For my second post for Queer YA Scrabble, I’m thrilled to talk to you about Jessica Verdi’s contemporary LGBT book The Summer I Wasn’t Me.
Lexi has a secret.
She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.
Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.
But sometimes love has its own path…
Since her dad passed away, Lexi has been grieving and her mother hasn’t quite been the same. Lexi has done her best to keep things normal at home but she is worried about her mom. When her mom finds out that Lexi is a lesbian, she talks to her church pastor and decides to send Lexi to a religious summer camp to cure Lexi of her homosexuality. Lexi’s mom couldn’t save her dad but she is invigorated by the project of saving Lexi, curing her. Lexi is grief-stricken and sees how much this would mean to her mother and how much it might mend her family so she agrees to spend two months trying to cure herself of who she is. She meets several other young people there and she sees the variety in situations for young LGB people. Some are proud to be who they are but have parents ashamed of them and so risk homelessness, others believe they are sinful or want to “get rid” of their sexuality.
There are so many themes in this book that I could spend hours talking about them all so I’m just going to focus on the few that I really loved. The main aspect for me was the theme of gender and gender roles when it comes to sexuality. Lexi came to the camp with an open mind, thinking maybe she was “sick” and could be “cured” but when she arrived she was asked to wear “gender-appropriate clothing” (read: pink! chaste!) and also recentre herself on doing “gender-appropriate activities” (read: cleaning! cooking!) and rethink her future (read: you want a job outside of the home? Nope!). In her mind, her attraction to girls doesn’t quite align with reversing her entire personality and life choices. The contradictions are only getting started. This is something that doesn’t get talked about much in YA and I loved how it was dealt with in the book.
One of the other aspects I liked was the focus on religion and its relationship with sexuality. It won’t be hard for you to imagine that this religious camp has pretty outdated ideas about sexuality and that homosexuality is a big sin. While some churches and other faiths have been changing the way they view sexual orientation, not all of them have and being branded as “sinful” or “the devil” and having to go through an exorcism is so shocking in this day and age. The book doesn’t shy away from the darkness and the violence that this type of camp engenders and the hypocrisy is obvious (how can you preach love and practise violence?!).
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. Lexi is a wonderful character and I loved following her through this summer when she’s trying to figure out who she is. The characters are full of doubts and make mistakes and feel oh-so-real and by the end of the story I was so happy to have met them all.
I read this book in one greedy afternoon and felt it was an essential read.
Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, and her dog. Visit her at jessicaverdi.com and follow her on Twitter @jessverdi.
Don’t forget to browse through the articles I’ve posted this weekend (all links in my intro post here) for the hidden letters to solve the anagram and to be in with a chance of winning the Team Griffin box (click here to enter!). All the letters have been posted now and the anagram to solve is LGBTQIA-related! Good luck!!
Tune in tomorrow morning for a guest review by Julia Ember of Liberty’s Fire by Lydia Syson!