REVIEW: The Summer Girl by Elle Kennedy
Dear Elle Kennedy,
I’ve enjoyed your previous Avalon Bay books (Good Girl Complex and Bad Girl Reputation) but they had not quite lived up to the experience of books like The Deal for me. It’s the kind of reading high I’m always chasing and I’m pleased to say that The Summer Girl brings it. (So much so that I am currently happily falling down an Off Campus re-reading rabbit hole with no regrets.) This time the banter and the vibe and the plot all worked for me and I spent most all of the book in a happy reading daze.
Tate Bartlett gets “dumped” by Alana at the start of the book. (I put dumped in quotes because they’d had a casual FWB relationship and Alana decided to end it before either of them could potentially catch feelings. They’ve been friends for years and will remain so. Tate is not heartbroken.) Of course, Cassie Soul, who unfortunately is nearby and has no way not to overhear the late night beach conversation does not know that. She’s trying to sneak off without Tate realising she’s even been there when her phone buzzes with a text and the jig is up.
Before I can think of a witty response to his cute girl remark—or any response at all, really—my phone dings again. I glance down. Another text from Peyton. Followed by another one.
“Someone’s popular,” he teases.
“Um, yeah. I mean, no. It’s just my friend.” I grit my teeth. “She’s one of those annoying people who send, like, ten one-line messages instead of a single paragraph, so they just keep popping up and the phone dings over and over again until you want to smash it over their head. I hate that—don’t you hate that?”
His jaw drops. “Yes,” he says, with such sincerity I have to grin. He shakes his head. “I fucking hate that.”
Tate is not exactly a player but he has no trouble finding companionship as and when he wants it. He’s a one-woman-at-a-time kind of guy but he is not in the market for a relationship. He likes to keep things casual, friendly and respectful. His parents are nauseatingly in love and they have provided him with a very high standard to aspire to. Having not ever felt anything close to that, he doesn’t see the point in pretending.
Cassie is a student at Briar College in Boston (Briar!) and is in Avalon Bay for the summer visiting with her maternal grandmother, the former owner of the Beacon Hotel. Mackenzie Cabot will be reopening The Beacon at the end of the summer and grandma will be moving to Boston so it’s a last hurrah for the Tanner family. Cassie’s mother is in Boston and won’t be in Avalon Bay until the end of the summer, thankfully. Cassie’s mother is a narcissist who is constantly belittling and criticising Cassie. Cassie’s dad and his second wife live in Avalon Bay, in the house Cassie grew up in. They have twin girls who share Cassie’s birthday. Cassie will turn 21 over the summer, the girls will turn 6. Cassie feels estranged from her dad and usurped by his new family (much as she adores the girls and longs for a better relationship with her stepother), like she doesn’t really belong anywhere. More than anything, she longs for that sense of belonging and family she’s missing.
However, Cassie is more interested, this summer, in finding a fling and finally losing her virginity. The first guy she meets in the bay is Tate and he’s a very gorgeous specimen indeed. It’s difficult to imagine she will find anyone better.
Cassie and Tate are instantly attracted to one another but Tate is warned off Cassie by Mac because Cassie is exactly the kind of girl who will catch feelings and want those strings Tate is trying to avoid. He doesn’t want to hurt her. He genuinely likes her and wants to be her friend. Cassie is disappointed but likes Tate for himself and is happy to hang out with him platonically.
Cassie’s self-esteem has been severely damaged by her mother’s constant criticism about everything from what she wears, to how she looks, what she eats, and everything else in her life and by feeling distanced from her father. Her old bedroom is now shared by the twins and she feels excluded from his family. Her stepmother (never referred to as such) is distant and Cassie believes, not without reason, that she is unwelcome and unwanted at their house. Cassie finds it difficult to express her needs and wants openly, tending to go along to get along and to push her feelings down rather than risk a confrontation which could make things worse.
However, almost straight away with Tate, things are different. She tells him how she feels, what she wants and is open with him in a way she is only with her two best girl friends. She doesn’t get as tongue-tied around him the way she does with most guys. That said, Cassie tends to babble when she’s nervous and can’t help doing it when she first meets Tate. He finds it charming and amusing in the kind of way that you just know this pair belong together forever.
