American Summer

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Set in the nostalgic year of 1955, this touching novel reveals a unique kind of love between kindred spirits. It is told through the voice of 14-year-old Christy Banister, a sweet, slightly naïve young boy in need of guidance as he makes his way through adolescence. He has moved to Baltimore with his father, and as the new kid on the block in an isolated new neighborhood, Christy has few opportunities to make new friends.

At the start of the summer, Christy meets 23-year-old ...

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Set in the nostalgic year of 1955, this touching novel reveals a unique kind of love between kindred spirits. It is told through the voice of 14-year-old Christy Banister, a sweet, slightly naïve young boy in need of guidance as he makes his way through adolescence. He has moved to Baltimore with his father, and as the new kid on the block in an isolated new neighborhood, Christy has few opportunities to make new friends.

At the start of the summer, Christy meets 23-year-old Kathryn Slade. Once a beautiful young woman, Kathryn is now a quadriplegic after a battle with polio that nearly cost her life when she was 17. However, despite Kathryn's physical limitations, she and Christy develop a strong and intimate friendship.

As Christy struggles to grow up, he must learn to deal with the problems that usually beset a much older boy as he also confronts issues of sex and familial betrayal. Yet the friendship, wisdom and vitality bestowed by Kathryn serves as a guiding light. At the same time, Christy helps to give Kathryn new joy and six weeks of hope. Their summer ends with the ultimate victory of lives lived and loved.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Anyone who remembers the fearful summers before the Salk vaccine wiped out polio will relate to Deford's novel of the 1950s. Those who warm to stories in which appealing teenagers come of age will also find resonance here. The narrator, 14-year-old Christy Bannister, recently transplanted from Terre Haute, Ind., to Baltimore, rescues a lost dog from danger, then meets its owner, 23-year-old Kathryn Slade, a victim of polio, who is kept alive by an iron lung. Christy is having a tough time adjusting to his new surroundings, both in making new friends and in dealing with ethical problems involving his father, who is having an affair and also being blackmailed by his company's owner into firing a longtime employee. Kathryn provides the example he needs; she is cheerful and lives life as fully as her handicap allows. A serious swimmer before her illness, Kathryn offers to coach Christy in her pool, so he can compete in the annual Labor Day extravaganza. Christy has seen home movies of Kathryn when she was his age, and it's not difficult for him to imagine her as his girlfriend. They fulfill each other's needs as Kathryn requires a project to take her mind off her condition, while Christy desperately needs a friend and mentor. A subplot about Christy's 17-year-old sister, Sue, who is raped by a neighbor, serves more to demonstrate the mores of the 1950s than to enhance the plot. Still, Deford (The Other Adonis) manages to twang the heart strings without being maudlin or sentimental, while delivering two memorable characters. (Sept. 2) Forecast: An easy read for a day at the beach, this simply written story could also qualify as a bridge book for young adults. Sourcebooks plans a 35,000 first printing and six-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In the summer of 1954, Christy Bannister, 14, and Kathryn Slade, 23, forge a unique friendship. He has just moved into a new subdivision next to a wealthier neighborhood. Rescuing their puppy endears Christy to the Slades, whose daughter, once an accomplished athlete, now lives in an iron lung. Kathryn, who is wheeled every morning to her family's pool, decides to coach Christy so that he can compete in the boys' medley race held at the Slades' pool at the end of the summer. His older sister's romance with handsome, sophisticated Eddie ends in date rape by the pool, by chance witnessed by Kathryn, whose action helps salvage Sue's reputation. Christy's idyllic summer, ending in his victory in the race, is tempered by lessons about friendship, love, loneliness, honor, and forgiveness. The following spring, Kathryn's death adds the pain of loss to the lessons of his coming-of-age summer. Flashes of humor and the matter-of-fact viewpoint of a teenage boy keep this story from becoming maudlin or sad. The language of teens of the '50s is dead-on, and family life is deftly conveyed. However innocent the time may appear to today's readers, they will identify with the exhilaration and the pain of growing up, both movingly portrayed here.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Upper-crust Baltimore in 1955 is the dynamic setting of Deford's seventh (after The Other Adonis, 2001, etc.): an otherwise treacly coming-of-ager about a new boy in town who's befriended by a wealthy neighbor in an iron lung. For a time, Christy Bannister, 14, is the only child in the only house in Baltimore's newest (possibly first) subdivision, having just moved that summer from Indiana with his dad, the new president of a local enameling factory. While trying to build a newspaper route, he saves a mutt from becoming roadkill and is rewarded by being welcomed into the social-register family that owns the mutt, the Slades. A quick friendship blooms between Christy and Kathryn, a beauty struck down by polio at age 17 and now in her mid-20s, who, in her portable iron lung, spends her days by the side of the pool her parents built for her. She makes Christy feel at home; he in turn makes her feel almost like a teenager again. Although she can move no more than her head, she secretly (by teaching him the brand-new butterfly stroke) grooms him to win the summer-ending swimming race, a medley for those 16 and under that's to be held at the pool. The rest of Christy's family arrives midsummer, including Big Sis Sue, at 17 pining for the heartthrob she left behind in Indiana but soon enamored of Eddie, the Yalie older brother of one of Christy's poolmates, who is, in the local vernacular, "shoe." Eddie drops his suave manner one moonlit night by the pool, however, obliging both Christy and Kathryn to come to Sue's defense. But then Christy finds out that ol' Pop went too far himself while the family was away-and grows up fast. A story with an astute sense of the mores and tensions of a place.Unfortunately, the only really interesting characters are the bit players, seldom seen. First printing of 50,000; author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402200595
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 0.56 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 6.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Frank Deford
Frank Deford is a six-time National Sportswriter of the Year, Senior Contributing Editor at Sports Illustrated, commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and a correspondent on the HBO show RealSports with Bryant Gumbel. In addition to being the author of more than a dozen books, he has been elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters and has been awarded both an Emmy and a Peabody. Two of his books, Everybody's All-American and Alex: The Life of a Child, a memoir about his daughter who died of cystic fibrosis, have been made into movies. Sporting News describes Deford as "the most influential sports voice among members of the print media" and GQ simply calls him "the world's greatest sportswriter." Deford resides in Connecticut with his wife, Carol.
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Read an Excerpt

