Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Book Review: The Summer of May

Media Type: Book
Title: The Summer of May
Author: Cecilia Galante
Publisher: Aladdin
Pages: Hardcover; 256
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Source: GalleyGrab
Intended Reading Group:
Middle Grade/Young Adult

Content Screening:
Nothing to report.

HDB Rating:
5 Keys to My Heart

Galante's bittersweet story of a troubled 13-year-old stars spunky Maeve (May) O’Toole, who holds a lot of grudges. May’s most recent target is her English teacher, “Movado the Avocado,” who she blames for having to repeat English in summer school. Spending her mornings prepping and painting the classroom wall she defaced during the school year and doing writing assignments for her teacher, May has a lot of time to think. She broods about all the things that make her mad and about all the people who have abandoned her: her old group of friends; her father, who now works double shifts and is hardly ever home; and her grandmother, who spends her days in bed. But mostly May thinks about the mother she will never see again. The summer takes some unexpected turns as May discovers previously unseen sides of Miss Movado and learns that they have something profound in common. Brimming with emotion and insight into adolescent rage, Galante’s prose investigates the impact of loss and the importance of making amends.

Unlike any of the other middle grade novels that I have ever read, The Summer of May is not a "sunshine and rainbows" kind of book. Quite the opposite really. This is a tough read, filled with real life emotion that cuts down into your heart as you read. I'll be honest when I say that I literally cried while I read this.

May is a 13-year-old girl who wants nothing more than to feel whole again. Navigating the trials of middle school, she tends to use anger as her defense mechanism against anything (or anyone) who she doesn't agree with. She doesn't enjoy the feelings that bubble up inside her and burst to the surface, but it is the one way that she knows how to deal. Angry words help to mask the hurt that she feels inside. This story is a look at how these feelings affect a person, as well as the people around them.

May isn't the only character in this book who is learning something either. Amidst her tumultuous inner battle, Galante sets up other characters who are fighting the same sort of battle. Although they are much older than her, these characters show May that she isn't the only one who doesn't know quite how to deal with how she feels. Each character chooses their own defense mechanism, but they all have the anger and hurt beneath their surface. It isn't until May starts to spend more time with Mrs. Movado that she starts to make progress towards understanding what is inside her.

At the heart of this book is really a message of forgiveness, and of making amends. This is a topic that is so rarely dealt with in tween/teen books, but I wish it was out there more often. As summer wanes on, May learns to look into herself through the use of writing and poetry. She learns to find the things that are buried deep inside her and come to terms with them. Most importantly of all she learns to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness, in an effort to heal herself from the inside out. If you're thinking that this sounds like a topic from a much older story, I would have agreed at one point. However now that I've finished reading this book I'm not sure I can look at middle grade literature the same again.

Excellently written and brimming with honest emotions, The Summer of May is one of the most surprising and heartfelt books that I have read this year. I applaud Cecilia Galante for so carefully and sincerely dealing with such a tough topic. This is a book that I will recommend to tweens, teens and even adults a hundred times over. Dealing with the importance of family, the power of words, and the idea of forgiveness, I don't think it matters who is reading this book. Everyone can benefit from the messages between these pages. 

FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.


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