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Review: Summer Sisters

Judy Blume’s books have always been synonymous with childhood to me. Peter, Fudge, and Tootsie will always hold a special place in my heart and I still remember lounging in front of a fan with Tiger Eyes and Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret on hot summer days. I hadn’t read any of Blume’s adult novels, until Summer Sisters, and am happy to report that, once again, this talented writer does not disappoint.

In Summer Sisters, Blume brings us another unforgettable character, twelve year-old Victoria, known to friends and family as Vix. Vix lives in Santa Fe, the dutiful eldest of four children. Her parents struggle to make ends meet and much of their time and attention goes into caring for Vix’s youngest and most beloved sibling, Nathan, who has muscular dystrophy.

Vix meets beautiful, free-spirited Caitlin at school and is invited to spend the summer on Martha’s Vineyard with her. Caitlin, who lives with her mother in Santa Fe, spends every summer on the Vineyard with her brother and father. The girls’ first summer together starts a trend that continues through high school and thus Vix and Caitlin become “summer sisters.” Caitlin’s wealthy father and kind-hearted stepmother adore Vix and offer her a scholarship that enables her to attend Caitlin’s private school in Santa Fe and eventually, Harvard.

Summer Sisters is a novel about friendship. The friendship between Vix and Caitlin is enduring, though the two girls couldn’t be more different. The twelve year-old Vix is respectful, eager to please, and follows the rules while Caitlin is wild and outspoken, heedless of rules and expectations. She never wears shoes, rarely bathes, viciously rejects her kind and loving stepmother Abby, and uses sexually explicit vocabulary.

As the girls grow into young women, the differences intensify. Vix sets about rising above the circumstances she was born into and making something of her life in the traditional sense – a Harvard education, a good job, a nice boyfriend, motivated and equally educated friends. Caitlin travels the world from Italy to Argentina on her trust fund, never sticking to anything – college, relationships, jobs – for very long.

The friendship survives despite their differences, even despite a betrayal, and that is the beauty of this story. I was cheering for Vix all along, wanting so much for her – happiness, an exciting job, a great guy. Caitlin was more difficult, but not impossible to love. She was selfish, spoiled, and shallow on the surface. But underneath the tough exterior, she was essentially insecure and scared – scared of death, and of failing – at love, motherhood, and life in general.

Vix’s was the primary voice, but interspersed throughout the book were short, one page narratives by the other characters in the story – the girls’ parents and siblings, their friends and boyfriends – that left me amazed at how well I felt I knew these supporting characters after reading such short snippets of their thoughts and feelings.

When I turned the last page and closed this book I knew that Vix and Caitlin would live in my mind for a long time. They will remind me that what you see on the outside is not always what is inside. That people can rise above their circumstances or be mired down by them. That poverty can be a blessing and privilege can be a curse – life is what you make of it. And most importantly, that a friendship can be a saving grace, but only if you let it.

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Review: Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story

 

Save Me From Myself is a memoir best described by its subtitle: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story. Brian “Head” Welch, former lead guitarist of the heavy metal band Korn, recounts his past with a vulnerable honesty and easy-going sense of humor that makes for a very readable book.

I will admit that when a friend lent me this book, I was hesitant. The cover alone was a little off-putting and I’ve never heard a song by Korn in my life. Heavy metal has never held much appeal for me, other than a few Metallica songs that were so main stream they got playing time on pop stations.

Welch’s writing style is very down to earth. It feels like you’re having a conversation with him. His story is peppered with phrases particular to his generation and past lifestyle that lend an authenticity to his memoir. For example, he repeatedly refers to being high on methamphetamines as being “geeked out”.

Ultimately I’m glad I read Save Me from Myself. After reading the book, even my feelings about the cover photo changed; it is fitting to Welch’s past and his present. (Interestingly, most of those tattoos were received after he converted to Christianity and each has a special meaning to him.)

This memoir is truly a story of redemption, and a testament to the reality that the life behind the outward façade of celebrity is rarely what it seems to those of us looking in.

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