When We Had Summer

Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2023. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781368081405.
Gr 6 Up–Carly, Daniella, Lainie, and Penny met on vacation in Ocean Park Heights, NJ, and consider themselves “summer sisters,” united by their annual Summer Sisters Bucket List. But the summer before freshman year is fraught with painful memories and unwanted changes following Carly’s sudden death. Daniella, who is Carly’s cousin, fends off panic attacks while in New York City for a summer music intensive. Lainie struggles with the sale of the family bakery and chafes at training the moody daughter of the new owner. Penny gets a beach job and crushes hard on a coworker but finds it hard to believe in love amid her parents’ constant fighting. The girls drift apart until Daniella discovers a half-written Summer Sisters Bucket List in Carly’s old room. Inspired by challenges like “create our own hashtag and make it go viral” and “go parasailing,” the girls set out to tackle the list in Carly’s memory—but as they navigate jealousy, loneliness, and miscommunications, they worry that Carly might have been the only thing keeping them together. This novel takes a familiar plot and elevates it with strong, introspective character development and a realistic look at the many forms grief can take. Chapters alternate third-person perspectives among Penny (white), Lainie (Colombian) and Daniella (biracial Black and Italian).
VERDICT This novel, which perfectly captures the joy of summer, the heartbreak of sudden loss, and the resilience of friendship, is recommended for general purchase, and is ideal for fans of Morgan Matson or Ashley Woodfolk.

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