Last Summer (of You and Me) (Brashares)

The Last Summer (of You and Me)
Ann Brashares, 2007
Penguin Group USA
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594483080

In The Last Summer (of You & Me), Ann Brashares explores the exhilaration and anguish of leaving adolescence. Telling the story of three lifelong friend—Alice, her sister Riley, and their neighbor Paul—who struggle to maintain their purity against the world's many compromises and betrayals, the novel captures both the innocent yearnings of childhood and the more complex desires of adulthood. As the former inevitably yields to the latter, the relationship between the three friends realigns in a complex dance of passion, guilt, and love, opening up new possibilities while closing off others forever.

As the story opens, it has been three long years since Alice last saw Paul at their summer home on Fire Island. While her sister Riley has always maintained contact with Paul during the off-seasons, Alice's relationship with him has been defined by their silences between summers. As she awaits his arrival on the afternoon ferry, Alice tries to deny that her feelings for Paul have grown beyond friendship. She knows that they are not reciprocated, and even if they were, to change the nature of their relationship would constitute a kind of betrayal of the bond they share with her sister.

Paul has avoided returning to Fire Island these past years because he fears what will happen when he does. Although he fights it with all his will, the truth is that he is in love with Alice and probably always has been. And then there is Riley, the kindred spirit of his childhood who somehow remains frozen in time both physically and emotionally. As much as Paul wishes he could join her in her state of perpetual childhood, the demands and longings of the adult world are pulling him in the opposite direction.

At first, the three of them fall right back into their old patterns — Paul and Riley forging off on adventures, Alice always left a few steps behind. But soon the attraction between Alice and Paul breaks to the surface, and they embark on an intense love affair tinged with guilt over the friend and sister they have left behind. That guilt is seemingly made manifest when Riley is suddenly struck with a life-threatening illness.

Dreading the attention and pity her condition is sure to elicit, Riley begs Alice not to tell Paul what has happened, and in so doing drives a wedge between the burgeoning couple. As Alice and Paul nurse regrets and resentments over the long, cold winter, Riley's health continues to deteriorate. Trying desperately to hang onto the lost bliss of their childhood, Alice, Paul, and Riley instead must face their futures. The road to that future is both heartbreaking and deeply moving, offering the promise of new life even in the face of immense loss. (From the publisher.

Author Bio
Birth—July 30, 1967
Where—Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Reared—in Chevy Chase, Maryland
Education—Barnard College
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Ann Brashares is an American writer of young adult fiction, best known as the author of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series.

She was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She attended elementary and high school at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. After studying philosophy at Barnard College, she worked as an editor for 17th Street Productions. 17th Street was acquired by Alloy Entertainment, and following the acquisition she worked briefly for Alloy.

After leaving Alloy she wrote The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which became an international best seller. It was followed with three more titles in the "Pants" series, the last of which, Forever in Blue, was released in January 2007. The first book in the series was made into a film in 2005, and a second film based on the other three titles in the series was released in August 2008.

Brashares' first adult novel, The Last Summer (of You and Me) was released in 2007. The first companion book to the Sisterhood series, 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows was published in 2009, and the second companion book, Sisterhood Everlasting was published in 2011.

A second novel for adults, My Name is Memory was published in 2010 and has been optioned for film. Her next book, a young-adult time-travel novel, The Here and Now, was published in 2014. She lives in New York with her artist husband, Jacob Collins. They have four children.

Although Brashares writes primarily fiction, she has contributed two 80-page biographies to the nonfiction book series Techies—Linus Torvalds, Software Rebel and Steve Jobs Thinks Different, both issued in 2001. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 4/27/2014.)

Book Reviews
Despite its serious themes The Last Summer (of You and Me) is full of optimism and too neatly resolved. But it's steeped in the familiar longings for lost time that readers seeking the carefree pleasures of a summer will enjoy.
Kim Edwards - Washington Post

The Last Summer is as much a treatise on loyalty and letting go of childish ways as it is on a summer of love.
USA Today

Vivid elegy for youth...Brashares is wise as well as sentimental. She sagely remembers just how it feels to be young, lost, and in love. The Last Summer (of You and Me) is a weeper: If you don't grow misty there's something a bit shifty about the state of your heart.
Miami Herald

When summertime neighbors Alice and Paul realize their feelings for go deeper than friendshipm they're afraid to share the news of their clandestine affair with Riley, Alice's sister and Paul's best friend. But then a darker, more tragic secret threatens to come between them. The page-turning pace of Ann Brashares's The Last Summer (of You & Me) makes it a perfect beach read.

[A] treacly tale about the tribulations a trio of longtime friends encounter.... Brashares's YA roots are on display: the girls and Paul act like high school kids...and anything below the surface is left untouched. It's a beach read, for sure, but a mediocre one.
Publishers Weekly

A novel about sisters, friendship, irrevocable loss, blossoming love, old betrayals and secrets.... Brashares writes with a spare hand about the evolving ties between Paul and the sisters.... But the characters, although likeable, never really come alive, and neither does the novel. Slow-moving, deliberately paced coming-of-age tale oddly lacking in passion, though a built-in readership will undoubtedly want to read it anyway.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Early on, we learn of the different beaches associated with each character: a Riley beach "was when little grains of sand whipped like glass against your skin and the surf was ragged and punishing"; a Paul beach has "low-tide crunchy sand, a sharp drop-off to the water, and a close army of rough, green waves"; and an Alice beach "was truly rare, and it involved tide pools." Discuss these three characters in relation to the beaches named after them. Are the names appropriate or ironic?

2. The school psychologist whom Riley is taken to in the fifth grade explains that the mind "has an immune system of its own." When dealing with distress, "it surrounds the offending element like a germ and stops its spread." Discuss the thematic significance of this passage. How does the "immune system" of each character's mind influence their actions throughout the novel?

3. Riley's sexuality is a subject of speculation for many characters in the novel. At one point, Paul guiltily considers the question: "Was Riley gay? Was she sexual at all? Was she lonely?" What answers does the novel offer? Are these questions even relevant to understanding who Riley is? Or are they, as Paul thinks, a subject for "smaller minds"?

4. Consider the author's choice of chapter titles. Some relate directly to subject of the chapter ("Waiting"), others introduce ideas not explicitly explored until later chapters ("You'll Turn Out Ordinary if You're Not Careful"), while still others echo ideas from previous chapters ("Cryogenics"). What, in your opinion, is the purpose of these titles? What do they reveal about the author's overall narrative approach?

5. Riley says that she missed the call for a potential heart transplant because she was swimming. Do you believe this? Is there some part of Riley—conscious or unconscious—that is seeking death?

6. As a child, Riley wonders what would happen if the dolphins in the aquarium at Coney Island could talk to the dolphins swimming in the ocean. "What would a free dolphin say to a captive one? How could one possibly understand the circumstances of the other?" How does this passage relate to the larger themes of the novel? Discuss the symbolic role of the Coney Island dolphins.

7. The phrase "consider yourself forgiven" is employed three times in the story: by Alice, as part of her ultimatum to Paul at the beginning of their romance; by Ethan, after Paul apologizes for brushing him off outside NYU; and by Paul, when Ethan expresses regret for his relationship with Paul's mother. Discuss the subtext of each occurrence of this phrase, and how it relates the development of the main characters.

8. Ultimately, Alice, Paul, and Riley fear growing up because of the example set by the adults in their world—especially their parents. How does each character deal with this fear through the course of the story? How does it influence their actions?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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