December 11, 2006

An imaginative summer

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

Charlena thinks her small-town is all the home she'll ever know, and her Dad, Mike, and her best friend Sam are all the family she'll ever need. She wants to go far on her writing talent, but she's shocked into a wall by hearing her work critiqued -- seriously critiqued -- by her favorite English teacher. She's been coasting, he tells her, and she'll get a C- if she doesn't redo her last assignment. Rather than feeling challenged and flattered by the attention her teacher is paying her, Charlie's angry and impatient, knowing the story she wanted to tell, but seeing herself fail miserably to reach that perfect place. She thinks she's doing the best she can, and she's weary of the way the end of the year has gone. Imagination, her creative writing teacher tells her, you've got to use yours. Charlie thought she had been doing that, and the criticism stings more than she can take.

NOTHING is going her way -- her Dad, a widower for eight years, is finally starting to date again -- and he's dating this Barbie with whom she has nothing in common, who has three teen boys who stink up the place. And, Charlie's best friend Sam is gone -- to Australia -- and probably will never come back. When Charlie's grandma asks her out to Lake Ringrose for the summer, Charlie decides to go, to spite her father. It's basically a shack out there in the woods, she knows, and she fully expects to be bored and miserable. Charlie hopes her Dad worries about her.

It turns out that Charlie doesn't have time to worry about him. There's something up in that little town -- something weird. People double-take when they see her, and Charlie's never been closer to the memory of her mother in her life. She's everywhere, and Charlie feels by turns jealous and guilty that she didn't know her better.

A cute boy named Kerry take to Charlie immediately -- and she to him -- they have a chemistry that Charlie's never felt before with anyone, not even Sam, whom she truly loves. Why is it that her grandmother keeps warning her away from Kerry? Why can't someone just be straight with her, just once? Family history, one sunlit summer, and a slightly predictable love story produces Grist - just the kind of things needed to write the great American novel. Or something.

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