Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review - A & L Do Summer

Jan Blazanin
For Aspen and her best friend Laurel, the summer before their senior year in a small Iowa town is their chance to make a name for themselves -- to finally get noticed. But what starts as two girls with plans to raise their status and find boyfriends very quickly ends up as a summer of epic groundings after the two are caught drinking at a party. Now Aspen's summer revolves around her part-time job, doing chores at home, and taking her elderly neighbor's "cat" (read: skunk) for walks in a baby stroller. Not to mention that both girls are in deep with three school bullies who don't stop at idle threats or teenage pranks to make their lives hell.

It seems to be a bit of a pattern lately that I'm reading books that are extremely slow to start. It was about a hundred pages into this novel before the summer actually started and while there's a lot of set-up before this (we're introduced to Mrs. Simmon's and her pet skunk and A & L have their first run-in with the villains of the story, Buster, Ferret, and Kong), I went into the novel expecting (from the pitch on the back cover) a very different story. I expected romance, hijinks, and girls chasing popularity, but got something quite different.

For the most part, this Is a light-hearted summer read. There's romance, parties, and best friends getting in trouble. Aspen and Laurel have an incredibly strong friendship and balance each other out -- Laurel's the spontaneous and adventurous one while the usually more responsible Aspen has a serious feisty and sarcastic streak. The girls are great, but the trio of bullies out to get Aspen and Laurel give the book a decidedly un-fun feel, as if in the middle of this easy summer story there's a seriously evil dude threatening to kill dogs and hurt old ladies. It doesn't take long after the summer starts for Aspen and Laurel to find themselves continually crossing paths with these three and having to lie in order to protect themselves. However, these important developments don't come early enough in the novel to make it the primary focus. Instead, we get chapters and chapters of Aspen and Laurel going on various adventures that only serve to get them in more and more trouble with their parents and the police. The connections of each adventure isn't strong enough to make for a real arc and it's difficult for me to say what the main plot of this book is. More than anything it felt like various disconnected stories that couldn't quite find a way to work together. While Aspen and Laurel were feisty and funny and Mrs. Simmons was a scene-stealer, there's only so much that can do without a solid story backing it up. And this book -- between it's too-bad-for-the-book villains, adventures that felt like they would have worked better as short stories, and over-the-top ending -- just didn't work for me. It was entertaining enough to keep my attention, but definitely not something I'd read again.

Although I do have to say that I've read about seven other reviews of this book and everyone seems to agree that it's a really sweet, fun, recommend-worthy summer book, so I may just be the odd duck out on this one.

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