Sunday, May 28, 2023

The First Magnificent Summer

Toalsen, R.L. The First Magnificent Summer
May 30, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In 1993, Victoria (who is tired of being called Tori) has to spend a month in Ohio with her father. She hasn't seen him for two years, since he walked out on her mother and younger siblings, Maggie and Jack. He's with Lisa and her daughter Annie now, and has a new baby, Devon. The trip starts okay. Tori gets to talk to Meemaw, who gives her some new journals and allows her to eat junk food, and Tori steels herself for dealing with her father. She won't complain or sulk, and she will impress him with her writing as well as the books she is reading (Virginia Wolff, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Dickens), and he will want to move back to Texas. The road trip across the US is hot and miserable; there's no entertainment, and her father packs bologna sandwiches, which are Victoria's least favorite food. They stop at her father's mother's house, which is okay, and at least provides her the space to deal with a personal emergency; she's gotten her period for the first time. Luckily, her mother has provided her with Womanhood Supplies, if not a lot of information about how long her period will last. Her father than drops a bombshell. He and Lisa are living in a trailer at a campground, and while Lisa and her children get to sleep in the camper, Victoria and her siblings have to sleep in a tent. There's a camp bathroom, so everything is just difficult. Her father provides experiences he thinks should be fun, like swimming, and is not nice when Victoria doesn't want to do them. He gets mad at her for constantly "scribbling" in her journal, and never has kind words to say. He's the kind of man who is even mean to the dog, Heidi. There's really no one for Victoria to turn to to get help, since he even listens in to her weekly calls to her mother. It's a tense and horrible summer which ends in her father finding and reading her journals, and being extremely angry. Finally, her mother and Meemaw retrieve the children. The author has a note at the end to children who might have a similar upbringing. 
Strengths: There are many kinds of child abuse, and Victoria's father probably wouldn't even acknowledge that his actions were problematic, especially 30 years ago, when parents were not overly concerned with children's feelings. His demeaning treatment of the children and dismissal of their feelings and needs is probably the most common kind of abuse that children experience. There have been several students this year who come to talk to me about parents who fight; I've never had to ask so many children if they feel safe and if I need to talk to someone for them. This is a particularly sticky situation, so it's good to see how Victoria deals with it. The summer setting is interesting and a bit jarring, since campgrounds have a presupposed atmosphere of fun and lightheartedness. This was definitely a sad and compelling read. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers will probably be more interested in the details of Victoria's period than I was, it did seem a bit odd that her mother had not given her a pamphlet of information along with the supplies. At least Lisa finally stepped in and provided some additional supplies, if not support.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Stoddard's Bea is for Blended or Lowell's The Road to After

I've read several books like this where families are living at campgrounds for a while, and it makes me remember that my family lived in our travel trailer for a month when we moved from Maryland to Ohio. My dad would go to his new job as an elementary principal while my mother, who had not found a teaching job for the coming year, stayed with us. I never asked my parents about it, but it was an odd time. We owned the travel trailer, so we couldn't have been that badly off, but there was a lot of odd tension over money until my mother got a job a couple of years later. I mention this just because this sort of experience does stick with even young children. 

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment