Title: The Summer I Wasn’t Me
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Lexi has a secret.
She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.
Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.
But sometimes love has its own path…
I really did want to like this book – LGBTQ! camps that set out to “cure” gay teenagers but are sure to fail because there’s nothing wrong with them! a book that goes toward one of my challenges! – but in the end, it was very much a “meh” reading for me, unfortunately.
I was definitely pulled into the beginning. Yes, I was a little weary of this book after reading some mixed reviews, but I was interested enough in the beginning to be curious to see what would happen. What had happened to Lexi that had made her end up here? Why was it such a big deal to her family that she be “cured”? What would the camp be like? How long would it take for to realize that there was no cure because there was nothing wrong with her (because I knew that, unless I had chosen an awful book, there was no way that the book was going to end with the lesbian protagonist realizing that being gay is bad and that she only wants to marry a dude, have kids, and never have a job – not that there’s anything at all with being a stay-at-home mother, it’s just a problem when we try to say that that’s the only thing women can do and that they have no choice)? So, the beginning definitely had me interested, but not necessarily hooked.
Meh. I had things to complain about and comment on with the other sections, but that’s really all I can think to say for this one. There wasn’t an event that the whole story seemed to be building up to other than the end of the camp. It was character-driven for the most part, and since I didn’t really care about the characters, that meant that I didn’t care too much for the plot either, unfortunately.
One of the biggest reasons that this book didn’t really work for me is because I wasn’t a big fan of most of the characters. I just didn’t connect with them, especially main character Lexi. Oh, sure, I felt so bad that these kids had to go through such an awful ordeal, constantly being told that they were sinners simply because they loved the wrong person and such – so, I felt sympathy, but it didn’t feel earned, it felt like sympathy I had simply because I’m a decent person who realizes that this is not okay. I only really cared for one character, a secondary character named Matthew – if things had been told from his point of view, I think I would have been more interested. He knew what he believed and nothing was going to change that, and he had fun messing around with the camp and the director at times that helped make some things lighter and more bearable in general.
Since this is a contemporary book, I’m going to focus on the setting rather than the world building. This book takes place exclusively at the camp for de-gaying teenagers (well, the first chapter is on the road to the place, there are some quick trips out of the camp, and there are some stories that take place outside of camp, but they’re all minor and don’t really count), so you want to have a good sense of the place. I’m not sure if I had that or not. I don’t think the setting was bad or anything, and there were some vivid descriptions, especially of the woods surrounding it, but it was just average. There was a setting, you know what the setting was, but it was never really alive or anything.
The Adult Situation
Well, since this book takes place at a summer camp, I guess I can’t get too critical of it – but seriously, it’s pretty abysmal. There are adult counselors, but many of them have kind of been “brainwashed” since they went through the camp already and think that it’s the best thing ever, and the rest are fanatics to the point where they’re scary. Don’t even get me started on the camp director, Mr. Martin. Maybe it’s just because I read a similarly-themed book last month, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, when the main character also goes to a special religious camp in an attempt to get over her “illness,” but I’m very critical of a figure like Mr. Martin. There were two main leaders in Cameron Post, and while one of them was more similar to Mr. Martin, there was a truly kind-hearted pastor who wasn’t totally reliable (he also believed that he had been “cured”) but truly believed in the cause and was just about the nicest guy ever, even when he was telling the kids that they were basically sinners and needed to change pronto. It’s easy to write a character who’s bad and the leader of an anti-gay camp – it’s much harder to write a character who scares you a little but still seems quite sympathetic at times. There’s a spoiler involving Mr. Martin that I’m not going to talk about, but after it happened, I really lost all respect for the character and it made me even more frustrated with the book. He started off as an interesting-seeming character, but the grey waters that he swam in quickly became dark and uninteresting. So, I wasn’t really happy with the adult situation in this book at all.
I think the romance didn’t really work for me because, again, I just didn’t connect with the characters. I was rooting for them to be true to themselves, but other than that, I really just didn’t care about the romance. It seemed very over the top at times, but because they were in an unusual situation, I’m going to be nice and not say it was insta-love or anything – although there were times that it certainly seemed to be that way. So, I wasn’t rooting against the romance, but I just didn’t really have the energy to really care about it, especially when there was so much drama and angsting on Lexi’s part, and when it led to an awful and terrifying event that didn’t seen organic, but simply more drama that revolved around Lexi.
After the Big Dramatic Event near the end of the book, I was really just trying my best to make it to the end. It’s not that the book was really bad or anything, I just really stopped caring, and just wanted to be done and onto the next thing. As such, I don’t know how well I can even judge the ending. It seemed overly simplified at times, and there was more information that I would have liked, but mostly I was so happy to be done with the book that I really didn’t care.
I know that, after all this complaining, it doesn’t seem like I enjoyed this book at all, but I didn’t think it was horrible either. It was definitely a “meh” book for me, but it never made me too mad (well, that’s not true, but it was supposed to make me mad in places – I mean, the way they treat the kids is not meant to be a positive thing), which means it wasn’t an awful book for me – it just wasn’t a great one either, unfortunately.