Matilda Reviews: The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi

summerSummary

Lexi has a secret.

She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.

Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.

But sometimes love has its own path…

My Thoughts

One of my coworkers read Jessica Verdi’s The Summer I Wasn’t Me before passing it on to me with glowing reviews. I had to agree with her—this was one of those books that I just couldn’t bear to put down. It was very recently published in April of 2014, and although I can’t help but wonder if it’s about time to phase out the “finding gay love at ex-gay camp” trope, this was still an excellent read.

The story follows Lexi, a teenage lesbian who unhappily but willingly attends a religious “conversion therapy” summer camp for queer young people. Lexi chooses to take this route to make her mother happy; after Lexi’s father passed away, her mother fell into a deep depression that was only exacerbated when she found out that Lexi was gay. Lexi has in many ways assumed the role of “parent” to her mother—she suppresses her own need to express her identity in order to care for her mother.

As you may know if you’ve read my past reviews, I love YA books with LGBT themes, and I especially love when such books explore the intersection of religion and sexuality. As one such book, The Summer I Wasn’t Me didn’t disappoint.

Of course, a few of the characters are a bit archetypical; this seems to be almost completely unavoidable in stories like this. There is Matthew, the out and proud young man who thinks the whole conversion thing is an inane waste of time. There’s Daniel, the boy who’s paralyzed with fear, guilt and self-hatred. But there are also characters with unique backgrounds—like Lexi herself, and like Carolyn, the girl Lexi falls for at camp. Carolyn’s parents were actually anti-conversion therapy, and Carolyn doesn’t practice a religion, but she chooses to attend camp anyway. (I won’t tell you why—I don’t want to spoil it!) Overall, these four main characters are wonderful and very distinct from one another.

Although ex-gay camps are becoming increasingly defunct, we still need more characters like Lexi in YA fiction. She is very selfless and brave—not only does she subject herself to extreme homophobia for the sake of her family, she also refuses, for the most part, to relinquish her identity or to question the validity or “morality” of her sexuality. (Indeed, the very title suggests this.) She is a very strong young woman—and she’s quite a discerning reader, as you’ll find out!

The Summer I Wasn’t Me is a solid contribution to YA LGBT literature. It’s honest, sad, joyful and heartbreaking, its climax is riveting and intense, and the resolution is not unrealistic. I highly recommend this one.

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