Anna was best friends with Frankie and her brother, Matt, until all three are in a car accident in which Matt is killed. A year later, Anna and Frankie, struggling to get past Matt’s death, head to California with Frankie’s parents for a beach vacation, determined to have “the Absolute Best Summer Ever (A.B.S.E).” But Anna has a secret: her friendship with Matt had become an intense romance shortly before the accident, and she cannot determine “the statue of limitations on feeling guilty for cheating on a ghost.” Readers will be quickly drawn in and moved by the pain that strains Frankie’s family, which ultimately threatens the friends’ relationship. The plot takes too long to unfold, however, and teens might be surprised that the title’s premise (referring to a bet the girls make that “whoever get the most prospects—wins”) almost disappears among other plot points. Still, Ockler’s debut is often poetic (“I’ve replayed the events of that day a hundred thousand times, looking for clues. An alternate ending. The butterfly effect”) and the girls’ friendship authentic, making for a poignant summer read. Ages 12–up. (June)
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Anna has secretly been in love with Matt, the boy next door, since she was ten years old. On her fifteenth birthday, her repeated wish comes true and he kisses her. But they are afraid to tell Frankie, Matt's younger sister and Anna's forever best friend, fearing she will be hurt. Anna is troubled by not being able to share this important development with Frankie, but Matt insists he will tell Frankie while they are on summer vacation so he can make sure she is okay about it. Only summer vacation never comes that year because Matt suddenly dies from a previously unknown heart defect. This is a story of friends and families making their way back from a loss that each feels in their own way but often cannot always share with one another. Even though they cry together, Anna promised Matt that she would not tell Frankie about their relationship, and so she cannot grieve Matt as her lost love. Keeping the secret from Frankie is eating her up. Frankie goes off the deep end and starts lying and sneaking around. When summer rolls around the following year and Anna is invited to join the family on their annual trip to Zanzibar Bay in California, it seems to be an opportunity for healing and moving onor blowing everything apart. The characters are well developed and the dialog and plotting are credible. Readers will feel compassion for all concerned, even if Frankie is exasperating in her manic coping behavior. There is explicit discussion of sexual activity. This would be a useful discussion starter for teens dealing with the loss of a friend or family member. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Paula Brehm-Heeger
Anna Reiley has been best friends with Matt and his sister Francesca (Frankie) forever. A stolen kiss between Anna and Matt at Anna's fifteenth birthday party changes everything. The two begin a secret, whirlwind romance that ends a few weeks later when Matt suddenly dies on the eve of his family's annual trip to Zanzibar Bay, California. Plans for Matt to tell Frankie about the romance evaporate, leaving Anna to keep her promise to Matt that she would carry on their secret. Burdened by grief and guilt, Anna copes by writing in her journal and becoming Frankie's emotional caretaker. Frankie deals by becoming daring and wild. One year after Matt's death, Anna and Frankie travel to Zanzibar Bay where Frankie challenges Anna to meet twenty boys and to lose her virginity, something Frankie claims to have already done. Anna soon falls for a new boy, Sam and realizes that she must find a way to move past Matt's memory and help emotionally fragile Frankie to do the same. Ockler deftly combines the sadness of the situation and her characters with humor and lightness, as when Anna talks about the term "losing" one's virginity as being ridiculous, somehow implying that "I just cast it off somewhere between here and Monterey" or when Frankie constantly mixes up vocabulary words, yelling at her mother at one point for planning a "prepottemous" rather than a preposterous vacation. This humor along with several sweet and sensitively written love scenes will surely make this intelligent, heartfelt novel a favorite of many older middle school and high school girls. Reviewer: Paula Brehm-Heeger
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Matt and Francesca (Frankie) Perino and their neighbor Anna have been best friends since they were toddlers, but now Anna's feelings for Matt go beyond that. Then, on her 15th birthday, he kisses her. From that moment, their relationship flourishes-in private. Knowing Frankie will be upset, Matt wants to wait until his family goes on their annual summer vacation in Zanzibar Bay, CA, where he can talk to her alone. Anna promises to keep their secret. Tragically, Matt dies the night before they leave, and Anna mourns in secret while trying to save volatile Frankie from her grief and a never-ending streak of reckless behavior. One year later, Frankie and her parents return to Zanzibar Bay, taking Anna with them. Frankie declares that this summer Anna will lose her virginity. Anna is conflicted. Can she tell Frankie about Matt without breaking her promise to him? Does she risk getting involved with a new boy, Sam, or will that make her lose Matt all over again? Sex is regularly discussed, but never in explicit detail. The characters are richly developed; as the girls sneak out and meet boys, the differences in their personalities come through, and Frankie's parents' actions and reactions to their loss are well depicted. In the end, the lies that Anna and Frankie have told one another lead to an explosive confrontation. Often funny, this is a thoughtful, multilayered story about friendship, loss, and moving on.-Traci Glass, Eugene Public Library, OR
Anna and Matt were keeping their new romance confidential to spare the feelings of Matt's little sister, Frankie, who is also Anna's best friend. But when an undiagnosed heart condition cuts Matt's life tragically short, Anna is left with a huge secret that robs her of her right to mourn. Now a year later, Anna is accompanying Frankie and her parents on their annual summer trip, their first vacation without Matt. Extrovert Frankie has challenged Anna to flirt with at least 20 boys, one of whom may relieve her of her pesky virginity. But Anna's heart is still burdened by the confidence she refuses to break. Though Matt's character often seems too good to be true, that's precisely what makes him such a swoonworthy object in this sincere, romantic tearjerker. Readers will easily relate to Anna's authentically depicted feelings of lust, longing, shame and fear as she cautiously embarks on a new summer love. The perfect beach read for teens who enjoyed a good cry over Gayle Forman's If I Stay (2009) or Jenny Downham's Before I Die (2007). (Fiction. 13 & up)
"This is smoothly written and romantic as all get out....ideal for readers looking for romance salted with a bit of tears as well as a bit of sea air."
From the Publisher
"[A] sincere, romantic tearjerker. Readers will easily relate to Anna's authentically depicted feelings of lust, longing, shame and fear as she cautiously embarks on a new summer love."Kirkus Reviews"
This is smoothly written and romantic as all get out....ideal for readers looking for romance salted with a bit of tears as well as a bit of sea air."BCCB