The Summer List
By Amy Mason Doan
Publisher: Harlequin / Graydon House
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Reviewed by Janga
Thirty-five-year-old Laura Christie is living in San Francisco, working as a graphic artist, and spending time with her only friends—her dog Jett (named for Joan Jett) and her eccentric boss Sam when she receives a mermaid-festooned invitation to spend a long week-end in late June in her hometown, Coeur-de-Lune, California. Laura left the small, lakeside town seventeen years ago and has never returned, but she has not forgotten Casey Shepherd, her best friend from high school and the ways Casey and her mother Alexandra changed Laura’s life. Still, some things are not easily forgiven. Laura plans to ignore the invitation that purports to come from Casey, but nineteen days later, she finds herself in Coeur-de-Lune.
Laura and Casey soon discover that Alex, an artist with a penchant for well-meaning interference, has sent each of them a note forged in the other’s handwriting, proposing a scavenger hunt like those that filled many an evening of their high school years. Clearly Alex’s purpose is to heal the breach between the former best friends, but it is less certain whether Laura and Casey will cooperate.
The two girls met the summer before their freshman year when Casey and her mom settled into The Shipwreck, a house that once served as a bunkhouse for the legendary Collier boys. Despite their many differences, the two girls become almost instant best friends. Laura, adopted as an infant by Ingrid and Bill Christie, an older couple who married late, is close to her father, who is a more understanding, more indulgent parent than her strict, ultra-religious mother with whom Laura has a relationship fraught with tensions. The friendship of the confident, red-haired Casey gives Laura a secure place in the high school social scene and frees her from the mean-girl bullying that made her dread school. Casey and Alex make Laura part of their family, and Laura envies Casey her easy, open relationship with her young mother, whom Casey describes as a “best friend.” The summer after graduation, life seems perfect. The girls have plans to share an apartment while Casey attends UCLA (where Laura’s boyfriend J.B. will be a grad student) and Laura attends California Institute of the Arts. Then Laura’s father dies, and when she seeks comfort in her grief, she overhears a scene that seems to her the ultimate betrayal. She leaves Coeur-de-Lune and everyone she loves, barely taking time to tell Casey that their plans will never be realized.
The scavenger hunt that Alex has organized, with some help from J. B., is designed to reawaken the memories that made Laura and Casey’s friendship special. It takes them to the lake where they spent hours swimming and kayaking, the skating rink where Laura first met J. B., and the restaurant where Casey first revealed her sexual orientation to Laura. The memories slowly erase the awkwardness between the two women, but before friendship can be fully restored, a tangle of secrets rooted in the past, a past stretching beyond the lifetimes of Casey and Laura, must be revealed.
The Summer List is Doan’s debut novel, and it is a winner. She reveals the past in segments, moving seamlessly between the visits the women pay to memory-laden sites and the scenes from their shared past (June 1995-August 1998) that created those memories. Also interwoven are bits of narrative from an unidentified girl telling her story. Because the primary point of view is Laura’s, all her unanswered questions and pieces of information that elude a meaningful pattern are also the reader’s questions and puzzles. The mystery unravels slowly, but eventually all the pieces fit. In fact, some readers may find the tying together of all the loose threads a bit too convenient.
The novel is essentially the story of mothers and daughters and of female friendships. It is in these relationships that the reader is most heavily invested, these characters who claim the larger part of the reader’s sympathies. However, Laura’s relationship with J. B. is also a significant thread and adds enough romance to the story to keep readers who demand romantic elements happy.
If you enjoy women’s fiction with believable characters, layered conflicts, poignant moments, and a touch of romance, I highly recommend this book. It is a stellar debut for Doan, and I am eager to see what is next from this talented writer.