How to Ruin a Summer Vacation

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation

4.6 74
by Simone Elkeles

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YALSA 2007 Teens’ Top Ten

"A breezy read." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Fresh, fun and fabulous! Guaranteed NOT to ruin your summer vacation!” —Mari Mancusi, author of Boys that Bite  

How To Ruin a Summer Vacation  

Moshav? What’s a

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YALSA 2007 Teens’ Top Ten

"A breezy read." —Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

“Fresh, fun and fabulous! Guaranteed NOT to ruin your summer vacation!” —Mari Mancusi, author of Boys that Bite  

How To Ruin a Summer Vacation  

Moshav? What’s a moshav? Is it “shopping mall” in Hebrew? I mean, from what Jessica was telling me, Israeli stores have the latest fashions from Europe. That black dress Jessica has is really awesome. I know I’d be selling out if I go with the Sperm Donor to a mall, but I keep thinking about all the great stuff I could bring back home. 

Unfortunately for 16-year-old Amy Nelson, “moshav” is not Hebrew for “shopping mall.” Not even close. Think goats, not Gucci. 

Going to Israel with her estranged Israeli father is the last thing Amy wants to do this summer. She’s got a serious grudge against her dad, a.k.a. “Sperm Donor,” for showing up so rarely in her life. Now he’s dragging her to a war zone to meet a family she’s never known, where she’ll probably be drafted into the army. At the very least, she’ll be stuck in a house with no AC and only one bathroom for seven people all summer—no best friend, no boyfriend, no shopping, no cell phone… 

Goodbye pride—hello Israel.

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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Brenna Shanks
When the Israeli grandmother she never knew about gets sick, sixteen-year-old Amy Nelson's biological father overturns her summer plans and drags her off to Israel. As the illegitimate daughter of a college affair, Amy realizes that her relationship with her father is rocky at best. Now it is goodbye tennis camp, best friend, and new boyfriend, and hello moshav, new family, and strange customs. Amy, somewhat spoiled and stubborn, wants nothing to do with her father or his homeland. Mine fields, soldiers toting machine guns, and a cousin determined to hate her do not encourage Amy to change her mind. Gradually her grandmother, father, and new friends win her over. A summer fling with a brooding nemesis turned thoughtful boyfriend helps move the story along. Although the lessons learned and final revelations are predictable, Amy's feisty attitude and penchant for drama keep the reader engaged. With just a touch of spice to the romance, this fast read is good for public and school libraries and will appeal to chick-lit readers who like a few serious issues tucked in with their fluff.
Amy Nelson, a spoiled 16-year-old who refers to her biological father (Ron) as "Sperm Donor" because he rarely calls and is never around, is about to spend a life-changing summer in Israel. Ron wants Amy to get to know her grandmother, who is sick. Given no other choice, Amy goes with Ron but makes it clear that she is doing so unenthusiastically. Ron tells Amy what to expect, but fails to tell her until the last possible moment that his entire family is unaware that Amy exists. As her time in Israel progresses, Amy often finds herself in self-inflicted embarrassing moments and on the outside of a tight-knit group of friends and family. If Amy can let down the wall she has built up around herself, she just may discover that she is not as alone as she thinks. Humor and subtle character development are featured; readers will at once like and hate Amy as her determined nature is revealed as both a flaw and a strength. With witty and telling chapter headings like "You can run from some problems, but then you get caught up in others," this book is sure to please readers looking for a fun read that also digs deeper into complex emotions. KLIATT Codes: S--Recommended for senior high school students. 2006, Llewelyn, Flux, 234p., $8.95.. Ages 15 to 18.
—Stephanie Squicciarini
VOYA - Jane Chen
The cover and the title are misleading, and I was happily surprised that the book was better than I expected. The plot deals with issues such as split families, religion, and loyalties. It is comical and entertaining, although a bit shallow at times. The tone is light-hearted. I would recommend it to girls who want a light read that does not require much brain activity, and who want to laugh.
VOYA - Ava Donaldson
How to Ruin My Teenage Life appears to be a typical pink read, full of shallow characters and a predictable plot. But as you read further, you find that although you can probably guess what is going to happen, the characters are not all that superficial and do in fact care about those around them. This book might not be all that different, but it is fun and upbeat, with an entertaining story line.
VOYA - Cindy Faughnan
Amy Barak is a Chicago teen who has moved in with her father because her mother has married and moved to the suburbs. She has two best friends and does well in school. She owns an endearing dog named Mutt who escapes or farts at the most inopportune moments. She met her boyfriend, Avi, while in Israel with her father. She calls him her non-boyfriend because of the distance between them, but she has high hopes for their relationship. She is in classes to convert to the Jewish religion. Then Amy uses her dad's credit card to sign him up for an online dating service, Amy's mom announces that she is pregnant, and a new boy, Nathan, moves into the apartment building. Amy must get a job to deal with the credit card fiasco, face becoming a big sister, and find a way to handle Nathan-something that is complicated by the unexpected arrival of Avi. This book has laugh-out-loud moments. Amy manages to mess up her life in very funny ways, attending dates that she set up for her father and interviewing prospective stepmothers, kissing Nathan in the elevator, being kissed by Nathan in front of the entire school cafeteria, and kidnapping Avi with plastic handcuffs to fix their relationship. Amy is an intelligent, caring character. Readers will be glad to see that she can handle relationships with both Avi and Nathan. Amy's thoughtfulness and depth raise this book above most of the chick-lit genre.
School Library Journal
Gr 8-10-Amy Nelson is a stereotypical spoiled teen who has stereotypical plans for her summer vacation: shopping, friends, boyfriend. Then, out of nowhere, her long-absent father calls to inform her that the grandmother whom she has never met is ill and that Amy needs to go to Israel to meet her. Before the teen can say, "But I'm not even Jewish!" she is on an Israeli moshav sharing a room with a cousin who hates her for being a spoiled American, lusting after a brooding older boy on the verge of his mandatory military service, and learning more than she ever thought possible about her faith, her family, their history, and their present. The characters are stock, and the lessons Amy learns are expected, but readers are still drawn into her story. The lightness of the narrative sometimes belies the depth of the topics on which it touches, but it is true to the manner in which many American teens would encounter these issues. Best for avid readers of realistic, high school dramedy.-Morgan Johnson-Doyle, Sierra High School, Colorado Springs, CO Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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Llewellyn Worldwide, LTD.
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Read an Excerpt

