The Last Summer (of You & Me) is a beautiful, heartbreaking, story of two sisters, secrets, love, and death. Brashares is the author of the popular The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants teen series, and this is her first work geared for adults.
Most of the story takes place on Long Island’s Fire Island, where Riley and her sister Alice grew up. The beach, in all its different faces and moods, is described so well it is almost if you are sitting there yourself.
Riley is odd. She has some sort of learning disability, and, although bright and self sufficient, she never has quite managed to grow up all the way. She never dates, is perfectly content to live with her parents, and has never noticed how shabby their little house really is, especially compared to the larger more expensive houses on Fire Island. Riley is happiest outdoors, swims like a fish, and works as a lifeguard. She is the stereotypical “tomboy”.
Alice, the younger sister, is pensive and strikingly beautiful. She has gone to college, and is considering a certain job after that. Alice finds herself spending a lot of time thinking other people’s thoughts for them. She is a natural caretaker, and also constantly worried that she will be “left behind” by Riley and her friend Paul.
Paul is the same age as Riley, and the two of them have been best friends since childhood. Paul went to New York for college, and at the start of this book, has returned to Fire Island to visit with Riley and Alice. Paul’s father died when Paul was very young, and Riley and her parents sort of adopted Paul, in a way. He and Riley function as brother and sister, and Paul and Riley both have always loved Alice.
The book cuts between present and past, weaving together the lives of the three main characters. Paul and Alice are thinking about the past, and trying to sort out just who they are now as adults, in the way that many twenty-something people do.
Both are learning truths about their parent’s lives that they never knew before, but may have suspected. The entire book is very well written, but one thing that stood out to me the most was just how well Brashares captured that unanchored, searching, state that we all go through as we leave college and become a “real” adult.
Now that Alice and Paul are adults, things are changing. Alice and Paul just begin to notice that they have feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. Both struggle to figure out what to do with that. Each is worried about messing things up, and ruining a lifetime of friendship.
And then there is Riley to consider. Riley, who always saw dating as silly. As teenagers, Riley, Paul, and Alice all agreed that the things they saw their friends doing when they started dating was mostly stupid, and they would never act that way. But now, about a decade later, Paul and Alice have grown up and see things differently. What happens to Riley if Alice and Paul become more than friends?
Paul and Alice dance around each other, getting a tiny bit closer and then backing away, then moving closer once again, as the story continues. As soon as it looks as though the two have come to an understanding, something awful happens to Riley. This shakes up everyone’s world.
This is the kind of book that makes you want to read it while sitting on a beach. It makes the reader remember those precious, passionate, intense summers from when you were fourteen or fifteen, and wonder whatever happened to those special friends and long ago loves. It makes you ache and smile at the same time.
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