The Summer We Came to Lifeby Deborah Cloyed
Every summer, Samantha Wheland joins her childhood friendsIsabel, Kendra and Minaon a vacation, somewhere exotic and fabulous. Together with their mixed bag of parents, they've created a lifetime of memories. This year it's a beach house in Honduras. But for the first time, their clan is not complete. Mina lost her battle against cancer six months ago,… See more details below
Every summer, Samantha Wheland joins her childhood friendsIsabel, Kendra and Minaon a vacation, somewhere exotic and fabulous. Together with their mixed bag of parents, they've created a lifetime of memories. This year it's a beach house in Honduras. But for the first time, their clan is not complete. Mina lost her battle against cancer six months ago, and the friends she left behind are still struggling to find their way forward without her.
For Samantha, the vacation just feels wrong without Mina. Despite being surrounded by her friendsthe closest thing she has to familyMina's death has left Sam a little lost. Unsure what direction her life should take. Fearful that whatever decision she makes about her wealthy French boyfriend's surprise proposal, it'll be the wrong one.
The answers aren't in the journal Mina gave Sam before she died. Or in the messages Sam believes Mina is sending as guideposts. Before the trip ends, the bonds of friendship with her living friends, the older generation's stories of love and loss, and Sam's glimpse into a world far removed from the one in which she belongs will convince her to trust her heart. And follow it.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.22(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.86(d)
Read an Excerpt
Birth and death are the two occurrences in a person's life that seem to say one thing: we are not the ones calling the shots. "The only consolations are love and best friends." That's what Mina told me two days before she died.
This much is trueJune 25, a Friday, in the summer of 2010, we were aliveme, Kendra and Isabeland Mina had been gone six months.
I was renting an apartment in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, until my "artist in residence" began at the university. It had been planned for a year. I remember thinking I would have to cancel it in order to spend time with Mina in her final days. But the doctor's estimates were generous, and her death left me instead with six months to wander or languish. I chose to wander, as per usual.
After the funeral and the long, unanchored days that followed, I took a friend up on an offer to stay with her in Paris. That's where I met Remy. Remy BadeauParisian bad-boy film director. I welcomed the whirlwind he provided with open arms. It distracted me from the pile of dead leaves I would have been otherwise.
Summer came faster than expected, like it always does. But for once, the surprise solstice wasn't gleeful.
For the first time since we were little girls, there would be no summer vacation with Isabel and Kendra and their mothers, Jesse and Lynette. Mina and I, both motherless, had struck a cozy balance with the mother-daughter pairs. And every summer the six of us took off for some exotic locale for a week of laughter and memory making. But now what would I be except a pathetic fifth wheel? It was bad enough going from a circle of four to a tottering triangle. Maybe if life had been sold to me as a tricycle, but I thought I'd bought an ATV. No more Mina, no more vacations. But wasn't my life like one big vacation, an escape from responsibility?
I already felt guilty enough about the laughing.
In the six months following the funeral, I was continually ashamed by my residual tendency to laugh. At the fruit stand. In the shower. On the metro. I'm the type that shares conspiratorial giggles with children. I flirt with old men. I laugh at myself when I stub my toe.
But grief hacks away at the soul, leaving only vestiges of your self behind. So every time I chuckled with Parisian strangers, I felt guilt like a dropkick to the sternum. It created many an awkward silence when my smile snuffed out, catching them in the laugh like a Peeping Tom in a flashbulb. Sometimes they shuddered as if a chill had found its way into the smoggy city. Then they looked at me with pity. Europeans are good at spotting the haunted.
So, that's when Remy proposed, when I was practicing not to laugh anymore. He proposed on the day before I left Honduras, in a hasty manner that smelled of panic, with a ring he said he would upgrade after my return.
I said yes, because saying no was too final, and had too many immediate consequences. I said yes because I wondered if it would fill me with genuine lingering laughter. I said yes to cloak the fact that I had failed to fulfill my best friend's dying request.
Now I had to figure out if I really intended to marry him.
So, on a Friday, June 25, I was roller-skating around my Tegucigalpa apartment, watching the sun set beyond the sliding glass doors, watching the golden light transform the grimy city into a shiny postcard. First thing I'd done when I arrived was move all the furniture into the bedrooms along with my rolled-up canvases and camera gear. The floors were just like a high school cafeteria, providing a flat expanse to soothe my bumpy thoughts.
