Last month I stumbled upon Vikki VanSickle's Words That Start With B, and I loved it. Although I was anxious to continue the Clarissa and Benji series, lo and behold, I caught wind of Summer Days, Starry Nights. I even had to put a hold on it at my public library - usually a good sign.
OMG! I enjoyed Summer Days even more than I did Words. I am not sure how Ms. VanSickle packs as much as she does into a small 219-page novel, but this middle-grade book has it all: memorable characters, wonderful descriptive passages, believable events, and relevant themes.
Although set in 1962, the story is timeless. The author readily captures that time and space between childhood and young adulthood, and she does such a bang-up job of it. My emotional response to Reenie Starr returned me to the days when I couldn't decide if I was in a hurry to be grown up, or wanted to remain in the protective cocoon of childhood for eternity. I dare anyone to read this novel and not feel 13 again.
I was also transported back to the Muskoka summers of my youth; in my case, the 1970's version: endless days of reading, diving from the dock, canoe trips with just my Dad, oh, and learning the all-important skill of making mixed drinks for our adult visitors. Ms. VanSickle's beautiful descriptive language is to be credited for this response. My all-time favourite book in this genre is Kit Pearson's Looking at the Moon (Book Two in the Guests of War trilogy), and it is for this very same reason. The author realistically and effortlessly plunks the reader down in the middle of Ontario cottage country during simpler times.
On a serious note, I was particularly struck by the author's sensitive and realistic approach to the subject of mental illness in the form of depression. Her unique way of introducing and handling this relevant subject makes for a great conversation starter. Summer Days, Starry Nights would be an excellent book club choice for a mother/daughter or middle-grade book club.
I'm looking forward to more from this author.
VanSickle, Vikki. Summer Days, Starry Nights. Scholastic Canada, 2013. 219 p.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
Audience: Grade 5+
Starred review Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids and Teens 2013.