This book surprised me with its handling of grief, friendship, and love, but it left a few things to be desired.
Taylor Edwards’ family might not be the closest-knit—everyone is a little too busy and overscheduled—but for the most part, they get along just fine. Then Taylor’s dad gets devastating news, and her parents decide that the family will spend one last summer all together at their old lake house in the Pocono Mountains.
Crammed into a place much smaller and more rustic than they are used to, they begin to get to know each other again. And Taylor discovers that the people she thought she had left behind haven’t actually gone anywhere. Her former best friend is still around, as is her first boyfriend…and he’s much cuter at seventeen than he was at twelve.
As the summer progresses and the Edwards become more of a family, they’re more aware than ever that they’re battling a ticking clock. Sometimes, though, there is just enough time to get a second chance—with family, with friends, and with love.
After reading Since You’ve Been Gone last year, I knew that I had to read more of Morgan Matson’s novels. Second Chance Summer is definitely worth reading, but I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did with SYBG.
Second Chance Summer tells the story of Taylor as her family returns to her childhood lake house to have one last summer as a family before her father succumbs to his chronic illness. Her father wants his children to be able to enjoy their last summer with him. Taylor wants to do anything but return to the lake house, haunted by past mistakes.
I really related to Taylor’s character. She responds to any awkward, emotional, or confrontational situation by running away—a strategy whose consequences finally catch up to her at the lake house. She doesn’t know what to do with her free time, or how to face the fact that her father is dying. She just doesn’t want to face anything that this summer will bring, but of course, she has to.
I enjoyed the way that Matson wove flashbacks into the story, slowly shedding light on the summer five years ago that somehow left Taylor with a former best friend and an ex-boyfriend who hates her. The flashbacks never broke up the flow of the main story, and they did a good job characterizing Lucy (the ex BFF) and Henry (the ex BF).
I was pleasantly surprised when we finally found out what Taylor did to screw everything up. It fit her character well and wasn’t overly dramatic; it was realistic, while still explaining the lingering tensions between the characters.
Taylor’s dad’s illness dominates a lot of the plot of Second Chance Summer. By the end of the book, I felt like I should be mourning one of my own family members—that’s how palpably I felt Taylor’s grief. Thankfully, though, Second Chance Summer also made me laugh, and we get to see Taylor share happy moments with her father in spite of the depressing situation.
Most of all, Second Chance Summer is a book about personal growth. Over the course of the novel, Taylor learns how to interact with her father on an emotional level, something she hadn’t even realized she didn’t do until his diagnosis. She has to face the consequences of that fateful summer, but she deals with them well, bringing Lucy back into her life and finding a place for herself in the lake town.
Surprisingly for me, Second Chance Summer is light on romance. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Because the book isn’t dominated or driven by romance, Taylor’s personal growth feels natural and honest. It is refreshing to see a YA character discover themselves largely outside of the context of romance. Matson achieves a nice balance of romance to plot, still making sure that the book has some sweet moments without overshadowing the more poignant parts of the story.
However, because the romance is put on the back burner of the plot, it isn’t very satisfying or exciting. Most of the romantic build-up between Henry and Taylor happens in flashbacks when the characters first meet. The rekindling of their relationship begins in a series of awkward chance encounters that made for funny scenes but a poor foundation for a relationship. I believed that Taylor and Henry had feelings for each other and that they were a good couple, but I never got that excited, gut-tingling sensation that I expect from romances.
All in all, I wanted more from Second Chance Summer. I felt like Lucy’s character could have been given more depth, and Taylor’s relationship with Henry needed a little more “swooniness.”
If you’re looking for a toe-curling, awkwardly adorable romance, Second Chance Summer probably isn’t for you. But if you want to read a complex and touching story of personal growth during a time of loss, then this book will be perfect.