Roller-skating was my therapy. You had to give the body something to entertain itself with so the mind could tackle all that metaphysical, esoteric, life-decision stuff bouncing around between the ear canals.
I was almost thirty. Why is it that just before thirty the carefree blur of your life stops and you hear an unfamiliar voice you identify as your grown-up self ask: Aren't you getting too old for this? And I don't think the voice was just talking about the roller-skating.
Hey, I was on the track to normalcy and respectable overachievement once upon a time. I graduated from Yale in Physics. Ask me how many of my classmates were lanky redheaded females. I had both feet pointed toward graduate school when I decided to spend six months backpacking Eastern Europe instead. I took a camera. Turns out I took to the artist/gypsy life like a baby to his first taste of sugar. Or like Isabel to social causes. Or Kendra to a six-figure salary in the fashion industry. Besides, Mina was the one meant to be an academic.
I rolled to a stop, near a gold journal on the floor. When the final diagnosis was in, Mina started three journals, one for each of the girls. Mine was a team effort, an earnest plan to contact each other after her death. I moved back in with my dad in the D.C. suburb where we all grew up, and stuck to Mina like Elmer's. My job was to compile all the physics translating everything I could find about consciousness and death into laymen's terms for Mina. Her entries came from the heart. We passed the journal back and forth between visits, and spent most every afternoon discussing, forming our plan. In this wayas the maple tree outside her window set its leaves on fire then shook them to the groundwe spent the days, the hours, and the last minutes of Mina's life like we'd spent the twenty-four years priorlaughing, crying, and together.
When she died, I read the journal over and over, obsessively trying all the ways we'd devised for me to contact her, with no results beyond excruciating sobbing fits. I felt silly and naive, totally unprepared for the weight of real grief.
In Paris, I eventually abandoned the rituals. And by Honduras, I'd begun to read the journal like the I Chingpose a question and flip to a random page for the answer. My questions varied from day to day. Where should I go next? Is it time to give up on my dreams? Why did you have to die?
I reached down and untied the roller skates. I picked up the journal and headed out to the balcony. "Isn't Gmail more practical?" I'd chided Mina, but she wanted something tangible, something that "would last." I touched the antiqued cover and had a vision of growing old with that journal, my arthritic hands resting atop the thinning pages. It gave me the chills. One deep breath and I placed my right hand flat like a plaintiff, squeezed shut my eyes, and added my voice to the din of Tegucigalpa:
"Mina, should I really marry Remy?"
When my thumb settled on a page, I opened my eyes.
October 17 Mina
Love is not inevitable, Samantha, like you seem to believe. It is a gift. It is the thing that wraps you up like a plush bathrobe to insulate you against cold, illness, and all of life's indecencies. It is the thing that makes you less naked in the mirror of reality. It blankets you. It warms you. It saves you. No, that last part is a lie. It doesn't save you. My father loved my mother from birth and she died anyway. And now me
Today, I planned to write about how grateful I am for the love you three have drenched me in. But I confess I am feeling sorry for myself instead.
And I am preoccupied with the question: Does love last?
Otherwise, how else would you describe what is left when a person dies and leaves you behind? Look at my father. I know you see him as cold and brittle, but that's because he hides inside himself, clinging to the embers of my mother's love.
He came into my room last night and fed me crumbs about her, tiny things really, but details I'd been begging for my whole lifehow she wore her hair, how she smelled, how she laughed. And when he went off to bed, I felt a warm buzzing cloud hanging in the room, just the same as when you and I laugh hysterically and then fall silent. It's love that hangs in the air, lingers in the world around us. Love is what lasts. But, maybe.
Maybe love is less of a gift and more of a distraction from an ugly truth: in the end we die alone. That is the truth, isn't it?
And it is the living's love for the dead that lingers, not the other way around.
So, when I die, I'm taking nothing with me, and leaving nothing behind.
Our "research" is going nowhere, right? It's all websites for crazies and desperate rich widows. I'm one of them, aren't I? Desperate to believe that somehow I can still enter a world I am unfairly being asked to exit.
