My Father's Summers: A Daughter's Memoir

Overview

We saved things for him. My sister Patti saved whatever she could hold in her palm-rocks, pennies, bottle caps. With the pennies she planned to save enough to buy a plane ticket to go see him. How many pennies would it take? Photographs, report cards, jokes, songs, stories, we even saved Christmas. Long after my mother took down the tree, his gifts sat in the corner of the living room.

A beautifully crafted memoir from acclaimed author Kathi ...

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Overview

We saved things for him. My sister Patti saved whatever she could hold in her palm-rocks, pennies, bottle caps. With the pennies she planned to save enough to buy a plane ticket to go see him. How many pennies would it take? Photographs, report cards, jokes, songs, stories, we even saved Christmas. Long after my mother took down the tree, his gifts sat in the corner of the living room.

A beautifully crafted memoir from acclaimed author Kathi Appelt

Told in a series of eloquent prose poems, My Father's Summers is Kathi Appelt's memoir of coming-of-age in Houston, Texas. Without a wasted word, she recalls her faraway father, who is first halfway across the world in Arabia and then across town living a new life. For Kathi and her sisters, there are unknown stepbrothers, a stepmother who drinks gin and tonic for breakfast, and a painful awareness of their mother's loneliness.

By turns heartbreaking and achingly funny-through first kisses, best friends, accidental shootings, and all manner of pets-these poignant remembrances communicate the disappointment and the delight of growing up in a loving, imperfect family.

A series of prose poems describes the author's life while she was growing up in Houston, Texas, from her eleventh birthday in 1965 through her eighteenth in 1972, and beyond.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In poetic prose, Appelt incisively describes longing, lies, love, and happiness and unhappiness. Many entries run but a paragraph; others go onto a second page. A few are but a line or two. All are carefully modulated for maximum emotional punch, whether the focus is on a new toy or suicide. That punch is what makes this superbly unsettling memoir most suitable for young teens. . . .The entire package is plaintive, probing and powerful."—San Francisco Chronicle

"True to one young girl's viewpoint, the anguish and longing are also universal."—Booklist

"[T]his memoir may resonate with readers for whom missing someone has become a permanent condition."—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"The power of this bittersweet, small volume lies in its precise limning of how a child perceives and experiences the emotions of separation, divorce and stepfamilies. Appelt only gives us her side, but it is a pure and vivid one. . . . The brief vignettes illuminate like lightening in a darkened room."—Kirkus Reviews

"The memoir considers universal themes of growing up including crushes, friendships and love in some thought-provoking moments. . . ."—Publishers Weekly

"Nostalgia and longing waft through this spare collection of poetic vignettes. . . . Throughout the confusion of adult discord, there's a constant, the tight ties between a daughter and her father. The uplifting joys of a happy girlhood and the conflicting slide of loss are well balanced. Appelt uses historical events and black-and-white family photos to anchor the emotional timbre of her youth, and the nonlinear selections roll past like snapshots from a scrapbook. Unfolding in Houston, TX, this past might have been "anywhere USA." Appelt bridges the continent and the baby-boomer generation with heartfelt reflections."—School Library Journal

"What gives this memoir the ring of authenticity are not only the personal details but also those that capture the time period. Appelt does it so skillfully, weaving in tidbits such as her plastic swinger Polaroid camera, the television drama Dark Shadows, skirts that must touch the floor when kneeling."—VOYA

