My edition: Paperback, published on 13 August 2015 by Black Swan, 352 pages.
Description: The summer the Dovers move in next door, sixteen-year-old Helen's lonely world is at once a more thrilling place. She is infatuated with the bohemian family, especially the petulant and charming daughter Victoria.
As the long, hot days stretch out in front of them, Helen and Victoria grow inseparable. But when a stranger appears, Helen begins to question whether the secretive Dover family are really what they seem.
It’s the kind of summer when anything seems possible . . .
Until something goes wrong.
I'm thrilled that after reapplying for the Curtis Brown Book Group I was selected to be part of the second wave of readers as this has been by far the most exciting way to discover new books and authors this year. Plus having the opportunity to discuss the novel with the writer and fellow Curtis Brown book groupies afterwards is a very special opportunity to not only ask any burning questions, but also to uncover far more layers to a story than a regular reading experience generally provides. It's a win/win/win.
The only question is, will anything we read this time around live up to the amazing The Ship by Antonia Honeywell and Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey (which in hindsight both TOTALLY deserves 5 stars, not 4.5)? Wildly different, the two novels have certainly left a lasting expression on me and they're the two titles I cannot stop recommending to people this year. The Summer of Secrets wasn't quite as distinctly memorable to me, but for a debut novel it was exceptionally written and I am excited to read more by Sarah Jasmon in the future.
It's 1983 and Helen's boring and rather lonely summer is turned upside down when a little girl by the name of Pippa walks into her garden and demands to be played with. While Pippa is the catalyst to the change in Helen and that time in her life, it's actually Pippa's older sister Victoria that provides the greatest influence that summer. With a physically absent father and mentally absent mother, Victoria seems wise beyond her years and it doesn't take long for Helen to fall under her spell and that of Victoria's Bohemian family.
What on the surface seems a carefree summer spend with friends and tackling difficult novels, actually has a far greater impact on Helen. Something happened that time in her life that changed everything for her and meant that she lost touch not only with her new friends before the end of the season, but also everything she'd known her entire life up until that point. However, what causes this this and what secrets are hiding in Helen's subconscious are only uncovered in the novel's gripping and tense conclusion.
This book was such an unexpected treat. Helen's summer sizzled with anticipation through the scenes set in the present that foreshadowed (backshadowed?) that the seemingly tranquil time with Victoria wasn't quite so innocent and carefree. While Helen recounting that part of her life could have easily resulted in a dull book, the tension rippling along the edges was palpable and created an exciting reading experience.
And though the focus was on Helen slowly uncovering the horrifying event she had blocked out of her memory for most of her adult life, there were many excellent additions to the story that made this such an interesting novel from the get-go; from Helen and Victoria's mission to read the books that most people leave unfinished, to the subtle hints to a much more impactful backstory for Victoria's parents, which made the Dover family even more intriguing in Helen's eyes.
The Summer of Secrets recounts one teenager's languid and almost mundane summer holiday; lazy days spend in the garden, sometimes in solitude, other times with her new friends in tow. It doesn't sound like a hugely compelling set-up, yet Sarah Jasmon's beautiful writing, combined with the enthralling hints to a far greater event taking place that summer, resulted in a hugely engrossing and satisfying read.
You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.
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Many thanks to Curtis Brown Book Group for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review!