Books About Letters: "The Summer of Lost Letters"
Welcome back folks to the monthly series where I (Hello, Liz here) review a Book About...you guessed it, Letters! For August we are taking a look at the brand new 2021 release "The Summer of Lost Letters" (Razorbill) by Hannah Reynolds.
In 'The Summer of Lost Letters" a teenager named Abby comes across her recently deceased grandmother's love letters which detail a mysterious "E" in Nantucket. Abby knows that her grandmother left Germany at the age of 4 in 1939 and lived for some time in New York before marrying and raising Abby's mom and her aunts, but the rest is a mystery. Better left unexplored, thinks Abby's mom, but seventeen year old Abby can't let the letters go. So inspired by clues in the letters, Abby decides to spend her summer working in Cape Code to see if she can uncover more about her grandmother. By befriending a young man who may know more than he's letting on, Abby starts to learn more about the mysterious "E" and in the end, herself.
I won't beat around the bush: this is a quintessential Young Adult (YA) or New Adult (NA) feast for the letter lover. There's romance, letters, and enough teenage longing to light the many bonfires that Abby attends as part of her summer in the Cape. I inhaled this book. No, that's not right. I was consumed utterly and totally by this book. A delightful, quick read this well written and paced novel is a deep dive into the consuming passion of mysterious letters.
This book about letters feels like a real letter collector discovery story. There's twists, there's turns and there's a fabulous amount of perspective. Often times a book about letters lacks the depth; we've talked about it before, epistolatory novels can be used to tell a story way too fast and conveniently. But this book doesn't shy away from depth, perhaps a hint at the "Gen Z" that this YA/NA could appeal to.
In this passage, Abby and Noah (the aforementioned 'boy who may know more than he's letting on') are talking about her grandmother's letters. She's sent him the link (okay, pause to talk about how much I loved that Abby had a basically Google Drive of her O'Ma's letters, swoon!) and she's asking fundamentally what we strive to answer here at Flea Market Love Letters:
"When did letters stop being private and enter the public sphere? Historians read old diaries and letters all the time. Was it when the people connected to them had died? Was it if you, the reader had no connection? Or was it always an invasion of privacy?" (p. 237)
I mean, hello. "Read you, wrote you" much?
This book was a real treat from start to finish with a snappy writing style that had me zipping along. The setting and pacing is perfect with those few "zany" teenage moments (at one point Abby's swim trunks are lost to the ocean in front of her crush). There's real history of the Jewish community, which Reynolds talks about in her afterward, that fits snugly in the demanding narrative. There's a lot of ground Reynolds has to cover here -- teenage angst about college entrance, facts about Kindertransport from WW2, observations of wealth disparity and familial pressures abutting environmental issues, the history of Sephardic Jews in Portugal, etc. -- and she does it well.
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