My friends, I have failed. For the first time this season, I’m calling DNF on an auto-contender I’m meant to be reviewing.
Second Chance Summer is a fine book. But 100 pages in, I can see that the literary merits don’t bring this into serious contenda territory, and with so many other books waiting for me, either to reread or in some cases, just read, I can’t bring myself to spend more time reading a book that I don’t think stands a chance (hah!) but will probably get checked out first thing Monday if I release it to the shelves instead.
What does it mean to DNF a book? (Technically I realize it should be NF in that sentence, but I’m not the one who needs to pass literary muster, so I am turning DNF into a trans-purpose, fluid part of speech). When I was on the RealPrintz committee, I probably only finished about 75 or so books throughout the year, but I must have started another 100 or more in the same time span. In the context of reading for the very narrow purpose that is the Printz, “DNF” doesn’t mean a book is bad — this is the caveat I am constantly repeating, I know, but seriously. The books that made the contender list are all noteworthy, admirable, impressive books. They made it into a pretty darn elite party, and that’s nothing to sneer at. And earlier in the year, when we weren’t yet to the Pyrite point and I hadn’t already read 100 books and seen where the year was falling, I would have finished this one. But the year is winding down and at a certain point, reading widely begins to feel less critical than reading closely.
Here’s what falls down: this is so transparent it almost hurts. I knew the ending about 10 pages in (and I did read the last 50 pages to verify my assumptions). Then there is Taylor’s voice, full of minor problems that add up to something full of flaws: the past perfect tense that distances, the tendency to tell everything and never give the reader a chance to realize anything, her incredible self-awareness untempered by any recognition when she is behaving absurdly. And it’s longer than it needs to be; the beginning alone is drawn out and points are belabored. Not dreadfully, but enough. And then there was a piece that may be based in my 2-bedroom/1-bathroom NYC existence: it’s awfully hard to like a character who complains, quite a bit, about the small size of her summer home where she has to share a bathroom with her siblings. Taylor is selfish. And I get that she grows and learns to stop running away, and that’s part of the point, but her selfishness comes from such a place of overpowering privilege that I found the specifics of her life outweighed the universality of the theme of growth.
What does work, based on what I did read: Proactive grief. Teens lose parents to cancer a lot, and mostly we seem to see fiction dealing with the aftermath, but this is the part right before, the long agonizing good-bye, and it’s a topic we needed. The flip side, too, that even in the midst of terrible tragedy good things can happen, is a nice theme, even if everyone pairing off into happy couples is perhaps the simplest version of happy. Also, this falls awfully close to formulaic territory (not a bad thing, but generally not a Printz thing, either), but manages to forge its own way enough to be more than formula.
And while this is immaterial to the discussions here, what’s up with the anorexic cover model?
For fans of Sarah Dessen or Susane Colasanti or Sonya Sones, pure win. For the Printz, not one that makes the shortlist.