her father with new routines and rituals. Her moments with her father and their relationship are poignant moments that remind us all not to take life for granted.  Each family members struggles in their own way to deal with who they are and what is happening to them.  In many ways, Taylor’s relationship with her dad was the best part of this story, but it is not the only part.

But Second Chance Summer is not just about Taylor and her dad, it is about THAT summer and a boy named Henry and a former best friend named Lucy.  They were 12 when it all happened.  And as the summer unfolds you learn the details of that summer and see all three characters learn to give each other second chances.  Sometimes even third and fourth ones.

Second Chance Summer has the feel of summer; it catches the tone perfectly.  There is of course a melancholy that hangs over the pages, but it also captures those moments where you rush off to meet the boy of your dreams on the dock and send secret codes to your best friend.  It reminds us that even in the midst of death, life still finds a way to carry on – even when we think it shouldn’t.  Ultimately, SCS is a touching portrait of relationships; how they ebb and flow and how they sometimes need second chances.  This is a title full of rich character development and touching truths that make their point without being overly dark or cynical. Matson somehow manages to create a book that has a summer lightness about it while still ending in a way that will always result in tears.  In fact, part of the reason you cry is that you come to care about Taylor and her father so much and that is a gift that comes from good storytelling.  4 out of 5 stars.

Morgan Matson is the author of Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (which just appeared on Stephanie’s list of Top 10 Books About Music).