A & L Do Summer – Jan Blazanin

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After a year in rural Cottonwood Creek, Iowa, city girl Laurel is still adjusting to a place where parties take place in barns, guys ride around in pickup trucks, and a killer senior prank involves getting pigs into the principal’s office. Fortunately, she has her best friend Aspen on her side. The real problem is that neither the country girl nor the city slicker have boyfriends, nor any prospects for getting them. Clearly, they need to raise their profiles – and they have a summer to do it.

What’s interesting about this book’s description is that it sets you up for a completely different story. For me, I thought the story would focus on Laurel and her transition from city life to the country. At first I was confused and then pleasantly surprised when I realized this was Aspen’s story. A & L Do Summer focuses on the summer before Aspen and Laurel’s senior year of high school. Laurel wants to gain more notoriety before senior year, while Aspen just really wants a boy to be interested in her. She goes along with Laurel’s schemes until she finally realizes that instead of trying to fit her life into this perfect, stereotypical mould, she should just accept it for what it is in order to be truly happy.

Aspen and Laurel are the perfect duo. I particularly love Aspen’s sense of humor and her sarcastic wit. She is the perfect example of the semi-rebellious high school junior – someone extremely curious and willing to try new things, despite the consequences. Laurel could have easily fallen into the annoyingly beautiful, yet oddly unpopular stereotype always written into young adult novels – you know, the flawless best friend of the narrator meant to make the narrator more relatable – but she doesn’t. Instead, Laurel is hysterical and makes so many mistakes it’s hard not to feel bad for her most of the time. I like that she has the desire to be popular – honestly, it’s high school, and who doesn’t? – but she realizes the girls she considers “popular” are really just annoying and fake and that her friendship with Aspen is much more meaningful. Their friendship is so wonderfully captured in the pages of A & L Do Summer that I think everyone will find them relatable in some way.

The best thing about A & L Do Summer, though, is how realistic it is. The book is more focused on character development than plot, which I find refreshing. It reminds me of Phyllis Reynold Naylor’s Alice series, in that way. Essentially, these characters aren’t squeaky clean. They sneak out, drink, and even end up getting arrested (although in their small town, it’s more just to make an example of them than because they’re actually in trouble). Just when you think Aspen can’t possibly get into any more trouble, she does. And then she does again. And again. Her parents react just as any parents would and she faces a lot of consequences. But she also learns a lot about herself and about friendship in the process. It was a treat to read about someone making some of the same mistakes I have and I was able to laugh along with Aspen through most of them.

While I mentioned the story isn’t plot-heavy, there definitely is a plot. Aspen and Laurel face off against the villains of the story numerous times – three boys who gave me goose bumps. So creepy. I was probably more afraid of them than Aspen was. And of course there’s the love interest, Clay, who also happens to be Aspen’s brother’s best friend. Clay is a perfect gentleman – and his rugged good looks don’t hurt – but Aspen’s brother is the one who stole my heart. His relationship with Aspen is the perfect mix of verbal sparring, practical joking, and older-brother-heroics; he bails Aspen out of more than one sticky situation, making me wish he was my older brother. And despite their small fights and age difference, he makes it clear how much he cares about Aspen, especially at the end. It’s easy to see why Laurel has such a huge crush on him.

Basically, A & L Do Summer is the perfect summer read. Every girl will find something relatable about Aspen or Laurel and it’s impossible not to laugh at all the trouble they get into. I mean, walking a skunk around in a baby stroller? What’s not funny about that?

Pages: 275
Publication Date: May 2011
Publisher: Egmont USA
Challenge: N/A
Rating [rating: 4]

Teaser Quote: “The sun brings out his freckles and sparks the red highlights in his hair. ‘I wouldn’t say that. The first time I saw you, you were wrangling pigs. Nothing catches a farm boy’s attention like a girl who knows her way around livestock.’”

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