I just finished the most fantastic summer read, and I want to share it with you. It’s called The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, and it’s written by Elizabeth Kelly, whose other work I intend to check out soon. It’s the story of an almost-teenage girl named Riddle Camperdown, who comes across something she’s not intended to know about.
Riddle’s parents are delightful characters. I’d hate to have them for my own parents, as their relationship is one of conflict and sarcasm, but as characters, they’re delightful. I think that Elizabeth Kelly did a fantastic job of developing them, and their quirks and motivations and personalities, and then remaining true to what these characters would actually do. She also does wonderfully writing for Riddle, who grows up a bit precocious and anxious as the product of this relationship.
In my quest to finish reading 30 books in 2014 (I’m behind by a couple of books, eek!) I decided when I started reading this one, about a week ago, that I’d finish by the end of July. I had considered a couple of other books as well, and used other users’ reviews on Goodreads (favorite!) to decide which book I’d read first. A couple of the other books I’d considered technically had a higher rating, and some of the critical reviewers weren’t fans of Riddle’s vocabulary and way of speaking, saying that no 12-year-old speaks that way. I disagree with this criticism. First of all, most 12 year olds could narrate a story as artfully as most published novelists anyway, so holding our narrator to that level of realism seems ridiculous to me. Second, she is the only child of rich, eccentric east-coasters, and she tends towards being a bit of a loner. It wouldn’t be out of the question for someone in her situation to spend a lot of time with adults, do a lot of reading, and be a little weird. Third, the book is actually bookended by short passages from decades after the plot takes place; if we’re really being picky, we could say that Riddle narrated the whole thing thirty-some years later, in which case, the point about kids not talking that way is entirely moot.
Anyway, the language was quirky, but I really enjoyed it. I couldn’t put the book down.
I’m really glad I wrapped up this book as quickly as I did, because I feel I could have missed some things, or not understood the full impact of the characters, had I taken more time with it. I was impressed with how well plot threads tied together – everything fit neatly, though I hadn’t anticipated that it would until closer towards the ending. The plot is solid; there are a few different sources of tension, ranging from horrifying tragedy to an early teenage crush, and they all drive the book along. The best part of the whole book, though, is Elizabeth Kelly’s skill in writing characters and settings. I’m not usually someone who reads books for things like settings; skip the descriptions and get me to the plot. But I so enjoyed living in this slightly vintage, rich New-Englander summer for a bit.
I rate this book four out of five stars.
Featured image credit: Wyoming_Jackrabbit, on Flickr