The Summer Before Boys

by Nora Raleigh Baskin

ages: 10+

First sentence: “My Aunt Louisa, who is really my sister, snored like a machine with a broken part, a broken part that kept cycling around in a shuddering, sputtering rhythm.”

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Julia and Eliza are lots of things: the same age, aunt-niece (though it’s less complicated to say cousins), best friends. They’ve grown up together, spending summer weekends up at the mountain resort where Eliza’s father works. But this summer, the one before their seventh grade year, Julia is spending the entire summer living in the mountains with Eliza because Julia’s mother has been shipped to Iraq as part of the National Guard. It also happens to be the summer when Julia discovers boys; will she let them come between her and her best friend?

It’s a pretty simple premise for a book, but Raskin takes the premise, and exalts it to new levels, perfectly capturing the moment between girlhood and young womanhood, with all it’s anxieties and insecurities and hopes and tensions. She captures the first crush so heartbreakingly well; not to mention the balance a girl must find between the Boys and her own friends. Added to that is the worry and insecurities of Julia not only missing her mom, but concern that she might not make it back. In a very telling scene, Julia starts to freak out when seeing some dress military uniforms, wondering why the Army would come give her bad news at the resort at the same time fully expecting the worst, until she realizes that it’s all for a wedding. It’s heartbreaking, and oh, so real.

It’s a tender, sweet look at a wondrous time of change in a girl’s life.

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