An American Summer

a novel


Sourcebooks Landmark

Copyright © 2002 Frank Deford.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-57071-992-6

April 13th, 1955

"Shortly after 10 A.M. tomorrow, the answer to the question mankind has been anxiously waiting for will be given." —front page, the New York Times, April 12th, 1955

The news from Michigan was so stunning that, at school, it was broadcast over the P.A. into all our classrooms: Dr. Salk's vaccine worked.

It worked. We were safe again. At our desks, we cheered as if the Orioles or the Colts had won a big game.

Outside, we could hear car horns honking and church bells chiming in celebration. We had conquered polio. That was always the way it was phrased: we, first person plural, and conquered—just as sure as hell as we were going to do to the communists next. Polio was now Exhibit A that we could not lose at anything, not for forever and a day.

There weren't many of us in any classroom who didn't know somebody who'd had polio, and most of us even knew somebody who'd taken the worst of it—paralysis or death. Anyway, you couldn't avoid polio then. The fight against polio was ongoing. It was marshaled by the March of Dimes, which had peppered little coin-slot containers in almost every corner of commerce. At amusement parks, they would actually park some poor polio patient in an iron lung right there on the arcade amidst the thrill rides and the games with the Marchof Dimes cannister next to it. We all gave, and we all thought: there but for the grace of God....

The March of Dimes was run by, significantly, the National Foundation. That was all: the National ... could there be any other foundation in our nation? Was there any other disease? Polio was different—even from what AIDS is now. After all, polio struck down children. Infantile paralysis. And it appeared capriciously, at random. Remember this, too: at that time we could go about, as we pleased, everywhere. Night or day, in the United States of America, we were safe. Doors were unlocked. Children didn't shoot one another. They didn't take drugs. They didn't even know drugs. Oh sure, there were the communists. But even as we climbed under our desks for Civil Defense drills, nobody ever seriously considered the possibility that the commies might dare actually drop an atom bomb on us. Come on, get real.

Only polio was the something else again. If we actually didn't any longer still have a president with polio, we did always have a beautiful poster child to remind us that nobody—not even the prettiest—was home free. This year, there were national poster child twins wearing gingham dresses above their braces. Polio Pointers for Parents were sent home from school, and regularly, there was the Mothers March on Polio. Fathers worked, mothers marched. Every summer, when the epidemic surged again, the newspapers would dutifully publish a daily tally of infections and deaths, just as they toted up a "holiday death toll" for automobile fatalities on the Fourth of July and Labor Day and such.

Of course, even if official reminders of the menace were everywhere, there was nothing like the personal drumroll our mothers kept up on the subject. For God's sake, Christy, don't ever go there, you might catch polio. Watch it—they just mowed the lawn there. So? Because why? Because polio. Don't you dare drink out of a water fountain. Are you crazy, Christy? You did what? Do you want to get polio?

Of course, I knew Mom was being ridiculous. That was because I was still a kid, and therefore, not unlike the United States, I was invincible and eternal. Only everybody else was a prime candidate for polio. But Mom, being a foolish grown-up, was unaware of this truth. Mom never missed a Mothers March on Polio. One year, when we still lived back in Terre Haute, she was even our neighborhood's chief Mother for the March.

