Book: The Great Good Summer
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
Age Range: 9-12
The Great Good Summer is the first novel by Liz Garton Scanlon, author of several picture books (including All the World, which I adore, and The Good-Pie Party, which I reviewed here). The Great Good Summer is the story of 12-year-old Ivy Green, who lives in a small town in Texas. Ivy is having a difficult summer because her mother has run off to Panhandle, Florida with a fundamentalist preacher called Hallelujah Dave. Ivy becomes friends with Paul Dobbs, a classmate who is obsessed with space and devastated by the end of NASA's Space Shuttle program. Ivy and Paul, despite their very different personalities, end up taking an impulsive road trip to Florida in search of both Ivy's mother and Cape Canaveral.
Here are the things I liked most about The Great Good Summer, in no particular order:
- Marla Frazee's golden cover image (I would recognize her illustration style anywhere).
- Ivy's quirky, charming Texas voice. Having lived for a time in Texas, I was able to read this book, and hear Ivy's accent in my head. I liked her sense of humor, and her tendency towards little asides. Like this: "(Personally, I think if you're an only child, you should automatically be issued a dog when you're born, as a consolation prize, but my mama and daddy disagree.)"
- The relationship between Paul and Ivy. Though the two come to care about one another, they also argue, over big and little things. Their relationship is not that idealized boy-girl friendship that you see in books sometimes, nor is it a "boy-girl" relationship. It's just a relationship between two people of very different interests, each going through a stressful time.
- Liz Garton Scanlon's ability to slip in small, profound statements that make the reader stop to think (particularly late in the book). These are again not heavy-handed, but they are there for the reader who would like to find them.
- The positive portrayal of Ivy's teacher (and summer employer), Mrs. Murray.
- Paul's passion for space. It's nice to see a character, a kid, who cares passionately about something. Ivy is actually a bit jealous of Paul for having this, which I found realistic.
- The author's head-on treatment of religion. Ivy is unabashedly religious, though her mother's actions do cause her to question things a bit. Paul is more scientific, and not a believer. They have discussions about this. The church is an important part of Ivy's life and her community. This was handled realistically and without being heavy-handed.
Here's a quote that captures that last point (as well as Ivy's voice):
""We've gone to church all our livelong days," I say, "and put out collection money in the basket, and volunteered in the food pantry, and still here we are, Mama run off to Florida without her pills, us left behind to worry, and nothing but a postcard in more than a month! Do you think that's truly and indeed the best that God can do?""
I love that "truly and indeed". This would be a fun book to read aloud, I think, though my own daughter isn't old enough to listen to it yet.
Anyway, those were the highlights for me. Low-lights? None, really. The Great Good Summer is a quick read with strong characters, and a nice balance of humor and substance. Highly recommended, and a wonderful summer read for anyone 9 and over.
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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