P.S. Sam, I'm sorry. I'm never entirely myself after the chemo. Love is real and it's all there is. You love so much easier than the rest of us, and you're the easiest thing in the world to love. I'm sure you've got yourself a man and I'm sure he's wonderful. Don't get sidetracked by my bitter ramblings. Don't listen to Isabel's cynicism or Kendra's fairy-tale nonsense. Love isn't perfect, but it's all there is.
I snapped shut the journal and laugheda foreign sound in my ears. I kept laughing until my eyes watered with tears. Firmly, I told myself to simmer down; forced my ears to open to the sound of the traffic, the garble of one million people going doggedly about their lives below. I leaned over the rusty railing to peer down on the city.
Structures of every kindbody shops, gasolineras, pupu-serias, makeshift beauty salonsspread out and snaked around lumpy, haphazard neighborhoods. The poorest inhabitants got pushed up the sides of the mountains, where they'd built shantytowns out of scrap metal and concrete.
The shantytowns now ironically occupied the choicest real estate free of charge.
I smiled, but with the bitterness of orange rinds. I saw in the city a metaphor for much of how I'd lived my life. I saw good intentions and big dreams and spurts of real accomplishment. But I saw them all thwarted by sudden twists and setbacks, restlessness, and reckless jumps into uncharted territory.
I went inside to get my camera and tripod.
Click went the shutter, and I closed my eyes and listened to the city's soundtrack. Men cheered goals in open-air sports bars. Children played pickup games of kickball on dusty back roads. Mariachis cued up their first love songs of the night, unfazed by the harmonies of chickens and stray dogs. Click, and I opened my eyes.
My art combined photographs on canvas with drawings, oil paint and text. I'd had small shows in six major cities around the world, as I bounced about traveling, but never real, lasting success. My Artist Statement said I combined different mediums to "explore connections between nature, people and emotionlooking for meaning in synthesis." Right then My Life Statement would have branded me jumbled and disconnected.
"What if I'm losing it?" I asked the sun and the birds and the one million residents of Tegucigalpa.
And then my phone rang.
"No, Isabel, it would be like roller-skating over her grave."
I glanced down at my pink roller skates and regretted the comparison. But no way were we resurrecting the vacation club.
"Samantha, I need you. I already told my work I'm taking the time off. You have over a week till the residency. I looked at flights"
"No. I'm here anytime you need to talk to me. But I need to be alone."
There was a silence, a distinctly disapproving pause.
"Sam, what're you doing? Huh? You just disappeared on us. Paris? Honduras? And now you told a man you would marry hima man none of us have even met? I'm coming."
I dug my nails into my palm. "I don't want you to come. I know that makes me a jerk. But I need to think. And I can't just sit around and laugh and drink and make everything into a vacation. Not anymore."
"It's not like that. You need us"
"I'm sorry. I have to call you back."
I hung up my iPhone and sent it sailing across the gritty floor. Slumping down against the wall, my body slid in tandem with the tears.
I was losing it. And I didn't have to ask one million Hon-durans to know it.
Could Isabel really not get how abominable it would be to vacation without Mina? It wasn't the first time we'd broached the subject. After the funeral, when I was packing for France, I assumed it a nonissue, but both Kendra and Isabel mused about a summer trip in her memory, reminiscing how Mina always loved Paris. How could they not see it as a betrayal? Why didn't they understand that without Mina, everything was irrevocably different?
But I knew why.
I ran my fingers along my scalp and looked out at the night sky over my latest hometown. The stars were mostly obscuredby smog, by lights, by all the aggregate effects of human inhabitancejust like that night in Paris, the summer before we left for college.
Isabel's mother, Jesse, found a great apartment for rent in the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre, and we arrived in July to a charming albeit sweltering abode bearing fuzzy wallpaper.
