The long summer ahead needs a plan, thinks Saoirse. ‘That’s Seer-sha, by the way,’ murmurs narrator to reader, initiating a convention of such asides as early as page 2. This confiding voice will not only entertain, but also allow Saoirse to provide a running commentary on the action: maybe a single kiss with Ruby, so complex that it requires a lingering page of description; or – by contrast – the devastating sadness of visiting her psychotherapist mother in her care home, lost in the wilderness of dementia at 55. A condition which Saoirse knows can be hereditary.
Saoirse’s narrative has many voices. For example, there’s the flickering interplay of smart conversation which YA readers expect – exceptionally alive in this novel; or her own tenacious voice reflecting her struggles to understand : her feelings for Ruby; a betrayal by a lifelong friend; the loneliness of Oliver Quinn, a boy she has loathed for years but is now beginning to like; and why her ex just walked away.
At one level, this is a quick-moving rom-com. At another, a knowing, satirical take on a quick-moving rom-com. At another, an untypical rom-com since the lovers are late teen girls. And, for a while, the novel becomes a painful account of the difficulties families face when dominated by illness and its impact on relationships.
The storyline begins simply, if unconventionally. Saoirse’s just finished A-levels and left school in her seaside town to the south of Belfast. She’s very bright, works hard. Oxford has offered her a conditional place, to the embarrassing delight of her Dad, whose own life hasn’t run easily for the last few years as his wife’s early onset dementia tightened its grip. They’ve divorced, but that doesn’t mean Dad’s love for her has died, as the novel reveals. Even so, to Saoirse’s astonished disgust, he’s about to marry a business contact, Beth.
Saoirse’s had it with schoolwork, she’s been dumped by long-love Hannah, she’s not sure she wants Oxford. What she wants this summer is – well, she’s not sure what. She doesn’t want another long-term relationship, with its truth-telling and problem-sharing, especially with family issues like hers. Maybe a summer with someone involving serious kissing, parties, a fair amount of quality vodka, much laughter and no strings. Yes, that’s a workable plan. Enter Ruby, an English girl, staying for the summer with the family of her rich-boy cousin, Oliver. Why? She’s not saying. So she’s keeping secrets too. Ideal.
The immediate magnetism between them is irresistible; not least because neither is inclined to resist. As the days go by and the quickfire dialogues reveal Saoirse’s passion for horror movies and Ruby’s for rom-coms, they agree on the latter as a kind of template for their summer together. Their analysis of the rom-com ‘formula’ (wittily handled by Smyth with its list of required elements, illustrated by specific movies), leads to a scheme to live out a ‘falling in love montage’ (no strings, of course). That’s the theory. This plan is not going to work, as any YA reader would know. As they tick off the stages of the montage formula, real life overtakes them. As it would. So we end up reading a different kind of novel from the one we began, bringing deeper questions and satisfactions than readers might have foreseen. GF