(#28) Book Review: Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz

Over the course of four summers at his family’s beach house, Chase McGill grows up.  He falls in love, discovers sex and lust, and watches as his family changes and evolves in front of his eyes.  He and his siblings mark their lives by their summers, but as they grow up, their relationship to the beach house and to each other begins to change.

Hannah Moskowitz is still in college, and this is her second novel.  Setting aside my serious envy about that particular life achievement, there’s no doubt that she’s a talented writer.  The story she’s crafted here is a dark, complex, layered look at the slow disintegration of a family and what happens as a result.  Full of prose that is at times sparse and very often beautiful, this is a novel that is meant to be read slowly and savored.

Chase is a character who is torn between clinging to his childhood and the nostalgia he holds for the way his family once was while also racing towards adulthood.  In this way he eclipses his older brother Noah as the caretaker of the rest of their siblings, and he struggles with trying to be the glue that holds his family together.  As Chase grows up over the course of the four summers at the beach house, he realizes that despite his nickname “Everboy,” he cannot remain a child forever.

Moskowitz is at her strongest when exploring the family dynamics of the McGills.  It’s clear that Moskowitz is interested in dysfunctional families.  Everyone in the family has a problem, and the problem is making them pretty unhappy.  The misery of his parents is palpable.  Noah’s propensity to take off for days creates a tension both in the family and in the reader that lingers even after his abrupt, unexplained returns.  Little sister Claudia’s way-too-early sexualization and impatience to grow up seem to be ignored by nearly everyone.  Gideon is almost eight and despite being completely deaf, still doesn’t know how to read or sign properly.

As I said before, this is a dark story, and intuitive readers will be able to sense that bad things are going to happen to this family. Readers beware: things are going to get much, much worse before they get better.  It’s an emotional read, and the sense of  foreboding will follow you to the end.  While I was reading, I kept hoping for a happy ending, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case.  (I should have known, what with the way the characters kept quoting Camus all the time.)

There were several problems I had with the book.  Although Chase sounds like a teenager, I never really bought the fact that he was a teenage boy.  His relationship with his brother Noah, the way that he related to him and the way that he related to others and expressed his thoughts never quite worked for me, and I couldn’t help but feel like Chase was too much a product of Moskowitz’s own thought process to be completely natural.

While some reviewers have talked about struggling with the characters’ obsession with reading and quoting Camus, I don’t share that opinion.  I’m willing to overlook and even buy into an obsession like that because Camus was a gorgeous, melancholic writer, and because teenagers get obsessed about things like that.  Is it pretentious?  Of course.  Are they children playing at being adults?  Yes, obviously.  That’s part of youth.  For me, the Camus-laden paragraphs were a nice touch and added even more beauty and melancholy to the story.

What I struggled with was the fact that none of the characters were ever fully developed.  This was more frustrating than usual for me because Moskowitz obviously spent time developing these characters, we still never go deep enough into their minds and lives to better understand them.  Many of the actions of the characters didn’t make sense, and this made it harder for me to accept parts of the story, especially when it came to Chase and Noah both sleeping with Melinda (yeah, there’s an ick factor there).  Neither one of them seems to have a normal reaction to this, and that really, really bothered me.

Invincible Summer is not a simple beach read, despite what the (somewhat irritating) cover wants to tell you.  The novel is actually a complex family drama being marketed as a summer-romance angst-fest, which could actually do it a disservice.  Those looking for a fun, sexy read should look elsewhere, because this book is about as depressing as a Camus story.  However, it would be silly of me not to recommend picking up a copy of this when it hits shelves on April 19, because it’s a thought-provoking read that is going to sit with me for a long, long time.

Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz.  Simon Pulse: April 19, 2011. Digital Galley accepted for review from publisher.

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