Yet as blithe as I may have been about polio vis-à-vis me, I was certainly never unsympathetic about other people's polio. On this glorious day of deliverance, as soon as I got home from school, I ran to my bike and pedaled furiously over to Kathryn Slade's house so we could celebrate the good news together. I knew Dr. Salk's vaccine couldn't help her. I knew it was too late. But I couldn't imagine that here we had immunization, we had Dr. Salk's magic elixir—we had conquered!—and it couldn't do anything for Kathryn. At all. I had to believe the cure would come next. Soon, surely.

But however happy Kathryn was for the rest of us, she would not let me get too excited for her chances. She just shook her head ruefully. It was still one of the few things Kathryn could do as well as the rest of us: shake her head ruefully. And then, as quickly as she could, she changed the subject. "Just six more weeks, Christy," she said happily. "Memorial Day. My father still calls it Decoration Day. Anyway, Decoration Day or Memorial Day—just six more weeks 'til the Grand Opening."

That was when Kathryn's pool would be back in business. Early that Summer Before: 1954

The decision was made: I would join Pop in Baltimore as soon as school let out. I didn't want to go. Sue and Hughie were going to stay with Mom in Terre Haute until we could sell the house there. Actually, Mom had wanted Sue to be the one to go live with Pop. That certainly made more sense, inasmuch as Sue was a girl and therefore she knew how to cook and make beds and sew some, so she could help take care of Pop. Sue was seventeen, too, which meant she could drive, so she could even go to the market for Pop.

At that time, however, Sue was terribly in love with Danny Daugherty (and he with her). It was a romance of such longstanding that Pop even referred to Danny as "His Nibs"—although, of course, only out of Sue's hearing. But both Mom and Pop felt guilty about making Sue leave Terre Haute because she only had one more year left in high school, so he said, "Well, Cecelia, let Christy come. It'll be good for a father and son to camp out together. We'll go to ball games." The Orioles had just come to Baltimore that year from St. Louis. My father explained, "It's a big-league city now—and just when the Bannisters are going there."

"That's an omen," Mom replied. "Big league."

So Pop sat me down and explained what the plan was. "You will have four years before you even go off to college," he told me. "You will have all your best years in Baltimore. You'll make so many friends. Hell, soon you'll even forget Terre Haute."

That irritated the loyalist in me. "I will not either, Pop. I'll never forget Terre Haute."

"Hey, kiddo, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. You'll always be a Hoosier, Christy. But it will fade. Things fade in life. Eventually, even Danny will fade from your sister's life. But it is unfair that Sue won't have her senior year here. Why, I think she could even be prom queen. I think Sue's got prom queen written all over her."

"Yes, sir." As much as I hated to admit it myself, I had to begrudge Sue that. She was "pretty as a picture," according to all my parents' contemporaries, and she had "a great pair of jugs," according to my own contemporaries. Whatever, Danny Daugherty was one lucky guy, undeserving of her, I believed, even if His Nibs was the best player on the high school basketball team. Even now, when I think of my first appreciation of beauty—coming of age, sex division—I think first of my sister Sue and how perfectly glamorous she looked in 1954, the year we left for Baltimore.

Of course, at the time, you can be damn sure I never told her that.

The reason we were moving was because my father was going to become the president of a company. That was very exciting. In the abstract. My father, the president. But then, the honor meant we had to pick up and leave where I'd lived all my life, where we had our roots. Me, I would've preferred staying in Terre Haute and just telling everybody my father had had an offer to be a president. He had qualified to be president, but he had turned down the opportunity. I thought you could be just as impressed about my father that way without us all going somewhere else where he would actually be a president.

Mom never said it, but I'm sure she didn't want to go either. She was strictly midwestern and suspicious of the East. She was convinced it was overrun by communists back there. And she was just so settled. As Pop told me, "A man has his work, Christy. You could put me down in the middle of Bora-Bora, but as long as I had the plant to go to every day, I could still be happy. But it's different with a woman. Terre Haute's been your mother's home for almost twenty years and Indiana all her life. This is one big move for her."

Besides, it killed Mom that Sue couldn't be prom queen. Mom even asked Pop if Mr. Gardner, whose family owned the company in Baltimore—Gardco, it was called—couldn't just hold the job for a year. But Pop explained, "That isn't the way business works,


Excerpted from An American Summer by FRANK DEFORD. Copyright © 2002 by Frank Deford. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2005


    This is truly one of my favorite if not my actual favorite book. I read it last year and I still think of it often. I borrowed it from the library and now want to buy it to read again. I LOVED it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2003

    One of my all-time favorites

    I loved this book!! Frank Deford made these characters so special. I truly enjoyed the developement of Cheristy and Katherine's relationship. Growing up in the '50's, I could relate to much of the timeframe. This is an easy summer read, but not a light story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2003

    This is an awesome book.

    This is one of the most heartbreaking but heartwarming books. You will never forget this story. read, if you have any chance.

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