Tate and Cassie have a wonderful chemistry and camaraderie and their banter is everything I want in a romance novel. It’s snappy, funny and oh so entertaining. It put me in mind of Hannah (aka “Wellsy”) and Garrett from The Deal. In the same way that Garrett was a good guy, so too is Tate. Both characters are people I’d like to hang around (…if I was a bit younger than I am now because it would be weird otherwise). They’re the kind of people you just want good things for.
“You’re a ginger,” he accuses, his eyes twinkling. They’re a light blue, just as I suspected.
“Don’t paint me with that ginger brush,” I protest. “I’m a copper.”
“That’s not a real thing.”
“I’m a copper,” I insist. I grip my ponytail and hold it closer to his face. “See? Dark red. It’s practically brown!”
“Mmm-hmm. Keep telling yourself that, ginger.”
As it happens, Tate is house-sitting next door to Cassie’s grandmother’s house for the summer. Cassie is still trying to find some one to have a summer fling with but the most promising not-Tate candidate is a terrible kisser. The scenes where Tate is “coaching” Cassie in how to handle the tonsil-tickler to try and improve his technique without crushing his ego are fun but also, I think, educational (in a good way).
Cassie being right next door means proximity does its own work. Before long Tate has succumbed to “flinging” with Cassie and he’s happy as a clam. Cassie is determined to keep her promise to keep things to a summer romance only but over the weeks that follow their connection is such that both of them are thinking that the plan needs a review. Tate, for the first time ever, wants a capital R Relationship.
Unfortunately Cassie’s awful mother arrives early in the bay and she brings with her mountains of trouble and oceans of criticism. On Tate’s side of the equation, he finds out things about his family he wished he didn’t know. Tate has an opportunity of a lifetime to sail a boat from Miami to New Zealand but this puts him in conflict with his dad and a promise to look after the family boat business while his parents take a month’s holiday. Tate never wants to let his parents down – he describes himself as the child who suggested his own punishments after he confessed to wrongdoing as a kid – but there comes a time when Tate has to spread his own wings and not live to please his parents.
Between trouble with Cassie’s mother and Tate’s dad, it looks like the casualty will be their future and for a while things seem bleak. But this is a romance and of course everything turns out right in the end.
One of the things I loved about the entire Off Campus series (and its offshoots) was the banter between the friends; the hockey guys, the girls and their own group of friends. It’s present in the Avalon Bay series too but in The Summer Girl it shines more brightly. It gave me those feel-good vibes you do so well.
Our buddy Jordy and his reggae band play this venue most weekends, but they’re not here tonight. In their place is a metal outfit with a lead singer who’s scream-singing unintelligible lyrics as I sidle up to the boys.
Cooper, clad in a black T-shirt and ripped jeans, is sipping on a beer and wincing at the ungodly noises coming from the stage. His other half is nowhere to be found, and by that I mean Evan, his twin. Mackenzie would be his better half, the chick who got Cooper to smile more times in the last year than in all the years I’ve known him combined. Genuine smiles, too, and not the cocky smirks he’d flash right before we used to fuck shit up.
Chase is next to Coop, engrossed with his phone, while Danny listens to the band with a pained expression.
“These guys are awful,” I say, wondering who the hell decided to book them. The singer is now making strange breathing noises while the two guitarists whisper into their microphones. “Why are they whispering now?”
“Is he saying my skull is weeping?” Cooper demands, wrinkling his brow.
“No. It’s my soul is sleeping,” Danny tells him.
“It’s both,” Chase says without looking up from his phone. “My skull is weeping/my soul is sleeping. Those are the lyrics.”
Equally in The Summer Girl there are strong female friendships as well – Cassie’s good friend back in Boston and her local friend from her childhood, as well as the new friends she makes with Mac and Gen and their crew.
Right up until the last 5-10% of the book I was pretty much in my reading happy place. I didn’t love the ending (well, except for the very end because of course) – I had hoped to see some things on page which were all done off page – especially an important conversation Cassie was to have with her dad – and I got a bit grumpy with Tate’s mother at one point. Still, the bleak part doesn’t last long for readers and Tate and Cassie are happy and in love – where they belong – by the time THE END rolls around.
I gobbled up this book like the tastiest treat. I felt disappointed at the end only because the book had finished. The Summer Girl is of course a different book to The Deal or The Mistake or any of my other favourites of your books. But it has everything in it that makes it the best of Elle Kennedy’s stories. Readers who loved the Off Campus books will probably love The Summer Girl too. I know I did.