The Other Side of Summer is a sweet and spellbinding novel, written by Emily Gale.
Summer is trying to recover from a tragedy, but it seems impossible when her family is falling apart around her. Having an extraordinary best friend like Mal helps a little, but Summer’s secret source of happiness is a link to the past: one very special guitar.
Now her dad’s plan to save them is turning Summer’s life upside down. Again. The next thing she knows, they’ve moved to the other side of the world.
In Australia, Summer makes an unlikely friend, who seems to be magically connected to her guitar. Is this for real? Has a mysterious boy been sent to help Summer? Or could it be the other way around?
While The Other Side of Summer is pitched at a more middle-grade audience, I honestly feel as though it’s a novel that anyone of any age can read and fall in love with. At first, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with our main character because she was only thirteen, but I quickly realised that the issues and messages contained within the pages of this heart-stopping novel transcend age groups. What I loved most about this novel is that it not only deals with issues that are relevant to people of all ages, such as grief and tragedy, but it does so in a way that doesn’t marginalise older readers. The Other Side of Summer is written so poignantly and honestly and it definitely doesn’t try to abridge these difficult topics for the sake of the target audience.
The sadness that is portrayed in this heart-wrenching novel floods off the pages, wrapping around readers and tugging at their heartstrings and enveloping us in a story that, at it’s fundamentally, is about a girl trying to find her place in the world. But Summer has dealt with more tragedy than anyone her age, or any age, for that matter, should ever have to experience. She’s lost her brother, been separated from her mother and her best friend and she home she’s always known, and now she feels as though her family is falling apart. Her anger and sadness and pain was so clear and so vivid, and it made my heart break for her. There were a lot of themes taken on in this novel — dealing with grief, the importance of family and the magical nature of true friendship — and they were all written in such a way that was both appropriate for the slightly younger teenagers while also providing an entrancing and moving read for everyone, regardless of age.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel were the family dynamics. I felt like I really got to know Summer’s sister and father, and it was really interesting to see how their family interacted. Beneath the sadness that lingered over their lives lay the family bonds that could never be broken, no matter how much each person was breaking inside. Their family was like a broken pane of glass: their sorrow were the cracks and each glimpse of sadness was a shard, and while it looked like the were in pieces, the shards stayed together because of the way the three of them supported one another and were always there for each other. And eventually, glue began to coat the cracks, making their family solid again. But it’s important to know that the cracks will always be there beneath the glue and we shouldn’t try and cover up our pain by not acknowledging its existence. And I think that’s one of the main messages of this powerful piece of prose — we will always face times of hardship and sadness, but as long as we stick with those that matter most to us, we can overcome anything. Together.
While I first though this novel was just going to be another contemporary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a bit of magical realism weaved into what was already a beautiful coming-of-age story. I found the mystery and intrigue surrounding this particular aspect of The Other Side of Summer to be the thing that really made this an unputdownable book. The more I read, the more eager I became in wanting to know the truth behind what was happening — and the ending definitely didn’t let me down. What I love most about magic realism in these coming-of-age stories is that it spins a twist on what could be perceived as ‘common’ themes, such as grief, finding yourself, and the importance of friendship, and conjures up an unforgettable piece of prose.
And of course, it was lovely to read another book set in the country I’m proud to call my home. While Summer did mock some of the Aussie slang — such a ‘milk bar’ — and seemed to believe that kangaroos wander around the city streets, like countless other people who don’t live in Australia seem to think, I absolutely loved seeing her grow accustomed to living in Australia. It was also really interesting to see what it must be like for people immigrating to Australia and the things people such as Summer and her family had to get used to — the way the heat of our scorching summers seem to last for half the year, the sometimes unintelligible slang people use, and the importance of Tim-Tams in our dietary needs. For my fellow Australians who read this gorgeous novel, it will surely evoke fond childhood memories of battling the 40-degree heat by running under sprinklers, smearing inch-thick layers of Vegemite on toast and having the whole neighbourhood conjugate in your backyard for weekly barbecues.
Overall, this heartwarming and spellbinding novel preaches the importance of family and supporting one another through the tough times, and is one that can be appreciated by people of all ages. I can’t recommend this poignant, magical novel enough.
Is The Other Side of Summer on your TBR? Do you #LoveOzYA? Are you a fan of magical realism? Do you hold the belief that kangaroos wander around the city streets in Australia? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!