The Summer of Us is a YA contemporary about a group of friends who go travelling around Europe together for ten days before heading their separate ways to university. Rae and Aubrey have been planning this trip since they first met as kids, but back then they didn’t know they’d be joined by Aubrey’s boyfriend Jonah, the guy she kissed (Gabe), and the girl Rae has a huge secret crush on (Clara), which all adds up to a lot of tension. A lot can happen in ten days.
Aubrey is the organised one of the group. She’s planned everything to the minute details; she’s a list-maker who needs to feel like she is in control of her life, which makes this stage of her existence particularly stressful for her. She is anxious about what’s going to happen after this trip, because everything is going to change and she’s not sure she is ready for it:
“she tried to think of this as the start of something. As the moment her life spiralled outward into something bigger and more exciting. But now when she pictured herself on a train, all she could see was it moving quickly into the distance, everything behind her getting smaller and smaller – until it was gone.”
She’s worried that her life is going to change into something unrecognisable, that she won’t know how to be herself with her best friend in Australia and her boyfriend over the other side of Columbia. But instead of dealing with these feelings, Aubrey is throwing everything she has into planning the most organised trip to Europe ever.
Rae is her opposite. She likes to take things a little more slowly than Aubrey, to plan them a little less strictly. She’s disorganised (the morning of the trip we see her still trying to decide what to pack), sarcastic and doesn’t do mornings well. She never goes anywhere without her sketch book, and she has a dog called Iorek (which is the coolest pet name ever). Rae is preparing to move to Australia. She’s keen to reinvent herself out there. She’s also secretly in love with Clara, but she doesn’t know how she can keep this a secret when Clara is on the trip too.
Things get tense between Aubrey and Rae as each of them start to confront their fears about the future. Aubrey also starts to face up to the problems in her seemingly-perfect relationship with Jonah, and the fact that she and Gabe kissed. As she becomes more and more entangled in her issues, Rae accuses her of making the trip all about her and they have the mother of all arguments. It was sad to see such close friends fall out, but it also gave both of them a way to express the things they hadn’t been able to tell each other until now.
Both have tricky relationships to deal with too. Jonah might not be as perfect as he seems, and he’s pretty obsessed with Leah (who I did not like one bit), always wanting to do what Leah wants and letting her impact on his plans with Aubrey, sometimes sacrificing what she wants in order to look “cool” in front of Leah. Gabe is avoiding Aubrey although clearly still has feelings for her, and is insisting they can’t be friends, which is all the kinds of awkward. Rae and Clara are discovering that they might both be feeling something for each other, and honestly, their budding romance gave me life. It was so beautifully written and perfect. It made my swinging-brick heart feel something joyful. I loved this pair so very much.
This book gave me many nostalgic feelings for that time between the end of school and moving on to university, where you don’t know who you’re going to be and you’re facing up to moving on from the friends who have been your life for the last few years. I did that move with a long-term boyfriend and to a city close to where he was studying, so Aubrey and Jonah’s story particularly resonated with me (although we are now happily married and never encountered a Leah!) It is tense and exciting, and we get to see all kinds of takes on this issue from the different characters.
The setting of the book in Europe is great, the descriptions of place are not too much, but just the perfect amount that you feel you could be there with these friends exploring the world. It made me want to embark on my own European adventure, although I could live without all the epic train rides.
The Summer of Us is a great summery read about young love, friendship and what happens to it when you have to start growing up.
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