The Summer I Wasn’t Me
by Jessica Verdi
Expected Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Obtained Via: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review, and this is no way affects my opinion of the book.
Format Read In: Electronic Advanced Reader’s Copy
View at the Traffic light:
Lexi has a secret…
Ever since her mom found out she was in love with a girl, seventeen-year-old Lexi’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.
You are on the road to truth. Help is on the way.
The road signs leading to New Horizons summer camp promise a new life for Lexi—she swears she can change. She can learn to like boys. But denying her feelings is harder than she thinks. And when she falls heads over heels for one of her fellow campers, Lexi will have to risk her mother’s approval for the one person who might love her no matter what.
Well, you’re here now. And you are going to prove to God that you can live by his laws and that you are worthy of his love.
That quote from The Summer I Wasn’t Me isn’t the beginning of the book, but in many ways it is the beginning of Lexi’s story. When Lexi’s mom discovers that she’s gay, Lexi is worried it will destroy what little is left of her family. Her Dad died not too long ago, and it hit Lexi’s mom. Hard. The type of grief that made life impossible for awhile, and then this discovery happens just as she’s beginning to get better. So Lexi, eager to keep her family together, willingly goes along with the plan of her mom and the local church pastor for a summer of New Horizons, a camp that promises to heal Lexi of her same-sex attraction(or SSA, as it’s normally called at New Horizons).
While Lexi is the narrator of this story, there’s really four campers that The Summer I Wasn’t Me focuses on, and they all have different stories. I thought each of these characters felt very real, like their stories and experiences could easily be drawn directly from life. First there’s Lexi. She definitely believes in God, but has trouble believing that God made her wrong. At the same time, she DOES want this all to go away to keep her family together, and on the whole, she’s torn and troubled about what she really thinks. She wants New Horizons to work to make things better. Then there’s Daniel, a deeply religious boy who hates what has landed him at New Horizons in the first place. He believes desperately that the camp can work, and really believes the teachings of New Horizons while he struggles with them himself.
Then Matthew, the other male character who has a focus in this book, hates New Horizons from the beginning. He knows it’s not going to work, he doesn’t want it to, and he can see everything that’s wrong with it from the start. He’s only at the camp because his father threatened to kick him out otherwise, and is in a happy two-year relationship with a boyfriend. The last character the story every really focuses on is Carolyn, who isn’t religious at all, but wants to be straight because of heartbreak in her past.
I thought each of these characters was fascinating! Yes, The Summer I Wasn’t Me is Lexi’s story, but it’s also Daniel’s and Matthew’s and Carolyn’s, and I thought that made it more powerful. They all have different reasons for being there and different things they want–or don’t want–out of the camp. And The Summer I Wasn’t Me details this camp in detail, often in a shocking manner. A lot of the things that New Horizons make campers do over the summer are group sessions where they discuss different things, but discussion never really comes up. It’s all about learning to conform to a gender role. And when I say conform, I mean conform.
In fact, the absurdity of how far New Horizons pushed gender roles is one thing that made me sort of shoot an eyebrow up at this book(which I otherwise really enjoyed). The thing is, I know camps like New Horizons do exist, and I know why they push the traditional gender role thing, I’m not sure any of them in real life would push it as much as New Horizons does. I mean, everything at New Horizons is color-coordinated: blue for boys, pink for girls. The girl’s cabin is covered in pink and they’re given lessons in make-up and how to style their hair. That’s part of the $8,000 therapy New Horizon offers: learning how to do make-up. I’m from south Texas. I know people who believe that women shouldn’t work unless they have to. But I don’t know anyone who would take it quite that far. That part sort of pushed the boundaries of my disbelief a little.
That being said, I know a lot of what happened at New Horizons is quite common for this type of thing–“gay reformation” camp, so to speak. And I thought following Lexi’s journey at New Horizons(as well as her new friends) was absolutely heartbreaking. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. I really loved Lexi’s voice and the insights into her inner struggle. I felt for her so much during so particularly disturbing scenes, and just wanted to give her(and well, everyone really) a hug and tell them it was all going to be okay.
I mentioned it earlier, but I think what I loved most about The Summer I Wasn’t Me is how real all the characters felt. None of theme felt like caricatures or like they were just there to play on a theme, even though they easily could have been. It could have been so easy to make Daniel just a boy who wanted to find a new way, or to make Matthew just an angry kid. And they were those things, but they were also more. The Summer I Wasn’t Me is definitely a character-driven story, and those characters were fantastic.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me was such an impressive book. It was so hard to read about New Horizons, and to really read about the struggles of the characters, but it was so worth it. They all felt so real! I do slightly question if these type of camps actually run like New Horizons does, and I wanted slightly more from the ending, but overall this was such an amazing, emotional book. 4/5 cupcakes.