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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Bryan Peterson
Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson Something about Second Chance Summer felt familiar to me as I read, but it wasn’t until I was about two thirds of the way through that I realised what it was: it felt somewhat Dessen-esque. Both thematically and stylistically, Matson’s writing reminds me of Sarah Dessen’s, albeit slightly less verbose. Matson’s novel centres around her protagonist, Taylor, coming to terms with some devastating news for her family, accompanied by a subplot around rekindling childhood friendship and romance. It’s a more subdued novel than perhaps the blurb and cover imply, and readers expecting a “fluffy” summer read may be taken aback by the heavier emotional content. This is a difficult book for me to review because I find I don’t have a lot to say about it. I liked it, I enjoyed it while I read it, but I can’t say it left a lasting impression on me or that I felt particularly connected to the characters. While I thought the climax of the novel was moving and well-handled (despite my early misgivings about how Matson might handle certain emotional aspects of the story), on the whole I feel largely indifferent toward to it. It was a “nice” book when I wanted difficult, or stunning, or ugly; I wanted to feel something stronger and more profound than I actually did. Taylor and her family are altered by their summer, and understandably so. The lack of closeness that is telegraphed at the beginning of the novel is challenged by emotional and physical circumstances. Essentially, in a time of great stress they learn to draw strength and comfort from each other, to reassess their relationships and what’s really important. It’s a simultaneously heart-warming and heart-wrenching premise, but for the same reasons, not one I fully believed. Something about this story felt too tidy for me, the resolutions too uncomplicated. Call me a cynic, but I simply don’t believe that Matson’s closure for her characters was totally realistic. Life, I think, is messier than that. Yes, I’m picking on a book because I don’t think it was flawed enough. On the other hand, Matson writes some endearing character interactions and her handling of Taylor’s attempt to reconnect with her childhood friends is believable. I’m pleased that Matson chose to have Taylor rebuild these relationships through facing the past and making amends, rather than using the emotional pull of her family’s situation. That would have felt disingenuous and lazy, and Matson navigated a potentially tricky area by keeping the focus firmly on Taylor’s development as a character. That said, the use of flashbacks to previous summers as a technique for fleshing out the friendship storyline started to feel tedious. We’re given plenty of insight into the relationship between Taylor, Lucy and Henry, but I felt that this gradual reveal slowed the story down. I had to resist the urge to skim the cute vignettes of first love as they began to stretch out what is already a fairly lengthy novel. Matson’s writing is very readable - she has a keen grasp Taylor's mental and emotional state, and injects this into her voice. It's believable and effortless. She also tempers the story with moments of humour and warmth (though, I think, with varying degrees of success). To be honest, I enjoyed Warren's relationship with Murphy the dog more than I did with Wendy.So while I'm not sure I'm the right audience for this book, I can see the appeal, and I would recommend it to those looking for a well-written contemporary with a balance of depth and comfort. Or who like their sad books with a side of romance..