Publishers Weekly
This memoir told in brief chapters, often centered on a single image or event, reveals painful moments in Appelt's (Kissing Tennessee) growing-up years in Texas in the 1960s, before and after her parents' divorce. But like the snapshots that accompany the text, the chapters offer glimpses into her family life but do not add up to a complete portrait. For example, while the author emphasizes that during the summers spent with their father and his new family, "it was a good time to have sisters, to have each other," she never delineates her two younger sisters' personalities. Because the narrative sometimes moves forward, other times flashes back, readers may find it difficult to get a beat on the narrator herself. Often the childlike voice gives way to an adult perspective, which can distance the audience from the events. The author ably demonstrates the trauma accompanying neighbors' gossip about her parents' marriage, the challenges her father faces as his second wife, an alcoholic, becomes violent towards herself and him and her mother's eventual growth and rebirth. But readers never witness young Kathi's anger toward her father when he abandons the family; the mother's emotions, as reported here, and the father's actions as someone suffering but unable to express his emotions, seem more realistic and therefore more sympathetic. The memoir considers universal themes of growing up including crushes, friendships and love in some thought-provoking moments, but ultimately readers may wish the vignettes were consistently compelling. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Already the author of numerous picture books and several books for teens, Appelt chooses her own life and her relationship with her father as the subject of her latest book. She chronicles her adolescent years, growing up in Houston in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The central figure in her life was her father, and Appelt frames nearly every event from this context. Her father was often not physically present, and she keenly felt his absence when he worked overseas for months at a time. When he later divorced her mother and remarried, Appelt struggled with the loss. What gives this memoir the ring of authenticity are not only the personal details but also those that capture the time period. Appelt does it so skillfully, weaving in tidbits such as her plastic swinger Polaroid camera, the television drama Dark Shadows, skirts that must touch the floor when kneeling, fishnet tights, and Richard Nixon, transporting readers back four decades. With today's popular interest in anything retro, it should not be a problem for teen readers. The format of the book is prose poetry, a current trend in young adult literature, which will appeal to many teenage girls because it makes the book easy to read and gives the appearance of a diary. The entries are titled and of varying length. Some are only a line or two long, whereas others are more than a page. Scattered throughout are black-and-white school pictures of the author and other family photos, which further personalize her story. VOYA Codes 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Henry Holt, 197p.; Photos., Ages12 to 18.
—Kim Zach
Children's Literature
Every child who has lost a parent through either death, divorce, or emotional distance will relate to Appelt's heartfelt memoir. The story begins when her father leaves their home in Houston for a temporary job in Saudi Arabia. Appelt tracks family events without her father, such as her eleventh birthday, and the disappointment when he doesn't come home as planned. When her father finally returns, it is not to their family, but to another woman. Suddenly Appelt is navigating stepbrothers, a mother who drinks, and puberty. Limned in vignettes that appear to sit more solidly on the page than traditional free verse, Appelt's prose throbs with constant longing for her absent father. In the vignette "Sizes," the narrator compares her recent growth spurt to the description of clothing in a missing person: "Nothing I could wear when he left fit any more . . . What if it was me who turned up missing? Could he find me with these different clothes, these bigger feet, all this new skin and bone and hair?" Black and white photos lend a family album effect. The vignettes flip back and forth in time, which can be challenging for younger readers. But older junior high readers will slip into Appelt's story like dipping into a warm Texas lake on a summer night. 2004, Holt, Ages 12 up.
—Candice Ransom
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Nostalgia and longing waft through this spare collection of poetic vignettes. The selections capture a girl's life in the late 1960s and early '70s pitted by the pungent absence of her father, who is working for long stints in Arabia. He returns, but there's the larger distance of a dissolving marriage and establishment of a new family. Lyrical prose probes the heart, as in "Long Division": "-Then there were the three of us, sisters. All loving him. But there was a remainder. My mother still loved him too." Throughout the confusion of adult discord, there's a constant, the tight ties between a daughter and her father. The uplifting joys of a happy girlhood and the conflicting slide of loss are well balanced. Appelt uses historical events and black-and-white family photos to anchor the emotional timbre of her youth, and the nonlinear selections roll past like snapshots from a scrapbook. Unfolding in Houston, TX, this past might have been "anywhere USA." Appelt bridges the continent and the baby-boomer generation with heartfelt reflections. The question is whether today's readers will understand the fluid connection of these seemingly disjointed images. This may be one of those YA treasures especially suited for adults.-Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The power of this bittersweet, small volume lies in its precise limning of how a child perceives and experiences the emotions of separation, divorce, and stepfamilies. Appelt only gives us her side, but it is a pure and vivid one: her dad writing letters from Arabia, where he has worked for years; her dad coming home, but to another family, not hers with her mother and her sisters. The brief vignettes illuminate like lightning in a darkened room-not quite poetry, but too compressed to be prose, exactly. She spins her sentences from summers at her father's house to life at her mother's; from the time "before" when they believed he would come home, to the remembered present, when they knew he wouldn't. Most of this takes place during the 1960s, and historical and musical events track the period. Family photographs exactly reflect the passionate resonance of the text. (Memoir. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805073621
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • Publication date: 4/1/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathi Appelt is the author of many books for young readers. A graduate of Texas A&M University, she teaches writing to both children and adults. She lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their two sons.

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