Not all childhood memories are good ones, but the protagonist in Emylia Hall’s stunning debut novel The Book of Summers wishes to forget her childhood completely. Beth Lowe has a strained relationship with her father and is estranged from her mother. As far as she’s concerned, her life began at the age of 16 when she left home for good. But when her father visits her unexpectedly with a mysterious package, Beth is forced to reexamine her adolescence and confront her family’s unspoken secrets. Inside the package, she finds a scrapbook entitled The Book of Summers, a poignant and haunting record of the seven enchanting summers she spent as an adolescent with her mother in the Hungarian countryside. The pages pull her back into memories long forgotten: memories of a time when she walked a tightrope between separated parents and two very different worlds; memories of the passionate and bewitching mother who abandoned her family; of her first love; and of the glorious summers that shaped the woman she would become. When I read for pleasure, my only desire is to be swept away. Tell me a good story, take me to a place I’ve never been before, introduce me to interesting people, and make me forget where and who I am. The Book of Summers did just that. It’s been a long time since I’ve read such poetic narrative, like this gem: “If the skies were to fall, we’d have a chance of catching them.” And never have I felt a season or setting so vividly as when reading the following descriptions: “Slumped in a hammock, with one bare foot swinging…” or “The steady chirrup of cicadas made the surrounds of the house fizz with hidden life” and “A hot dog, its split skin glistening, with a perfect glob of muddy mustard beside it…” These are the sights, sounds and scents of summer time, and Emylia Hall captures them perfectly. It’s no surprise that the author uses inspiration from her own childhood vacations spent in rural Hungary to paint the story. The characters and familial relationships are, thankfully, all fiction. The entire time you are reading, you wonder what could have made Beth’s mother leave the family in such a way, and what would make Beth cut off her mother after so many wonderful summers together. I was stunned when the reason finally revealed itself, but also impressed with Emylia for not taking a cheap way out of her intricate plot. The reason, although tragic, flows so naturally with the story, the reader will wonder why she didn’t realize it before. The story moves slowly at times. You want there to be more action and drama, but just like real life, things happen naturally and in their own time. Any other way would risk degrading the rich character and story development Emylia has so expertly achieved. The Book of Summers is a masterfully written coming-of-age story and a heart-wrenching tale of a daughter’s love for her mother. I highly recommend it!
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