I read a sad book and I loved it.

Cover art for Second Chance SummerTitle: Second Chance Summer

Author: Morgan Matson

Publisher & Release Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May 2012

The Hook: From the author who wrote Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour!

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Sandwiched between two exceptional siblings, Taylor Edwards never felt like she stood out—except for her history of running away when things get too complicated. Then her dad receives unexpected, terrible news, and the family makes the last-minute decision to spend the summer together in the cramped quarters at their old lake house.

“Taylor hasn’t been to the summer house since she was twelve, and she definitely never planned on going back. Up at the lake she is confronted with people she thought she left behind, like her former best friend, Lucy, and Henry Crosby, her first crush, who’s all grown up…and a lot cuter. Suddenly Taylor is surrounded by memories she’d rather leave in the past—but she can’t run away this time.

“As the days lying on the beach pass into nights gazing at the stars, Taylor realizes she has a second chance—with friends, with family, maybe even with love. But she knows that once the summer ends, there is no way to recapture what she stands to lose.”

Overall Impressions:  This was, at minimum, a four-Kleenex book for me.  The nature of the terrible news is revealed fairly early on – Taylor’s father has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and given just months to live. Her family loves each other, but they’ve all been so busy with their own things that they’re not really close. Dad’s busy at work; older brother Warren’s focused on preparing for college; Mom, a retired dancer, helps younger daughter Gelsey with her dancing dreams. And Taylor can’t run away, from her father’s diagnosis or, when she gets back to the lake, from Henry or Lucy.

Matson wrote a quiet story. One that mostly takes place in a sleepy older summer community where all the houses have names. The setting and the story have a bit of a timeless quality – technology plays a limited role and community activities harken back to more innocent times.  But in that quiet story Taylor slowly grows into someone who can hold herself back from running away when things go bad and builds stronger relationships with people she cares about.

Of her family, Taylor has the most distant connection with her mother, I think this is because 1) her mother is far more focused on her father at this time and 2) Taylor has always been closer to her father. The three children develop stories outside the house – Gelsey learns to have a friend, Warren falls in love, Taylor gets a job and reconnects with Lucy and Henry. (When they first arrive at the lake, they shadow their father until he tells them to stop, to go outside, to do things.) We see less of the mother’s story because her story is inside the house. We read the story Taylor experiences.

The foreshadowing was a bit obvious in a few places, but it didn’t feel heavy-handed. More like, ah, I anticipate we will see this Dickens quote again. Ah, I see this where detail A and part B of job description will come together.

The Highs: You may mock, but I loved that the older brother was terrified of dogs but tried to be casual about it even though the whole family knows because I also have an irrational fear of dogs.

The bad puns that Taylor and her dad enjoy.

How the silly five questions to start a conversation lists at the diner prompt wonderful discussions for Taylor and her dad.

Taylor, Warren and Gelsey seeing a new side of their grandfather.

Taylor and Lucy making sure Gelsey and Nora have a proper best friends sleepover. “They’re doing it wrong,” Taylor says when she calls Lucy.

Henry, who is lovely, and Leland, who is amusing.

Buzzkills:  Well, it’s a cancer book, so you pretty much know what’s going to happen at the end.

The Source: Bought the e-book. Must say that e-books are hard to hug.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a trip to a mountain lake was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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