How does a relatively smart sixteen-year-old girl get stuck in a sucky situation she can’t get out of? Well, as I sit at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on a Monday afternoon during the one hour and forty-five minute delay, I think about the past twenty-four hours of my now messed-up life.

I was sitting in my room yesterday when my biological father, Ron, called. No, you don’t get it . . . Ron never calls. Well, unless it’s my birthday, and that was eight months ago.

You see, after their affair in college, my mom found out she was pregnant. She comes from money, and Ron . . . well, he doesn’t. Mom, with her parents pushing her along, told Ron it would be best if he didn’t have a big part in our lives. Boy, were they wrong. But the worst part is he gave up without even trying.

I know he puts money into an account for me. He also comes by to take me out to dinner for my birthdays. But so what? I want a father who’ll always be there for me.

He used to come around more, but I finally told him to leave me alone so my mom could find me a real dad. I didn’t really mean it; I guess I was just trying to test him. He failed miserably.

Well, the guy phones this time and tells my mom he wants to take me to Israel. Israel! You know, that little country in the Middle East that causes so much controversy. You don’t have to TiVo the news to know Israel is a hotbed of international hostility.

I know I’m off on a tangent, so let’s get back to what happened. My mom hands me the phone without so much as an “it’s your dad” or “it’s the guy who I had a one-night stand with, but never married” to warn me it was him.

I still remember what he said. “Hi, Amy. It’s Ron.”

“Who?” I answer.

I’m not trying to be a smartass, it just doesn’t register that the guy who gave me fifty percent of my genes is actually calling me.

“Ron . . . Ron Barak,” he says a bit louder and slower as if I’m a complete imbecile.

I freeze and end up saying nothing. Believe it or not, sometimes saying nothing actually works in my favor. I’ve learned this from years of practice. It makes people nervous and, well, better them than me. I huff loudly to let him know I’m still on the line.



“Um, I just wanted you to know dat your grandmudder is sick,” he says in his Israeli accent.

A faceless image of a small white-haired old lady who smells like baby powder and mildew, and whose life’s goal is baking chocolate chip cookies, briefly races across my mind.

“I didn’t know I had a grandmother,” I say, emphasizing the ‘th’ because Ron, like every other Israeli I’ve ever met, can’t say the ‘th’—that sound is not in their language.

My mom’s mom died shortly after I was born so I was one of those kids without a grandma. A pang of sorrow and self-pity from never knowing I had a grandma and now knowing she’s ‘sick’ makes me feel yucky. But I shove those feelings into the back of my head where they’re safe.

Ron clears his throat. “She lives in Israel and, uh, I’m going for the summer. I’d like to take you with me.”


“I’m not Jewish,” I blurt out.

A little sound, like one of pain, escapes from his mouth before he says, “You don’t have to be Jewish to go to Israel, Amy.”

And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know Israel is smack dab in the middle of a war zone. A war zone!

“Thanks for the offer, but I’m going to tennis camp this summer. Tell Grandma I hope she gets over her illness. Bye,” I say and hang up.

Wouldn’t you know it, not more than four seconds go by before the phone rings again. I know it’s Ron. A little ironic he’s hardly called twice in a year and here he is calling twice in a matter of seconds.

My mom picks up the phone in the living room. I try to listen through my bedroom door. I can’t hear much. Just mumble, mumble, mumble. After about forty long minutes she comes knocking at my door and tells me to pack for Israel.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Amy, you can’t avoid him forever. It’s not fair.”

