Monday, August 22, 2011

A Really Weird Summer

A Really Weird Summer by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

I found this book on the "For Sale" rack at the public library, and I snatched it up because I've loved every other book by this author which I've ever read.

It's a story about four siblings who have been sent to spend the summer with a great aunt and uncle while their parents are working out the details of their divorce. All of the kids are miserable at being removed from their home, friends, and neighborhood. And they are sooo bored. And then certain elements creep into the story which seem to indicate that this will either be a fantasy or a book with supernatural bits. But alas! It all turns out to be merely psychological.

The eldest, Nels, is coping with the pressures of having to parent the younger children while himself grieving over his parents' abandonment. And he's secretly worrying about where and with whom they'll all be living after the summer ends. Unbenownst to his siblings, their father has privately proposed that Nels go to live with him in Alaska after the divorce. Nels doesn't know what he wants to do, and as the summer progresses, withdraws further and further from his brothers and sister. Then he discovers a wonderful secret and a perfect friend. Or has he?

I think the book would have been much improved if it had been more ambiguous about whether Nels' adventures with Alan had really taken place. But to be baldly informed at the very end that it was "all in his head" was deeply disappointing and far too didactic for my taste.

And I was kind of repulsed by the book's "lesson" which was that kids must stick together because adults cannot be depended on for anything. Family identity has shrunk to include kids only. As Nels tells his younger brother on the last page, "All us kids have to to stay together, that's the big thing. We've got to promise each other. If we stick together, then whatever happens outside -- whatever the grown-ups do -- it won't matter so much D'you see? We'll still be us."

Perhaps this was not a surprising conclusion for the children to have come to since their parents had shuttled them off to spend their summer in a holding pattern. (And by the way, I wondered why the children had to be sent away just because their mother was now working. Nels was 12, an age at which I was already looking after my siblings, and their mother had planned that during the school year he'd take care of the other children after they got home from school. So why couldn't they have spent the summer in the security of their own home? I'm sure there were latch-key children back in 1977. I felt that the whole dislocation thing was just a clumsy device by the author to set her characters up for the particular psychological response she had in mind.