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REVIEW: A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger

Dear Ms. Keplinger,

I think you’re one of the more interesting contemporary YA authors to be published in recent years. There’s an authenticity to your narrative voice that’s difficult to match. Despite their flaws, I enjoyed your previous two novels, The DUFF and Shut Out, so I snatched up your latest without hesitation.

A Midsummer's Nightmare by Kody KeplingerWhitley is that girl from your high school. I’m sure we can all name one. She parties hard, drinks harder, and hooks up with guys one night and drops them the next day. High school graduation means a huge bash, and there she had a one-night stand with the host. But Whitley doesn’t do relationships so when the guy asks for her number the next morning, she brushes him off and flees before the situation can get any more awkward.

To be fair, there’s a reason Whitley’s in a rush. For the past several years, summer means spending time with her father. Because her mother got custody of Whitley when her parents divorced, she only gets the chance to see her father once a year. She can’t wait to see him again and spend quality time together before she heads off to college in the fall.

Unfortunately, her father has a surprise for her. He has a fiancee now – one he never bothered to mention. Even better, his fiancee comes with two children – one of whom was her one-night stand from the graduation party. Awkward. The last guy Whitley had sex with is going to be her future step-brother.

In short, the fun summer Whitley looked forward to has been ruined. Her father doesn’t have time for her, being wrapped up in his new family. His new home is in small-town suburbia, and they don’t take kindly to Whitley’s partying ways. It’s a recipe for disaster as her father’s inattention leads to her acting out in ugly ways.

I think A Midsummer’s Nightmare might be my favorite book of yours. Whitley is a prickly, difficult heroine with many realized and fleshed out flaws, but I think that’s what makes her compelling. Her voice rings so true. She’s angry and resentful about her family life. Neither of her parents had time for her. Her mother was bitter over the divorce and the reasons leading up to it, so most of her conversations with Whitley (when she did have them) involved bad-mouthing him and trying to turn her against him. Her father was immature and enamored with the idea of being a bachelor again that he didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of a teenaged daughter. This neglect left its mark. In my opinion, this was the strongest part of the book.

It was interesting to return to the setting of The DUFF. I liked seeing the town from another perspective. Having read your debut, I honestly never got the impression that Hamilton was such a small town, but Whitley’s viewpoint certainly convinced me otherwise. And yes, readers, Bianca and Wesley have cameos here. And Harrisonon plays an even bigger role, by insinuating himself into Whitley’s life as the best friend she never wanted.

As I’ve come to expect from your novels, there continues to be a feminist bent regarding teenaged girls’ sexuality. While I like the message, I found it to be preachy in your previous novels. In this book, however, I thought it was presented in a more organic and subtle fashion. The issue isn’t so much that Whitley hooks up with lots of guys. The problem is why and the effect it’s having on her.

I also appreciated the incorporation of the cyber bullying aspect. Bullying is such a huge topic these days, but cyber bullying on social media sites like Facebook still remains in that nebulous area. In the book, Whitley blows off the creation of the Facebook page designed to slut shame her but I liked that other characters acknowledged that its existence is a problem.

The relationship between Whitley and her future step-sister, Bailey, thrilled me. Bailey’s always wanted a big sister and while Whitley certainly never wanted a little sister, she’s quickly warming up to the idea. As for Nathan, I know some people will be put off by the idea of the love interest being the step-brother but I think it helps that the two of them met before the revelation. And to be honest, stranger things have happened. (And if I recall correctly, Clueless did this as well.) If you can get around that detail, I do genuinely believe Whitley and Nathan are good for each other.

As for things I didn’t care for as much? I thought Nathan’s reformed partying ways were a little too convenient. It took multiple attempts for Whitley to clean up her act. It somehow rang false that Nathan was able to do it in the span of a couple days. While I loved the inclusion of Harrison and his butting into Whitley’s life, I wish he hadn’t fallen into such a stereotypical gay best friend role. Don’t get me wrong. He was very three-dimensional but in the end, that’s all he was and now I kind of wish we’d get a book about him too.

