I really love Lois Lowry. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that before here. But I know I’ve shared this affinity with both of my younger sisters. And there was this one particularly wonderful conversation about The Giver that I had with a beautiful, inspiring boy in the front seat of his car as we contemplated life together one night in North Tampa. I think about 60% of my love for Lois Lowry could be drawn back to that boy. I am totally okay with that. I mean sometimes boys introduce you to really amazing things like Dr. Pepper, Thrice, and a mind-blowing understanding of young adult dystopian literature. But I digress.
This is the first (and so far only) Lois Lowry novel I’ve read that is not in some way connected to The Giver. (Did you know that The Giver is actually first in a trilogy? It’s a pretty solid trilogy, too.) I picked it up way back when at Inkwood Books along with The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a slim volume; it didn’t take me very long to read it. Mostly the delay could be attributed to the fact that I tried to make one of my younger sisters read it before me and she never got around to it, so I just took it back.
A Summer to Die is something we’d call semi-autobiographical. It’s about a family that moves to the country somewhere where it gets really cold. The father is a pleasant university professor on sabbatical to work on his book about irony. The mother is a homemaker. There are two teenage girls that, because of the move, are forced to share a room for the first time in their lives. They move into an old farmhouse and the main character, the younger sister, begins to blossom as a person. Her passion for photography, given her new environment, and the indulgence of their Septuagenarian neighbor, is developed and becomes quite a talent. While Meg, the protagonist (heroine? I don’t know… main? Take your pick) develops her talent in various artistic forms her sister, the popular and pretty Molly, sort of begins to disintegrate.
Now, it’s obvious from the title that someone in the story is going to die. A bit melodramatic and heavy-handed, but it’s perfectly pitched for Young Adult Literature. It’s just obvious enough to demand their attention. Going in to the story I knew someone would die, but I thought it might be the main character. I was wrong.
What I loved the most about this story was how much I felt connected to Meg. I grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery, so that frigid countryside struck something nostalgic within me. And Meg is such a great little protagonist. She desperately wants her life to mean something and she’s just beginning to understand the richer subtext of life (the irony her dad academizes, the metaphor that her neighbor uses, the direct honesty of her hippy neighbors). She’s beginning to understand what is important.
It’s a lovely story – precious and heartbreaking. I would recommend it for any teenage girls looking for a simple enough read that “tugs heartstrings”. In fact, I would say if you see any teenage girls reading any part of the Twilight series, just go ahead and swap the two books out. A Summer to Die has much healthier examples of love and suffering and developing into an adult.