The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon

It’s the summer of 1983, and 16 year old Helen has completed her exams and now has a summer of loneliness to look forward to.  She lives alone with her father, and has no friends to share the summer months with.

When the Dover family moves into a cottage nearby, she is instantly captivated by them, particularly the fierce, independent Victoria, who is approximately her own age, but makes her feel younger and somehow immature.  And so begins a balmy summer of fun and friendship that she never expected, until one day the Dovers are gone, just as quickly as they arrived.

30 years later, a chance occurrence prompts Helen to look back at that time, and to seek answers to questions that have been unasked for too long.

Helen is a wonderful character, and I thought that Jasmon perfectly captured what it is to be an only child.  We are given a sense of an smart, quiet girl on the cusp of womanhood.  Upon meeting the Dovers, she is instantly drawn to them, and she finds the noise, the bickering and the games of the relatively large family both strange and wonderful.  Her own insecurity means that she often worries about saying the wrong thing or giving the wrong impression, and she views the Dovers’ acceptance of her as a fragile thing that could so easily be shattered, leaving her bereft.

Victoria is less likeable, and constantly forces Helen out of her comfort zone.  She is so blasé about everything, and I couldn’t decide if she was unaware of or indifferent to the affect that she has on the overly-sensitive Helen.  Helen is so desperate to be accepted that she is willing to overlook the bitter after-taste that their arguments leave behind and that Victoria is seemingly oblivious to.  And so she bottles everything up inside, and we start to get a glimpse of why – 30 years later – she has not openly questioned the events of that fateful summer.

The Summer of Secrets is Jasmon’s debut novel, and is a beautifully written, atmospheric read.  There are undertones of unease throughout the novel, gradually building up to the dramatic conclusion.  I really enjoyed it.

The Summer of Secrets will be published on 13 August 2015.  Many thanks to Ben Willis at Transworld for providing a review copy.

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