1 August 2011

Beach Week by Susan Coll

I'm always in the mood for summer fun.  During summer, it's a pretty good bet you can fin me reading a summer-y book at some point in the day.  Of course, I don't really discriminate against any type of book set during the summer, but when you add the idea of a beach in, I am totally 100% there.  I'll even bring the sunblock, Nivea spf 20.

That's what I thought Coll's book, Beach Week, was going to be like.  A romp with a group of just-graduated high school students while they go absolutely insane on a beach.  Sure, I read the blurb and knew the parents were going to be featured, but at least they would be at home sweating and thinking about the beach, right?


Okay, maybe not totally wrong.  They DO go to the beach, but the majority of the book is not set on the sandy shores.  In fact, it opens in winter.  That's right, winter.  The book opens and it's snowing in Verona, a fictional suburb of Washington DC.  Not exactly what you expect with a book entitled: Beach Week.

Thus, we come to one of the major reasons Beach Week fails to live up to its title.  Instead of focusing on the recent high school grad's trip to party away from the watchful eyes of their parents, the majority of the book is spent in the preparations and negotiations for this legendary post-graduation week.  It is within the realm of the discussions amongst parents and children, children and children and parents and parents that the book's true message comes to life.

The interactions between the parents and the kids intricately detail one family's experience on the brink of momentous change; not only with a child going away to university, but also the repercussions of freedom, letting go and acceptance.  Through the unique challenge's of one family, Coll manages to spin a story that tells a universal tale.  Anyone who has gone through the process of letting go and growing up after high school will be able to relate to this story.

That is not to say that Beach Week is not without it's hitch.  At times the pace gets frustrating.  One moment it's snowing and spring, then all of a sudden they are about to go on the fabled week away.  This can be frustrating at moments, when one feels that they are moving on a different sphere than the characters.  The movement at time prevents the reader from truly becoming friends with the characters.

Unfortunately, there are other ways that the reader is stopped from inhabiting the character's world.  At first, the sheer number of characters and their different views becomes overwhelming.  While the reader is still trying to assimilate into the novel's word, they are bombarded by a myriad of strong characters.  Yet, even though the characters seem overpowering initially, this happens because of how good the characters are.  They approach you like real people, annoying spots and all.

I may not always be going back to Beach Week, but the book tells a strong story with a good message.  Parents and children having gone through the process of assimilating to college-life will be able to appreciate the message and experience the hardships once again.  Coll manages to masterly capture an evanescent time, despite the difficulties in gauging time and overly-real characters with feisty personalities.

Do you enjoy books with a linear time line or an amorphous one?

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