We had a longstanding tradition for the first night, what we playfully called The Opening Ceremony. We cooked a meal together and christened our new temporary home with a night of dancing, storytelling and laughter. It was supposed to remind us that the traveling was important but the company was what really mattered.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >
The Summer We Came to Life is an unconventional view into the lives of best friends as they support and lean on one another through their fortunes and hardships. Through the eyes of gypsy artist Samantha, her two best friends, and their multicultural mix of parents, the book tackles the spectrum of love, grief, politics, and quantum physics, while still staying true to a summer book about best friends and the solace of laughter. Get ready to re-examine your own beliefs about social and political issues, while remembering life-changing obstacles you could have never surmounted without your best friends and family. This deeply emotional and spiritual story enlists you on Sam's journey of self-discovery (and other-worldly discovery!) after Mina's death. Meanwhile, it challenges you to think about your current life decisions, appreciate the importance of friendships, and examine the mourning and mystery involved with a loss of a loved one. The parents' stories from the 60's and 70's, all across the world, show how the defining factors of life - love, marriage, friendship, politics - differ and/or remain the same to the lives of those in previous generations. The author's unique blend of eloquent prose and academic exploration of faith vs, science lures you into exploring the never-ending question of what happens after death, but with heartfelt emotion and wonder that takes you on an adventure you never expected! A worthy read :)
Every year summer comes around and I look forward to lazy indulgent days by the pool with a good read. Well, this summer I already found a true winner! Categorized as women's fiction but so thrilled to find so much more than fluff in the pages of this amazing novel. As the main character Samantha along with her best friends Kendra and Isabel mourn the loss of their 4th, Mina, to cancer 6 months ago you journey into a profound story of friendship. But this story is also beautifully enriched with lives of their parents, pivotal moments in history such as the Iranian Revolution and Civil Rights, science, and the spiritual after life. At the age of 30, when faced with reflection about the future this book made me realize just how important my own friends are to me. HIGHLY recommend for a summer book club read!
The four friends spent many exotic summer vacations together since becoming BFFS as children. However, this year is different as Mina died after battling cancer. Shocked though expecting her buddy's demise, Samantha retreats to Honduras; followed by her remaining friends Isabel and Kendra, and their parents to help her grieve. Mina's journal fails to bring solace to any of the trio though the entries highlight their attempts at saving her via astrophysics. When Samantha suffers a near-death experience, she meets Mina's ghost who tries to comfort her. In a different universe, Samantha learns the relativity of perception as the eyes see what the mind allows. Bewildered, Samantha knows she must battle with her ghosts; just like her friends and their parents must do whether it is grief for the death of a loved one or survival of the Iranian revolution. This is not an easy read as Deborah Cloyed encourages her audience to never give up the fight for life regardless whether the reader is religious or science bent. The story line feels somewhat like a scattergram, but Samantha's journey of awareness keeps the tale focused on life after death. Harriet Klausner
Way to confusing for me and I usually like books that go back and forth- past to future. I had a hard time keepng the characters straight. Finally quit reading at page 50. May try to pick it up agan when I am desparate for something to read.
Review by Valerie: A story about friendship and all the ups and downs that childhood friends share as they grow older into adulthood. Two of the girls in the group have mothers that are willing to take them somewhere each and every summer. The other two girls don't have mothers, for different reasons, and are treated like family as they also travel along with their two friends. When one of the girls gets terminally ill, she starts a journal with each of the friends to document her final days and thoughts with them personally. Now, months later, she's gone. For Samantha, nothing in her life will ever be the same. She can't laugh without feeling guilty. Then, there's the fact that her French boyfriend proposed to her and she just couldn't say no, another reason she feels guilty. When she gets a call that the gang wants to schedule a vacation, she firmly tells them no! What could they be thinking, she wonders to herself. Yet they show up anyway - with extras. As the vacation gets underway, you really get to know the other characters. At times, each of them is given the chance to tell their story with bits of history woven in that is relevant to how they perceive the world. Samantha, for most of the story, feels a lot of pressure to figure out how to contact her dead best friend in the "other world." She simply can't believe that it isn't possible for them to connect across space and time. As she deals with the issue of closure that accompanies grief, the story takes an unusual, yet welcome, twist. By the end of the story, after all the trials and decisions the characters must face, you feel closure when the story ends and a very satisfying feeling that they will, indeed, be okay. Quote: "Could Isabel not really get how abominable it would be to vacation without Mina? It wasn't the first time we'd broached the subject." Page 18
