Release Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Finished copy borrowed from library
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.
Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.
As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.
Tell Me More: I would like to preface this review by telling you all that this novel made me sob like a child. I just wanted to get that out there before I start with my usual critique of the story and characters. This is not a novel you read on a trip to the beach; this is a novel for a thunderstorm, a day to curl up against your favourite pillows and some hot chocolate. Because while Taylor’s story takes place over the summer, the emotional depth needs an anchor to hold on to.
I was only nine years old when I last visited the Poconos, but the weekend I spent there made a strong impression on me. I can still imagine the swerving roads, the shadows of the trees on the path as we carefully drove up the side of the mountains. Reading Second Chance Summer was like pulling aside an old curtain and seeing a quiet grove come alive again. Morgan Matson lays the groundwork beautifully, and as Taylor remembers the details of her summers there, the reader feels as though they are remembering something lost as well. Of course, my own memories weighted down her descriptions, and I loved being able to return to a place where I was happy too.
The title of the novel makes the themes quite obvious–second chances and new beginnings are rife in this contemporary story. What makes them remarkable is the care that Matson takes to be true to her characters and their choices. I feared that Taylor might have immediately swung towards trying to be the perfect daughter and sister, that her father would become a Nicholas Sparks staple, that her family would become a trite cliché, et cetera. It’s such an easy plot that the temptation to settle for an easy conclusion is always present. But throughout the novel, you get the feeling that Matson herself needed to push the story to the right ending, even when it was too raw to touch. There are emotions that we all need to experience and sink ourselves in, and Matson builds enough of them to make a lasting impression.
However, a story like this would not have worked without a character as quietly beautiful as her setting. Taylor doesn’t seem like a friendly character from the start, but sticking through to the very end of the novel is paramount to understanding her. She is broken in ways she doesn’t even understand yet, and for someone older, it can be a little disheartening to see her give up so early. I’ve known people like Taylor, who were afraid to accept their pasts and make it a part of themselves, who were frozen in their fear and lost in uncertainty. As Taylor discovers, there’s only so far you can run before you have to face things and decide. This is a girl who wants so much of what life has to offer, but can’t quite muster the strength for a head-long leap. Matson writes Taylor’s journey with an intimate understanding of what Taylor feels and fears–she gives Taylor room to continue to make mistakes and mess up. The faith Matson has in Taylor is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it strengthens my belief that a story can only be unforgettable when it has the right character.
And really, I would be remiss if I went without mentioning the outstanding cast of supporting characters in Taylor’s life. Her family is charming, but it is easy to see the pall of the news they have to deal with, and I grew to love them as much as Taylor does. The friends she had in the Poconos are so expertly drawn from teenage memories that they come to life with barely any prodding. Dear friends, I was almost overwhelmed by how SA-WOON worthy a certain someone was, even when he and Taylor were just kids. As Taylor discovers, that kind of charm doesn’t wear off, and it was wonderful to see her learn to be happy with other people again.
In the end, I think Matson’s true strength lies in the creation of characters that become more than the sum of their pasts, presents and futures. She understands people and the myriad joys and pains that stitch themselves into our souls, and she always, always gives them a second chance.
The Final Say: Second Chance Summer is a novel that will leave you changed in ways that may not always be visible, but will always be important. Morgan Matson is one to watch for all the stories that she has left to tell, and all the characters that she finds in us.
Morgan Matson received her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. She was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start author for her first book, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. Amy & Roger was also recognized as an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults in 2011. She currently lives in Los Angeles.