The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Julia is spending the summer with Eliza, who is her age but is also her niece. Julia’s mother has been sent overseas with the National Guard and her father can’t watch Julia and work. So the two girls spend their summer together, often heading up to the hotel where Eliza’s father works. The friends spend a lot of time playing pretend, imagining that they are back in time when girls wore long dresses. But Julia is worried about her mother and the war. She has also discovered a boy named Michael who seems interested in her too. But pursuing Michael may mean leaving Eliza behind.
This is a book about changing from being a child to being a teen. Baskin perfectly captures that transition, that tension that is achingly real here. Her writing explores the changes, the new-sounding laughter of flirtation, the running both from and to boys at the same time, the loss of imagination, the setting aside of old priorities for new ones. She allows us to see the friendship of the two girls first as it always has been with a comfort, a shorthand, a natural ease. And then we watch it change before our eyes as one girl grows up faster than the other, and tensions begin to create cracks and shifts.
Julia is a beautifully crafted heroine who is honest, confused, and filled with a depth of feeling and awareness that makes the book so special. I enjoyed seeing the world change through Julia’s eyes rather than having it be Eliza, the one being left behind, who was the first person voice. And the ending, the ending! It is exactly what the book needed, what all of us who have left childhood behind need to remember. Lovely.
Highly recommended, this book is a stellar piece of tween fiction that captures that age with depth and beauty. Appropriate for ages 11-13.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.