The Summer We Came to Life by Deborah Cloyed in not what I expected when I picked it up. It is so much more. I originally thought it was a just a story about friends trying to move on after the death of their close friend, Mina. It is but it's also so much more. The first line of the book, "Birth and Death are the two occurrences in a person's life that seem to say one thing: we are not the one's calling the shots.", sets the tone for the entire novel. The story surrounds four friends: Samantha, Isabel, Kendra and Mina. They have been best friends since childhood. They're so different from each other yet their personalities complement one another. Isabel, Samantha and Kendra are morning the loss of their friend Mina. She passed away six months ago from cancer. In the past they've taken a trip every summer but this year, without Mina, it doesn't seem worth it. However their parents take charge and they set out on not only a vacation but also set out on a journey of self discovery. The Summer We Came to Life has great characters. Samantha has just gotten engaged, maybe. She has some tough decisions to make. She's also deeply missing Mina. We get to see Mina's character through flashbacks, memories and journal entries. She wrote each of her friends a journal with advice and encouragement for their lives. Isabel has just lost her job and she doesn't know what her next move should be. Kendra is a control freak who has her life planned out. She discovers that she's pregnant and it turns her world upside down. She has had some tough choices to make as well. Their parents: Jesse, Lynette, Cornell and Arshan come with them on their vacation. Together the parents try to impart their wisdom and life lessons on survival, courage and sacrifice. The plot was really good. This story is told through the different characters. I really like the flashbacks. It gives you an insight to the characters. I especially like the past recollections by the parents. Jesse, Lynette, Cornell and Arshan each have something to share with the girls of their past. The hardships that they endured help the girls to understand themselves more. Another interesting theme in this novel is answering the question, "What happens after we die?" Deborah Cloyed takes a stab at this question through Mina. This was an interesting aspect to the novel because this question is timeless. It's been asked since the beginning and will be asked until the end of time. Death can be a mystery in itself. Overall I really liked this book. I enjoyed the flashbacks and learning the histories of each character. This book will make you want to take a vacation with your best friends. This is a great summer read.
Too many parallel topics/dramas. It just did not seems believable. I think the author tried too hard to make this a buffet of genres that just didnt flow.
As of lately, I have been craving some good adult contemporary. Luckily enough for me, Deborah Cloyed's The Summer We Came perfectly feed to that craving with its flawed yet complex characters, well-developed storylines, and rich, detailed writing. Everything has been different for Kendra, Isabel, and Samantha since Mina, the fourth addition to their group, lost her battle with cancer six months ago. Each girl has a different way of dealing with the death. For Kendra, it means throwing herself into her high-powered job and dodging her own personal problems. For Isabel, it also means throwing herself into her work until she loses her job. For Samantha, it means running from country to country, falling in love with a wealthy French man, and looking for answers to life in the journals Mina left her. However, everything is about to change with summer approaching. Since childhood the girls along with Kendra's and Isabel's mothers have gone on some type of exotic vacation, but this year Mina won't be there for the first time ever. Samantha asks, or more accurately begs, to abandon this year's trip, saying it would be too hard, but soon enough all three girls plus Kendra's parents, Isabel's mother, and Mina's father are in the middle of Honduras. Looking for peace and forgiveness, each person will be faced with coming to term with Mina's demise and the secrets and struggles they have kept over the years. As I've mentioned countless times before what I love most about adult fiction is the intricate and complex characters that are often introduced. For The Summer We Came to Life, these characters were Kendra, Isabel, Samantha as well as the parental units. Each character presented was diverse, distinctive, and thoroughly likable. More importantly, their feelings over life and death were easy to relate to, especially when it came to the saying "life's consolations are love and best friends" that was always supported within the text. The plot of this book was another high point. The setting was spectacular because of the rich detail added that often made me feel like I was right there, enjoying this exotic location right along with the characters. I also enjoyed seeing the characters share their stories throughout the book, because they often addressed common social and religion issues for example in a non-preachy and interesting way. It's easy to say I learned a thing or two within this book! Deborah Cloyed's writing was also great for a debut author. I really enjoyed all the layers of detail she put into her characters and storylines as well as the way she seamlessly intermixed past and present invents with Mina and Samantha's journal entries. The only aspect of this book that brought it down a notch or two was a certain event that occurred towards the end. I won't say too much about it due to the fact I don't want to spoil anything. However, I will say it took a crazy turn, one that I wasn't expecting and didn't particularly enjoy. It was just odd and seemed out of place within the rest of the events in the novel. Even with that, The Summer We Came to Life is still a fantastic debut novel that I'm sure many will come to enjoy. All I can say now is I cannot wait to read more by Deborah! Grade: B+