Not fair? I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Excuse me, what’s not fair is that you two didn’t even try and live like parents. Don’t talk to me about fairness.”

I know I’m sixteen and should be over it by now, but I’m not. I never said I was perfect.

“Life isn’t simple, you’ll realize that when you’re older,” she says. “We’ve all made mistakes in the past, but it’s time to mend them. You’re going. It’s already settled.”

Panic starts to set in and I decide to take the guilt trip route.

“I’ll be killed. Unless that’s what you ultimately want—”

“Amy, stop the dramatics. He’s promised me he’ll keep you safe. It’ll be a great experience.”

I try for another two hours to get out of it, I really do. I should have known trying to argue with my mom would get me nothing except a sore throat.

I decide to call my best friend, Jessica. Supportive, understanding Jessica. “Hey, Amy, what’s up?” a cheery voice answers on the other end of the line. Gotta love caller ID.“

My parents decided to ruin my life,” I tell her.

“What do you mean ‘parents’? Ron called?”

“Oh, yeah, he called. And somehow he convinced my mom to cancel my summer plans so he could take me to Israel. Could you just die?”

“Um, you don’t really want to hear my opinion, Amy. Trust me.”

My eyebrows furrow as I slowly realize Jessica, my very dearest friend in the world, isn’t going to back me up one hundred and ten percent.

“It’s a war zone!” I say it slowly so she gets the full impact.

Is that a laugh I hear on the other end of the line?

“Are you kidding?” Jessica says. “Heck, my mom goes to Tel Aviv every year to go shopping. She says they have the clearest diamonds ever cut. You know the little black dress I love? She got it for me there. They have the best European styles and—”

“I need support here, Jess, not some crap about diamonds and clothes,” I say, cutting off her ‘Israel is all that’ speech. Jeez!“

Sorry. You’re right,” she says.

“Don’t you ever watch the news?”

“Sure, Israel has its share of problems. But my parents say a lot of what we see on TV is propaganda. Just don’t hang out at bus stops or go to coffee shops. Ron will keep you safe.”

“Ha,” I say.

“Are you mad at me?” Jess asks. “I could lie and tell you your life is ruined beyond repair. Would that make you feel better?”

Jessica is the only person who can make fun of me and get away with it. “You’re just a laugh a minute, Jess. You know I’d never get mad at you, you’re my BFF.”

Although what does it say about our friendship when my BFF has no problems sending me into a war zone?

Less than twenty-four hours later I’m sitting in the airport waiting for our El Al Israel Airlines flight to start boarding.

Looking around, I watch a guy in a dark suit as he crouches on the floor and examines the underside of each row of benches. If he finds a bomb, will he know how to disarm it?

I glance at my biological father, the almost non-existent man in my life, who’s reading the newspaper. He tried talking to me on the way to the airport. I cut him off by putting on my headphones and listening to my iPod.

As if he knows I’m staring at him, he puts his paper down and turns my way. His hair is short. It’s thick and dark, just like mine. I know if he’d grow it out it would be curly, too. As hard as it is, I straighten my curly hair every morning. I hate my hair.

My mom’s eyes are green, mine are blue. People say my eyes are such a bright blue they glow. I consider my eyes my best feature.

Unfortunately, the main thing I inherited from Mom is a big chest. Besides changing my hair, I’d like to have smaller boobs. When I play tennis, they get in the way. Have you ever tried a two-handed backhand with mongo boobs? They seriously should have handicaps in tennis for people with big chests.

When I get older maybe I’ll get a reduction. But Jessica said during a boob reduction the doctor removes your whole areola . . . you know, that pinky part in the middle of your boob, and then after they take out the excess boob they reattach the areola.

I don’t think I’d like my pinky parts detached at all.

As I think about detached areolas, I realize Ron is still looking at me. Although from the expression on his face he probably thinks I’m disgusted with him. I can’t possibly explain I’m thinking of what I’d actually look like with detached pinky parts.

Anyway, I’m still mad at him for bringing me on this stupid trip in the first place. Because of him, I had to drop out of tennis camp this summer. Which means I probably won’t make it on the high school team when tryouts start in the fall. I totally want to make the varsity team.

To make matters worse, Mitch, my boyfriend, won’t even know I’m gone. He went camping with his dad for a couple weeks on a ‘cell phone free’ vacation. It’s still a new relationship. If we’re not together the rest of the summer, he just might find someone else who will be there for him.

I don’t even know why Ron wants me to go with him. He doesn’t even like me. Mom probably wanted me out of the house so she could have privacy with her latest guy.

Her current boyfriend, Marc with a ‘c’, thinks he’s the one. As if. Doesn’t he realize once Mom meets someone bigger or better he’s out of the picture?

“I’m going to the bathroom,” I say to Ron.

I really don’t have to go, but I take my purse and walk down the hallway. When I get out of Ron’s line of vision, I take out my trusty cell phone and keep walking.

Mom got me the cell “for emergencies only.” I’m definitely feeling an emergency coming on.

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