I found A Midsummer’s Nightmare to be the strongest of your novels so far. While the heroine is challenging and can be difficult to like, I found that to be a big part of her charm. There’s a raw honesty to her emotions that resonated with me. If you can get around the romance involving the step-brother, I think readers who like contemporary YA will find a lot to like here. B+

My regards,
Jia

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

13 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:26:01

    And to be honest, stranger things have happened. (And if I recall correctly, Clueless did this as well.)

    Yep, you recall correctly. Something like this might bother me more if the step-siblings had grown up together but as you say it’s done here, it wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.

  2. Jane
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:27:30

    I agree. Sounds like I would enjoy this one. I have been reading a number of contemporary YA books of late.

  3. Sarah
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:28:51

    This is definitely my favorite of Keplinger’s books to date. Spot-on review Jia, as usual. I will say, I was creeped out by her dad and his role of “friend” rather than father, just because of the casual drinking environment he let Whitley live in. I still had reservations about whether he truly felt remorse for how he had acted towards her during her current summer too.

  4. JenM
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 12:31:08

    I rarely read YA because, well, I’m pretty far from that age group, and I didn’t enjoy being a teenager when I was one, so I have no desire to revisit it. However, this review really resonated with me. I like somewhat difficult lead characters, not those that are mean or bullying, but just characters with problems who are trying to overcome them. The step-brother thing doesn’t bother me at all. After all, she had no idea who he was, and I can just imagine what a nightmare that would be for her when she found out. Thanks, I’ll put this one on my wishlist.

  5. Elyssa
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 15:13:45

    Jane, I think you’d like her books.

    I really enjoyed Keplinger’s debut but didn’t read the second one (a modernized Lysistrata didn’t appeal to me). I really like her voice though–it does read very authentic and I love the feminist angle she employs in her writing. I’ll have to go get this one; the stepbrother angle doesn’t bother me thanks to Clueless.

  6. Stephanie Scott
    Jun 20, 2012 @ 16:59:03

    I was turned off by the premise of The Duff, but I kept hearing great things about the author’s books! This one might be a winner for me.

    And while the step-brother angle has an ick factor, in a world where divorce and step-siblings and half-siblings and different daddies are concerned, I think this at least has an angle on what’s going on out there.The twist here seems to be instead of focusing on the romantic tension after they meet (which absolutely happens) the encounter comes first before they knowof their connection. Smart move, Kody!

  7. Jia
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 09:43:23

    @Sarah: I agree about Whitley’s dad. He was a horrible parent for the majority of the book and while he did realize it at the end, it wasn’t quite enough.

  8. Brie
    Jun 21, 2012 @ 10:00:22

    Finished the book last night. I found it very entertaining, it even made me cry. The dad was terrible, I hated him and didn’t buy his lame excuse at the end. Also didn’t buy that the hero was supposed to be a party animal and it only takes him two days to reform and become a nerdy, perfect kid. But the good outweighs the bad and I loved how self-aware Whitley was. I liked it better than The DUFF. And like you, I hope Harrison gets his own book.

  9. Natalie
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 08:17:38

    The book is somewhat similar to Duff but I liked Duff better (maybe because I read it first). I felt the relationship didn’t get enough screentime, so to speak.

  10. Selene
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 08:50:34

    I was going to pick up this book after reading the review, but there appears to be geographic restrictions on the ebook. :-( (I posted a comment on the author’s blog asking if/when we can expect an ebook version available in Europe, but so far no reply…)

    Really wish more authors prioritized worldwide distribution–after all, it’s not as if new books had their contracts negotiated before ebooks even existed!

  11. Alina
    Aug 12, 2012 @ 19:11:31

    Thinking of picking it up now that I’m on a YA bend.

    The teenage step-sibling romance crops up quite a bit in shoujo manga, so I once asked my mom if she thought it was weird. Turns out, she actually knew a family where this happened! Mom and dad got married and then their grown children ended up getting married too – according to my mom, the family was actually pretty happy about this, it meant no new in-laws for anyone.

  12. Jia’s Best of 2012 List
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 10:01:09

    […] A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger (review) […]

  13. REVIEW: Secrets and Lies by Kody Keplinger
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 13:17:13

    […] second novella, “People Worth Knowing,” reunites us with Bailey, who we first met in A Midsummer’s Nightmare as the little sister of the book’s hero. Bailey is now in high school and on the cheerleading […]

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