Cedar’s family is much smaller than it once was. Her father and brother were killed in a car accident and now Cedar, her mother and her other brother are returning to the small town of Iron Creek for the summer where they have purchased a new house. Cedar soon notices a boy riding his bike past their house dressed in costume. Cedar follows him to Summerlost, a local and renowned theater festival. There, Cedar meets the boy on the bike, Leo and finds herself a summer job too. Leo and Cedar have soon created a tour together about a famous local actress who performed at Summerlost and died in Iron Creek. Cedar’s summer is filled with small mysteries like who is putting items on her windowsill that her dead brother would have loved that help distract her from the loss she has so recently experienced, until she can’t ignore it any longer.
Condie, author of the Matched series, has created a beautiful middle grade novel here that rings with honesty. She manages to keep both the reader and Cedar aware of the loss that was experienced but also moving forward and towards other things. The book is haunted with those deaths, appearing out of nowhere in the middle of beautiful summer days, but also hiding at times and almost disappearing with the busyness of work. It’s an intelligent balance written very cleverly.
Condie’s writing is superb throughout the novel. In Summerlost, she creates an entire world of theater that is intoxicating and memorable. Early in the novel, Condie through Cedar’s voice explains what it is like to have a family shrunk by tragedy:
Sometimes I thought of the three of us as pencils with the erasers scrubbed down to the end, and the next swipe across the paper would tear through the page and make a scree sound across the desk.
This approachable and yet deep writing runs throughout the novel, exposing grief in unexpected and tangible ways.
A strong and outstanding novel for middle grades, this book takes a courageous look at grief and the resilience it takes to continue to live. Appropriate for ages 10-13.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.