: : : Still Summer

About the Book

Guest Reviewer: Jodi PicoultFrom the provocative and gut-wrenching The Pact, to the brilliant genre-bending The Tenth Circle, to Nineteen Minutes, her most recent novel about a high-school shooting, Jodi Picoult's riveting novels center on family and relationships, and bring to light questions and issues that remain with a reader long after the last page is turned. In one of my novels, I describe life as what happens when the what-if's don't. In Jacquelyn Mitchard's book, Still Summer, we lucky readers get tumbled into a world where extraordinary things happen to ordinary women; where the what-if's don't only become a reality, but a nightmare that truly puts into perspective what's important in life, and who we truly are.

Mitchard has always excelled at capturing the details of a fictional character with such a finely drawn hand that it's easy to believe you know the people who inhabit her books--that you may have had coffee with them, or passed them on the street. Sometimes her characters are so real to me I have to close the book to cry; or I find myself yelling at them out loud. The ladies of Still Summer--a band of high-school friends who have long since grown up--base their connection to each other on the past, when they were tough-talking Catholic schoolgirls called the Godmothers. But where Tracy, Holly, and Janis went on to marry and live quiet suburban lives, Olivia became an Italian countess, living the kind of life the others could only dream about. Reunited for a Caribbean sailing voyage after Olivia's husband's death, we watch the women come to terms with the fact that our memories of the past are often colored by nostalgia; that friends who fit together seamlessly years ago might, with the passing of time, find it harder to align.

The book begins in familiar territory--women whose lives that are peppered with recalcitrant kids, clueless husbands, the double-handed shuffle of home and career. At the last minute, Janis begs out of the trip to tend to an ailing husband--leaving Tracy's daughter, Cammie, to take her place--in spite of the fact that the relationship between mother and daughter is rocky and cavernous. And then, just as suddenly as a rogue wind, the book takes a shocking turn--leaving these women in a crisis situation that leaves them not only fighting for their lives, but revising their own understanding of friendship, family, and loyalty.

What is it about a Mitchard novel that rises so far above others? The realism, the grace of the characters who people it, and the heartbreaking truths that sneak up on a reader when we least expect it. Still Summer reminds us that sometimes it takes a tragedy to learn what's beautiful about ordinary life; that sometimes we have to travel great distances to figure out how we define "home"; and perhaps most importantly, that we do not know anyone as well as we think--not our daughters, not our friends, and not even ourselves. --Jodi Picoult
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