Ann Brashares is the author of the beloved young adult novel The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its sequels, so it’s not a surprise that in her first novel for grown-ups her adult characters seem reluctant to leave adolescence behind. In The Last Summer (of You and Me), recent college graduate Alice returns for yet another idyllic summer on Fire Island, only to discover that life, in its inevitable way, is moving out – with or without her.
Alice, her older sister Riley, and next-door neighbor Paul have grown up together, barefoot on the splintery boardwalks of the kind of resort town where nobody locks the door or carries a wallet. As a teen, Riley was the youngest of the lifeguards; now, at 24, she’s the oldest, still content to stare out over the ocean in the hopes of catching sight of a dolphin. Alice worries that both of them are aiming too low in the journey towards adulthood, hence Alice’s decision to go to law school, where she hopes she’ll learn to be a grown up.
Paul’s reaction to Alice’s plans is disappointment. He’s always wanted more for Alice, with whom he’s been in love as long as he can remember. To his surprise and delight, Alice reciprocates his affections, and, for a moment as fleeting as the midnight tide pools that so delight Alice, the past and the future converge.
When tragedy strikes, Alice finds herself filled with fear that she and Paul are betraying Riley by turning a threesome into a couple plus third wheel. Technically, Paul is Riley’s best friend, and they’ve always “shared” Alice as a little sister. For Alice to claim a greater stake in Paul than Riley is more than she feels entitled to allow herself.
While these are appealing characters grappling with real life issues, the plot of The Last Summer (of You and Me) founders upon a contrived plot point that diminishes the emotional depth of the story by emphasizing Alice’s essential passivity. As Alice withdraws from her life, the story itself seems to fade to gray, and the second half of the book founders.
Fans of Brashares (and they are legion, indeed) will forgive the book its flaws, and enjoy it for its considerable charms. In particular, Brashares is adept at conveying the nuances of being 22, grown up without knowing what that really means. She’s a beautiful writer, and her evocations of summer life on the ocean make it easy to understand why Alice, Paul, and Riley are finding it so hard to move on.