One of my biggest responsibilities as a librarian is purchasing books for teens, including the fiction, graphic novels and manga, and non-fiction. I try to stick to materials reviewed in the professional journals, but sometimes I think it would be valuable to purchase a couple of things that have gotten strong reviews in the blogosphere because many of the bloggers I enjoy reading are teens themselves. Lovestruck Summer was one of those purchases I made that deviated a bit from my methods in that I’d read only a few reviews but it sounded interesting. I figured, too, I should give it a read before shelving it in order to get an idea who it would appeal to and to get an idea how to sell it.
I am SO glad I bought this one.
Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker has all the signs of a classic summer romance story: a fun cover, a character bent on having a summer love story, and lots of music. But this book is so much more than your typical summer read. Walker develops lovable and memorable characters, and her main protagonist, Quinn, goes through a major life change in the mean time that will resonate with so many readers in their teen years.
Priscilla — and please call her Quinn — just graduated high school in North Carolina but had always been fascinated with the music scene in Austin, Texas. One late night, she called her favorite record company in Austin at 3 a.m., not expecting an answer, and was pleased when someone picked up the phone. When she asked if she could intern for the summer, she got a yes. Without a second thought, her plans for spending a summer interning at Amalgam Records were set.
Quinn will spend her summer living with her cousin Penny who attends the University of Texas and is a major sorority girl. Penny lives on a fruit and candy diet, has a dog that has its own bedroom and wardrobe, and, ugh, a cowboy neighbor named Russ who will certainly drive Quinn nuts. When Quinn finds out that the manager of Amalgam Records has no recollection of her calling and being offered an internship, she thinks her summer might be much longer than she planned living with this cast of people who are so different from her. But perhaps when the other intern Jade helps her find the perfect guy to be with this summer, Sebastian — think indie music loving, aloof, and oh so cute — things will maybe be just as she planned.
Over the course of this book, though, we see Quinn being Quinn: when things don’t go her way or when Russ or Penny or Penny’s sorority sister Chrissy drive her nuts, she pops in her earbuds and drifts away from her situation with the newest obscure band that she is sooo into. That is until Quinn begins seeing people for who they really are and begins to understand that perhaps she has set up too many walls and beliefs in her life. Who knew Jade — the indie loving hipster intern — could get along with sorority girls like Penny and Chrissy? And who knew Chrissy could be a tough-as-nails derby girl? And … could it be possible that Russ, the cowboy who loves country music, could be her perfect man and not Sebastian?
Lovestruck Summer has incredible character development in it for what could otherwise have been a typical girly romance. Quinn is so easy to love and is so perfectly developed for a high school senior. Too many books written for teens develop great characters but so many of them are just unrealistic age-wise. Quinn, however, is perfect: she is stubborn, sure of who she is, and sure of who and what she is not. She’s at that stage of development where she is wholeheartedly selfish but lovably so — throughout the story you find yourself wanting to shake Quinn and tell her to look at how awesome things could be for her if she’d just take a risk and step outside her comfort zone.
Penny and Chrissy, who could have so easily become stereotypical sorority girls, are wholly developed and interesting characters themselves. What Walker is able to do in this little book is make the reader rethink her own beliefs about people in a way that makes you grow and open your eyes like Quinn. When Quinn first got to Penny’s condo, I had one of those moments of wondering how the heck she’d survive. But then as I learned more about Penny, the more I liked her and the more I wanted to know about her. And I won’t get started on how great Russ was and how much I wanted to shake Sebastian. And Jade, who was a secondary character throughout the story, was the perfect way to tie all of the pieces together and make Quinn have her revelation.
Lovestruck Summer is also great because it is such a clean read, too. There’s romance, but nothing too steamy happens — it may be hinted at but nothing happens “on screen” and younger readers may never catch on. Language is never an issue in the book, with only one real swearing incident I remember and it was used in a realistic, non-shocking situation. Again, Walker make this book so true to the characters in this age group. I loved, too, the use of music throughout the book as a way to make a few points; again, the attitudes surrounding music were so true to people of this age group.
And for purely selfish reasons, I loved the setting. I thought Walker depicts Austin in the way that Quinn believed it was. Quinn went into the situation thinking life would be oh-so-easy living in sunny, music loving, and laid back Austin, but she had the realization that no matter where you are at, people still have challenges and one of the biggest is overcoming one’s own beliefs.
I would hand Lovestruck Summer to teens 15 and up without a problem. This is the perfect summer read, but I think it’ll also be a hit in the depths of winter when a good book of escape is needed. I think the message of transformation is so subtle that it won’t hit readers over the head but might make them think about themselves a bit — and that in itself is precisely what Quinn does. I think a lot of teen girls will see themselves in Quinn, and I think others will see themselves in Jade. And it won’t hurt that Russ is dreamy, either!
My only real complaint about Walker’s book is the awful, under descriptive, and misleading book blurb on the back. I think that might be a turn off for readers because it talks about the book revolving around Austin Music Fest. It also says that Penny willingly goes by “Party Penny” (I don’t remember that happening once in the book!). The description makes Quinn sound way too young and immature, even for someone who has this sort of voice throughout the story.
I’m glad I made the purchase on this one, but I think it’ll need some hand selling because of the backside blurb. I stepped out of my comfort zone on the purchase and ultimately walked away with a good feeling, almost like Quinn.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).