Summer to Die

A Summer to Die - Lois Lowry I first encountered this book when my library was weeding its children's paperback collection. I grabbed several out of the pile destined for the recycling bin, including this one. I knew Lowry's work, but I didn't know this was her first novel, or how good it would end up being.

I loved it. It was beautifully written from start to finish. The setting was rich with detail and made me want to move to the New England countryside and start my own garden. It was a bit slow to get going, but once the older sister started to get sick, I couldn't put the book down.

I'm not sure whether to classify it as children's or YA. The protagonist is young, but the tone is sophisticated enough for teenagers. It was in the children's section of my library, but with the recent explosion in YA publishing, I have to wonder what it'd be classified as if it came out now.

I had to wonder if it was partly autobiographical--and it seems it is--because the family dynamics in the book seemed so real to me. Several of the passages, such as this one, could have been lifted directly from my own childhood. I'm a younger sister of a sister, and my father's a professor, so I especially identified with those aspects of the book: the older sister being the "easy" one, while the younger one was more rebellious; the absentminded professor father who invites his students over for Thanksgiving and spends hours alone in his study.

My one complaint is the title. Not only does "A Summer to Die" make it sound like an R.L. Stine thriller, but it gives away the entire plot. There's a reason why Bridge to Terabithia isn't called "Bridge to Terabithia... OF DEATH." No wonder the library weeded it--if I were a kid I wouldn't pick up a book called "A Summer to Die" either.

There are so many great recurring images and themes in this book--flowers, photography, country houses, gardens, quilts--I find it hard to imagine that it was impossible to pull a better title out of one of those. If I ever meet Lois Lowry, I'll ask her if it was her first choice.

Title aside, though, this book was a wonderful surprise. I was in the mood to read something from the 70s-80s era of children's lit after reading Shelf Discovery, and I'm glad I picked this one.