20 Boy Summer review in honor of Banned Books Week

Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler; published by Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2009; 290 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on a copy of the book provided for free by the publisher.

Anna, Frankie and Matt: Neighbors and best friends.  When Matt lets Anna know that she’s more than a friend to him, they swear to keep it a secret until Matt can figure a way to tell Frankie, his younger sister.  This little change could change their friendship forever.  Unfortunately, tragedy strikes as Matt dies in a car accident which leaves Frankie and Anna injured; Anna’s scars run deeper than anyone knows, however.  Matt’s family decides to return to their traditional family summer vacation spot, Zanzibar Bay, and they include Anna in their plans.  Frankie coaxes Anna into a 20 boy challenge (a boy for every day they spend on vacation) to rid Anna of her “albatross” and distract them from missing Matt.  While they may fall short of their goal, they will not come home without a shift in their friendship or in their plans for the future.

I was lucky to get a promotional copy from the publisher to review in the wake of the outrage over a Missouri school district banning the book (read about it here).  Twenty Boy Summer arrived the day before I left for my own family beach vacation so I packed it.  Then I devoured it in a day.  I admittedly hesitated opening the cover because I expected this to be a solicitous summer romp.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Ockler’s debut novel features fully developed characters and an emotionally charged plot that will appeal to older teens and adults alike.  By the way, I thought it was the perfect beach read.

There is sexual content.  There is alcohol use by teens.  There is profound grief, too.  Apparently, even in the context of the book, these were enough to get the book banned from a school library in Missouri.  Sarah Ockler responded on her website (read her comments here).  Thanks to efforts last year to save Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak among bloggers and Twitter devotees, and thanks to the efforts of ALA to bring attention to banning books during Banned Books Week, support for Twenty Boy Summer was overwhelming.  Whatever their reasons, the school district reversed the ban, sort of; students will need parental permission to check out this book as well as some others, including Slaughterhouse Five (read about it here).

Check out this book trailer created by a young adult for Twenty Boy Summer.

Like the sea glass that plays a significant symbolic role in the book, our hearts are fragile but more resilient than we expect.  So are teens.  If you’re concerned about this or any book, read it and discuss it.  I bet you’ll be surprised at what you find out.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 10+

Cover art: The heart shape made of sea glass on a weathered floorboard is beautiful and hints at the content.  I think the buzz about banning the book will get more attention than the cover, however.

From Reading List: Survival in Love, War or Sports

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