I enjoyed the uniqueness of this book and was pleasantly surprised to find it not to be your typical boring bunch of gals on a vacation kind of book. Instead it is a mix of what was, what is and what could be all wrapped up into an interesting little package. While the main character and narrator Sam struggles with many things in her current life, her main concern are her feeling of disconnection. Something many of us artist struggle with. As a starving artist living alone in Honduras Sam's thoughts weigh in on her current relationship with her boyfriend and whether she should relinquish control and have someone else take care of her for a change. With the fresh wounds from the death of her friend Mina still lingering in the air, Sam struggles with feelings of wanting to be alone, when her friends decide they want to drop in on her life instantly for a vacation. Mina was not just a childhood friend, but Sam's best friend. Mina was the one Sam could relate to the most when it came to their group of four, her friendship soul-mate. The story takes an unexpected twist as you find out the planning and promises of Sam and Mina to contact each other after Mina's death. I love the time spent by the friends in Honduras and the indigenous village they visit, the dancing with the elders, like two dimensions intermingling. The parents who tag along on the vacation and their mix of culture and past experiences brings this book to life. The possibility of alternate dimensions intertwined into the story was another exciting twist that I liked. Whether Sam actually has an after death experience or it was just a hallucination, the point is clear. What matters most in our lives is that we all have the gift of free will and whatever your past or your culture may be true love is the act of being there for each other through life's good times and bad without judgement.
This book is AMAZING! Read it NOW!!! Cloyed's writing is powerful and lyrical, as it chronicles three best friends trying to make sense of their lives and futures in the wake of the death of their fourth musketeer. The depths this book plunges to are so unexpected - quantum physics theories alongside New Age writers like Deepak Chopra and the parents' heart-wrenching stories of the Iranian Revolution, Panama, and the heady days of Civil Rights. What I anticipated as a quick summer read ended up being a life changing experience. When I finished, I asked my own parents and aunts and uncles about their individual experiences of history and love, AND re-examined some of my own life path and choices. Every page teems with longing and searching, healing and surrender. Or laughter. The writer not only leads her protagonist Sam out of the depths of loss, but she teaches us how to live, trust, choose, and begin again.
The Summer We Came to Life is anything but typical and girlie. Rich and enchanting, it is unconventionally intellectual and weighty . . . while still being a great beach read! It delves right into real life personal issues women face today. Should Samantha really marry her French playboy boyfriend Remy? Samantha, like us women do, turns to her best friends for help. This in turn prompts the best friends' parents to weigh in with their own love stories in detail they'd never told their daughters. All of this soul searching centers around the recent death of Mina. When death strikes too early, loved ones naturally ask - how could this possibly be the end? The journals Mina and Samantha kept examine the possibility of multiple realities in a desperate attempt to communicate after death. This exploration of scientific theories adds a fresh perspective on coping with death and mourning. The novel also explores social and cultural issues of the Baby Boomer's generation - power and corruption during the Panamanian Revolution, the ideological terror of the Iranian Revolution, and brutal racism during Civil Rights in the South - reminding us that history books are really only the cliff notes of millions of very personal experiences. But for me, the greatest strength of the book is the enviable bond of Samantha and her best friends and her unlikely family. It's an interesting commentary on our times - that with single parents, broken families, and women delaying starting their own families - best friends and extended circles become our soul mates and tribes. Samantha describes her friendship with Mina as "happiness that bubbles between us like warm, oozing honey." A pretty good description of how I feel about this book!
Well, an interesting read. I would have to begin to say that there is a definite audience for this book - I just don't think I am it. A deep philosophical look at friendship, death and how those friendships shape who we are took me on a ride of like and dislike. I think after finishing it, I am on the side of the fence of not absolutely enjoying this one. Although, I love to read about women friendships and crave to hear about how we as women affect each other in good and bad ways - this book just didn't grab me and make me want to be a part of their circle. With death as a main focus, I continued to have negative thoughts. I didn't enjoy connecting the "other" world with the reality. Call me a realist, but I couldn't make the connection. Again, I think there will be some readers who will enjoy this one. I am just left with thoughts that this book was not for me.