Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: The Goodbye Summer by Crosby Bonsall (1979)

Allie, who lives with her widowed mom in a boarding house, hates endings and saying goodbye. She hates it when her mother makes her clean out her room and part with items she has had for years. She hates it when she begins spending time with a little baby in her neighborhood, and he moves away. And she hates the thought of having to say goodbye to anything else. When free-spirited aging actress Wanda Lenya takes a room in the boarding house, however, she begins to help Allie see that saying goodbye is not a tragedy, but just a natural part of life.

I have always known Crosby Bonsall as the author of easy readers such as The Case of the Hungry Stranger, The Day I Had to Play with My Sister, and Mine’s the Best, but it wasn’t until this book showed up at a local used book sale that I learned that she (yes, she) also wrote a novel! I’m disappointed that I didn’t know this sooner, as I think this book would have been a favorite had I discovered it in childhood. I was very much like Allie in terms of her fears about having to say goodbye, and I think this story would have been a help and a comfort.

If I had to describe this book in one word I would probably choose offbeat. Allie is not a typical kid, and her quirkiness permeates the entire story, making it a book for a very specific reader. Though there isn’t much to the plot - and the message is a bit cheesy and heavyhanded - there are many moments that stand out as memorable. Despite her strangeness, Allie comes across as very real, and her interactions with others, even the larger-than-life Ms. Lenya, ring true. Descriptions of Allie’s bedroom before her mother makes her clean it, and of the Independence Day celebration near the end of the book are especially delightful and stayed with me long after I finished the story.

The Goodbye Summer is similar in tone to Louise Fitzhugh’s books: Harriet the Spy, The Long Secret, and Sport (which was also published in 1979). Allie also reminds me somewhat of the misfit girls Ursula Nordstrom writes about in The Secret Language. It also makes a nice read-alike for Tara Altebrando’s contemporary middle grade novels, especially My Life in Dioramas.

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