McKinlay, Jenn. Summer Reading. Berkley, 2023. 480 pp. ISBN 9780593545720 $17.00
Chef Sam, summering at her family’s cottage on the Vineyard–think renovated but still working class Portuguese, not cottages like the Gyllenhalls or Kennedys have “cottages.” Passed over for a promotion in part due to the gender and in part due to disability (WHERE IS THE LAWSUIT???), Sam is home to regroup and lick her wounds. The timing is perfect, as she’s needed to keep an eye on her 14-year old half brother Tyler during her parent’s planned vacation to Europe. How hard can it be to keep a brilliant teenager fed and watered? Sam meets a hottie on the ferry and accidentally knocks his book into the water. Struggling with dyslexia, books are a challenge for Sam, but she does love stories, and fangirls over Stephen King and horror novels to her new crush, who she bumps into the next day while dropping her off at robotics camp at the public library. Turns out Ben is the interim library director. The cute, motorcycle-riding librarian is spending the summer trying to uncover the identity of his father and is sure he was conceived on Martha’s Vineyard. Opposites attract and he not only appreciates all of her workarounds, but helps her with new ones, from smutty romance novel read-alouds to scribing her dream cookbook. Sam lands a gig cooking happy hour cocktails and special events for a local business, and rediscovers the Martha’s Vineyard, making the Oak Bluffs setting come alive for readers.
I love Berkley romances, foodie novels, novels infused with cultural details, AND libraries, so not sure why this one isn’t resonating strongly with me. Something about this stream of consciousness style is amatuer and off-putting to my ear. It fits the voice of the character, an out-of-work chef with dyslexia and ADHD, pretty well, but the casual tone coupled with didactic intrusions to educate readers about dyslexia and ADHD detract from the narrative, like when Sam is pursuing a cooking magazine and stops to complain about the typeface, that lacks clear differentiation between b, d, and p for people with dyslexia (1 in 10 people have it, though the stat I’m familiar with as a librarian is 1 in 5). I don’t disagree that it’s an issue, or that it needs to change, I’m just not convinced this is this advocacy issue was handled as deftly as dyslexia in Spoiler Alert. Still, the author’s note is well-justified, and I appreciate that the publication favors bold instead of italics and a friendly font.
Sam is a well-rounded and absolutely brilliant character, and her growth as Ben helps her to see herself as he sees her helps her to squash her inner critic. The intimate scenes feel blow-by-blow wooden instead of intimate and passionate, but points for consent and protection. Many plot points feel very surface: a friend’s cancer scare and confrontation with her parent and pursuit of her own dreams, Sam’s not pursuing litigation for her previous boss’s illegal firing, Ben not confronting his infuriating mother on the page, and even the deepening sibling relationship between Tyler and Sam focuses on dance moves and handshakes, him trying some new foods, and quickly realized denouements with their mutual dad. The authentic recipes at the end are a nice touch, but if the cookbook had been a stronger element, there could have been more, and interspersed. Overall, I like the plot, setting and characters, but am not in love with the editing/execution of this one.
I received a free advance reader’s review copy of #SummerReading from #NetGalley