As for a review, I don't even... I can't even... I DON'T KNOW, YOU GUYS, I JUST DON'T KNOW. This book was beautiful and incredibly strongly written, but I'm not sure that I can honestly say that I liked it. Because more than being beautiful and having all those perfect elements I love in a book -- family, love, wanting, waiting, growing up -- it was incredibly, amazingly depressing. But more on that later.
The main character, Chase, been shoved into the role of "oldest brother" due to Noah's habit of running away and because of this Chase is always watching everybody. He misses Noah when he's gone, worries about Claudia's too-revealing clothes and too-sexy attitude, watches his fighting parents and his deaf younger brother as the cracks in his family get bigger. Though we're told over and over again that all the parents do is fight, this is so rarely seen that the tension -- at least in this arena -- was difficult to feel. Amidst this, the all-sex-and-no-feelings relationship he falls into with the summer girl, Melinda, is so obviously a bad idea. She's much older and sort-of dating his brother Noah; despite Chase's loyalty to his brother (and the fact that he really doesn't even like Melinda), this relationship stretches through quite a few summers of the book, past the point where it seems like it would normally be resolved.
Noah's habit of running away was a huge part of the novel, and one of the best. He disappears for days at a time, misses birthdays and other important events, and seems to only have room to truly care about one person. That person, coincidentally, is Chase, who feels like he's been missing his brother forever but somehow manages to love and get along with him in spite of all the ways he messes up. The deaf brother, Gideon, is one of the more central characters in the book just in the fact that his hearing-impaired status affects each member of his family a bit differently. In a book with so many characters and events, the character of Gideon is the glue that holds them (at least somewhat) together.
This book was, as I said before, beautifully written. Pretty words, gritty scenes, and a setting that feels exactly like the most stifling days of summer. But in spite of this, it was also pretentious and sometimes tiresome. The writings of Albert Camus play a huge huge huge role in the novel, almost as if the whole thing is just a vehicle for Camus quotes. Chase, Noah, and Melinda have entire conversations that consist solely of these quotes and the three of them find meaning in every line he writes, relating it to their life, their summers, and the beach that holds everything for them. For those who are fans of Camus or of the super-literary style, this might work perfectly. For me I found myself wanting to scream at the characters, tell them to use your words! Your own words!
As for the ending, I hate to give too much (or anything) away, but saying that it was sad is a little bit like saying the sun is hot: a gigantic understatement. And while the actual events of this fit perfectly with the rest of the book, it's the overwhelming feeling of it that gets me. This is not a happy book. The storylines are dysfunctional in that way that would be fine if the characters had the strength to carry such storylines -- but they don't. These characters aren't under-developed, but they are incredibly pretentious and, more than that, helplessly, hopelessly sad. I don't think there's one happy character in the entire book and it really seems as if nothing that ever happens will fill them up or make them truly happy. These characters seem almost destined to a life of despondency.
There's a part of me that loves this book so much. But there's another part of me that just... doesn't.
*ARC received at ALA.