restricted access The Summer before Boys (review)
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Reviewed by
Baskin, Nora Raleigh. The Summer before Boys. Simon, 2011. [208p]. Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-4169-8673-7 $15.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-4424-2383-1 $9.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-7.

The summer of 2004 means both good and bad for twelve-year-old Julia. The good is that she's spending it with her best friend and "cousin" (actually niece) Eliza, whose father works at a woodsy resort hotel where the girls run wild and imagine themselves into various ongoing pretend scenarios and characters. The bad is that she's deeply anxious about her absent mother, who's serving in Iraq, and who connects with her daughter only through occasional emails and phone calls. Both good and bad is Julia's new interest in boys, specifically Michael, another resort employee's son, who inspires a crush in Julia that leads her to start pushing Eliza aside to focus her attention on him. Books for young readers tend to favor the story of the girl who's left behind by the boy-crazy friend, so it's refreshing to see events from the viewpoint of the girl who's pulling away. Julia's narration sympathetically reflects her quandary as cute boys start figuring more significantly in her imagination than old-timey pretends ("I wanted to play, but it was harder to make it happen," she laments), but she's not looking to lose her dear friend, either. The thread about her mother's absence sharpens the intensity of Julia's emotions and also accentuates her swings between childhood and adolescence, as the fears of her mother's loss send her back periodically into childish need. Baskin never treats either Julia's old or new interests as frivolous, instead documenting them respectfully as valid stages in a [End Page 509] life, all the while setting the changing of those stages against an appealing summery backdrop of freedom, intrigue, and free ice cream.