16-year-old Mia Gordon has been just been dumped by her boyfriend Jake. After such a shock to the system, she is especially looking forward to reconnecting with her cousin Corinne and having a low key and boy free summer on her family’s summer vacation in the Hamptons. Mia’s relationship with her mother, and her parent’s relationship with each other, has always been fraught with tension, but Mia is surprised to see that Corinne and her mom don’t seem to have the warm relationship she had always envied. And she starts to feel the underlying friction that abounds between the adults in the house and their children. Next door neighbor Simon proves to be a mysterious distraction, but as she gets to know him through their walks at night on the beach, she starts to challenge what she knows about her family and herself.
I was curious when I heard about The Summer of Skinny Dipping because author Amanda Howells has ghost written for some of the big teen series (think Sweet Valley High), and is only writing her first book with this novel. I wondered what that book would be like, and if it would have its own voice, so I was happy to find that it was completely refreshing and not like the other series for which she has written.
Howell’s characters are beautifully drawn and completely realistic human beings – by turns wonderful yet also flawed. Mia has always seen those who surround her from the black and white perspective of a child, and awakening to a fuller understanding of her family and their relationships to each other informs her summer. I was completely in Mia’s head and empathized with her struggles to sort through not only class issues, but the anguish she experiences trying to fit in with a crowd who looks down upon her, when she clearly feels like she deserves better yet doesn’t want to be alone and an outsider.
While the girl depicted on the cover doesn’t seem to have any weight issues (and if she does, there are very few of us who aren’t in big trouble), Mia also struggles in being a more normal sized girl in comparison to her sleek and glamorous cousins (her mother exacerbates her worry by admonishing her about her food choices, and this is one of their sources of tension). On many fronts Mia has to decide whether to fall in with group thinking or to be her own person, and she is conflicted by her budding friendship with Simon. Is he using her to get near her cousins and their wealthy friends, or is he telling her the truth when he says that he wants to get to know her.
This was much deeper read than the cover would have led me to believe and I enjoyed every minute. The relationships and the issues grappled with are realistically portrayed, and Howells did a great job of capturing the angst felt by quieter and less popular teens who still have a lot of decisions to make about who they want to be and how they can go about becoming that person. I connected with the characters and still think about them. Thoroughly engaging and bittersweet, The Summer of Skinny Dipping, is a thoughtful read which compelled me to finish in just a few days time. Highly Recommended.