Summer Skin is not available to US readers unless they get the paperback from the Book Depository but the good news is that Ms. Eagar has recently announced it will be published in the US so that will change – but not until 2018 unfortunately.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.
The lesson: don’t mess with Unity girls.
The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess.
A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig – sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they’re at their most vulnerable?
It’s all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Summer Skin is a book which worked for me on a visceral level. There was something about the… vibe of it which bypassed my brain in some ways and got me straight in the feels. That’s not to say this is an entirely id vortex book. I don’t think it is. I’m just saying that if I were to examine the text and pull it apart, I could come up with all these things to say about how there wasn’t much to the relationship between Jess and Mitch. Summer Skin evokes that suffocating feeling of desperate want overlaid with the scary uncertainty of navigating a relationship where the ground under your feet is liable to shift at any time. It’s all there in between the words (h/t CS Pacat). So much of it was subtext and feel. I’m a reader who often doesn’t get subtle so I guess Kirsty Eagar is able to tap into the part of me which does.
Perhaps it is an Australian thing. There are some delightful scenes which are so inherently Aussie and have such a sense of place. The bit where Mitch and Jess play “classic catches” made me smile. I took such delight in seeing that familiar representation in a book. (There’s no doubt something there about diversity and privilege – I acknowledge I have loads of privilege but I think I understand in a new way why it is so important for diverse representation in fiction – not just at an intellectual level. It’s not like seeing classic catches represented on the page is actually anywhere near as important as seeing diverse representation of age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, ability. It’s strange what can be a lightbulb moment I suppose.)
I started to write that Summer Skin is a very different book to Raw Blue – but in thinking about it, I’m not sure it is entirely. There is certainly more fun and more joy in Summer Skin (I was grateful for it, Raw Blue gutted me while blowing me away at the same time) but at it’s heart, is a story of a traumatic event and the working out of it over the course of the book. What is the most different between the two books is that the trauma doesn’t happen to the heroine, in this case, Jess. It happens to a friend of Mitch’s and his complicated feelings of guilt surrounding it are at the core of his character arc. When I think about it critically I can get a little frustrated because so much of what was happening was about Mitch but I never had his point of view. I had to rely on his actions, described through the lens of Jess’s third person POV and his dialogue – dialogue that wasn’t always very expositional. While I could relate to the situation, being at a remove from his feelings did have the effect of reducing the impact of it on me as a reader. This is not something I’m complaining about – I don’t think I’m up for another Raw Blue. That was a special book too but I don’t think I could revisit it.
I waffled between thinking that Jess and Mitch felt very young for their ages (19ish) and thinking the depiction rang true. My experience at that age was very different – none of my friends were at university (neither was I); we were all working (or unemployed) so the dynamic was very different. Some of the things Jess and Mitch and their friends do felt like things we did when we were 15 or 16 but others, the feelings, felt extremely true to their age. Because I didn’t go to university, I had to go to my Twitter friends to explain the system of university and colleges depicted in the book. For those of us who didn’t have that experience, this is what you need to know: A “college” is a dormitory/house where students live and there are various “colleges” within a university. Each college will have a massive rivalry with the others but they are all part of the same campus. It’s not like the US experience at all, so if, like me, readers are only familiar with how it works in the US, it’s an entirely different context to get one’s head around.
What else? I liked Jess. That sounds like it’s not much but I really mean it. I felt like I knew her by the end of the book and I liked her. Mitch was harder to get to know and, at first, he is a real arsehole. Because the story is told through Jess’s lens I was able to see him through her eyes and she was perhaps more forgiving than I would have been in some areas. That said, I have dated a few arseholes in my time who looked pretty so I understood Jess’s somewhat reluctant (initially) attraction. Mitch did win me over in the end – he was delightfully awkward when he decided to go courting. And the kissing thing? Hilarious. I also loved Jess’s time spent cooking with Adrian, Mitch’s brother. That scene was brilliant.
I’m old so I didn’t know all of the music referenced in the book (and there was a lot of it) but even to me, the story had a definite sense of time and place. It could not be set anywhere. The Australian context is a rich vein flowing throughout the book.
Jess and her friends stand against slut shaming and there is a clear feminist view throughout the story. Other girls are not judged or shamed and Jess makes a particular point of making sure Mitch sees it too. It was refreshing and awesome.
Where the book dropped off from A to B+ was right at the end where there was just one too many of the separations which plagued Jess’s and Mitch’s relationship throughout the story. I understood it from a narrative perspective but it was there that the structure of the story intruded into my reading experience and enjoyment.
This is a romance, there is a HEA/HFN (they’re young after all) and I absolutely recommend it. It’s only a pity that is so hard to get outside the US and that 2018 is so far away.
KOBO AUSTRALIA BOOK DEPOSITORY