The hardest thing about reviewing books is knowing that someone put a lot of time and energy into a book and what you’re doing it tearing apart their work. The thing about books or television or movies or anything is that it is all subjective.
The Year Without A Summer is the latest book from Arlene Mark. It’s a complicated story of two eighth graders , with different takes on life, school, and well, basically everything. It’s their journey and growth that propels the story, but it’s a story that takes on too much and forces the storyline along the way.
Explosive volcanic eruptions are cool, really, cool. They inject ash into the stratosphere and deflect the sun’s rays. When eighth grader Jamie Fulton learns that snow fell in June in his hometown because of an eruption on the other side of the world, he’s psyched! He could have snowboarded if he’d lived back in 1815 during the year without a summer.
Clara Montalvo, who recently arrived at Jamie’s school after surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, has a different take all this. She is astounded–and disturbed–by Jamie’s frenzied enthusiasm for what she considers an obvious disaster. The teens’ battling arguments cause science class disruption and create academic trouble: Jamie’s headed for a failing grade in science, and may not even graduate from eighth grade; Clara’s scholarship hopes are dashed. And school isn’t the only place where Jamie and Clara are facing hardship: as they quarrel whether natural disasters can be beneficial, their home lives are also unraveling. Uncertainty about Jamie’s wounded brother returning from Afghanistan and Clara’s unreachable father back in Puerto Rico forces the two vulnerable teens to share their worries and sadness. As their focus shifts from natural disasters to personal calamities to man-made climate changes, the teens take surprising steps that astonish them. Ultimately, through hard work and growing empathy for each other, as well as for their classmates’ distress over the climate change affecting their lives, Jamie and Clara empower themselves and the people they touch.”
Don’t get me wrong, Mark’s ideas were great – giving a story about family, the world, school – but the issue here is with the consistency in the characters. There is none.
If we look at the climate change aspect of the story, we’re getting valuable lessons in science, history, and what we can do to make a change in the world. She didn’t come across overly preachy or put things in ways that people couldn’t understand. She made science fun and relatable.
Ultimately the story was about more than climate change. It was about family and circumstance and the way that it all can change us. Adding the personal lives of these kids brought more to the story and we can definitely appreciate that aspect.
So what made it fall short for me? It’s the way that the growth of the characters doesn’t feel written in a way that they maintain their growth. At one moment they are giving us maturity and the next moment they are back to being kids and you realize that it’s just not something that feels natural. It’s the only time that the story feels forced.
Not to even mention that Clara and the government story line – that was just too fake. Too forced.
It’s because the story advocates activism that we stuck with it at all. It is not a bad book, it’s just not great. The story has potential, but definitely could have used another pass by the editor and author to fill in all of the plot holes.