After My True Love Gave to Me was greeted with critical praise and success, it’s no surprise that Stephanie Perkins is back editing another anthology featuring popular YA authors. This time around the stories all center around summer romances in Summer Days and Summer Nights.
With the exception of Perkins herself, every author is a new contributor. There is more diversity among the authors and a better split between men and women which makes this a more balanced collection in that respect. With several noted fantasy authors, Summer Days and Summer Nights also boasts some excellent speculative fiction.
Summer Days, Summer Nights is a lot of fun, but it is also more of a mixed bag for me (but I am a winter person and Christmas is my favorite holiday so I suspect I was always more inclined to favor My True Love Gave to Me just a bit more). Because of that I’m including thoughts on each story below instead of a more cohesive/generalized review.
Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo: This is an intense story–something I’m realizing is Bardugo’s signature–and an interesting choice to start the anthology. The writing is very atmospheric and almost reads like magic realism (I say almost because at the end of the day it is just straight fantasy). An eerie story that is a bit creepy and a bit romantic which seems fitting when it’s centered around a mysterious lake monster.
The End of Love by Nina Lacour: My first encounter with Lacour’s writing. This is a sweet story with two girls as the romantic leads. There is not much here to give Flora presence as a main character or narrator (perhaps intentionally because so much of what she goes through in this story revolves around how she relates to others?). BUT the story does have great atmosphere and really strongly depicted emotions.
Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray: Libba’s story is one of my top three favorites in the entire collection. Reading it made me really want to read Beauty Queens which has been languishing on my shelves forever. This story follows Kevin at the end of his high school career on his last night working at the Cinegore theater. It’s his last chance to ask his dream girl, Dani, out. Which is great and totally doable. Except, you know, everything goes wrong when they start showing the last copy of a cult classic horror movie in the theater. This story also includes two of my favorite quotes from the entire book: “Dress codes are basically fascism.” and “Maybe sometimes the best thing you can do is to burn it all down and start over.”
Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block: Block is not an author I would pick up for myself. Her style sometimes gets a bit too high-concept for my tastes. Such was the case here were all of the characters names are simply initials. Although this is not a fantasy it is still a bit . . . weird for reasons that are hard to explain in a paragraph. I will say that I really liked that that the main love here was self love in this story.
In Ninety Miles, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins: This story features Marigold and North (the characters from Stephanie’s Christmas story) and picks up the summer after they first meet. Of course this story was a lot of fun and super cute and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I when I already know and love Marigold and North? That said, I am not totally sure this story is as readable without knowing the background from their Christmas story.
Souvenirs by Tim Federle: I think it might just be Federle’s writing style (this is the first time I’ve read him) but this story is very frenetic. The prose took some getting used to before winning me over. This story follows Matty and Kieth who always knew their summer romance had an expiration day. Which is great. Except that on their self-selected breakup day, Matty is feeling decidedly ambivalent about the whole thing. Favorite quote: “But the thing about scars is that, as much as they knot you up, they make you stronger, too. Collect enough scars and you get a whole extra layer of skin, for free.”
Inertia by Veronica Roth: Full disclosure time: I’m not sure I’m really a fan of Roth’s writing style and I’m not sure it works for me. This story is okay but not a favorite and it is super melancholy (a recurring theme in the collection). Claire and Matthew were best friends until they grew apart months ago–largely due to Claire’s refusal to get help for her depression–so it’s strange and confusing when he chooses Claire as one of his last visits–a futuristic procedure that allows them to communicate in share memories before Matthew’s (highly probable) death. It’s a small nitpicky thing but the fact that a doctor in the story wears nail polish while getting ready for surgery and being a doctor really pulled me out of the story.
Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron: It has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Skovron and I’m sad to say this story did not bump him any higher on my mental to read list. This story is part romance and part comedy of errors as two jaded teens (who definitely, absolutely do not at all believe in love) work to bring two star-crossed couples together–and maybe change their own opinions on love in the process. While the narrator’s identity was a surprise, I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes so much reading a short story. Obviously the style here is intentional but why????
Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert: Another new to me author. Rashida’s cousin Audrey has been like a mother to her. So when Audrey announces she is moving across the country with her girlfriend, Rashida is understandably upset. She works through her conflicted feelings about the upcoming move with an unlikely confidante: The very cute younger brother of Audrey’s girlfriend. Although sad, this story is really well-written and engaging. Colbert also offers a thoughtful discussion about coping with depression (and why treatment is okay and not an admission of defeat) which is impressive for the relatively short length of the story. The story ends on a really nice, hopeful note and highlights a variety of relationships including inter-generational ones within a family.
Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare: Lulu Darke’s father has run the family’s Dark Carnival for years. When her father goes missing, Lulu is left to takeover and get to the bottom of her uncle’s seemingly spontaneous arrival and his insistence that the carnival needs a new–way more evil and scary–demon at its core.This story has nothing to do with Shadow Hunters which was actually a really nice surprise. Unlike a lot of the other stories, this one reads young (ironically since Lulu is one of the older heroines). While thin on character development and a bit messy, this story is atmospheric and quite fun–in a dark way what with the demons and all.
A Thousand Ways This Could Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith: Annie is happy to work with the younger kids at her summer camp job but she isn’t sure what to do to help the new boy, Noah, have a good time. He’s on the autism spectrum and everything she tries seems to end badly. When she gets to hang out with Griffin, her longtime crush, she is thrilled with his insights for helping Noah although she isn’t sure what to make of the varying levels of success on their dates. There are a thousand ways things could go wrong here. But, it turns out, sometimes that just means there are also a thousand ways for things to go right. This story is in my top three favorites of the entire collection (no surprise since I’m a longtime Jen E. Smith fan)! Now this is a summer story and more like what I wanted and expected from the rest of the collection.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman: When Mark realizes he’s been living through the exact same summer day for . . . quite a while . . . he starts to explore the limits of what he can do within a day. While there’s a lot of fun to be had, he’s incredibly relieved to find Margaret who is also aware of what’s happening. Although they don’t know how to fix the problem and get to a new day, at least not at first, they do embark on a project to find every tiny perfect moment that the day has to offer. This story is easily the best and my favorite of this collection. Perfect pacing. Perfect plot. Fantastic character development. I loved everything about this one and am hoping to read some of Grossman’s novels later this year.
As you can see, Summer Days and Summer Nights has some ups and downs for me in terms of quality and enjoyment (though again I think a lot of that is because I’m not a summer person per se). It’s funny seeing how much broader summer is in terms of genre and setting compared to the holiday stories collection which felt a bit more cohesive. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) a lot of these stories also revolved around breakups and had a generally melancholy tone.
Upon finishing Summer Day and Summer Nights I wanted to tear up my copy so that I could take each story and give it to the just-right reader for it. Recommended for readers who enjoy summer and short stories. A great introduction to some notable young adult authors and a fun way to explore a variety of genres for readers hoping to try something new.
You can also check out my Q & A with Stephanie Perkins to hear a little bit more about her experiences editing this anthology.
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*