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The Summer Before Boys

The Summer Before Boys

4.4 50
by Nora Raleigh Baskin

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“Vivid and moving. I loved it.” —Rebecca Stead, Newbery-winning author of When You Reach Me

Julia and Eliza are best friends, so when Julia’s mom is sent to serve in Iraq, it makes perfect sense for her to spend the summer with Eliza and her parents. Any other time, Julia would be thrilled to be there. But on top of


“Vivid and moving. I loved it.” —Rebecca Stead, Newbery-winning author of When You Reach Me

Julia and Eliza are best friends, so when Julia’s mom is sent to serve in Iraq, it makes perfect sense for her to spend the summer with Eliza and her parents. Any other time, Julia would be thrilled to be there. But on top of worrying about her mom, Julia develops her first real crush. The gap between Julia and Eliza keeps widening—until Eliza does something drastic to win back her best friend.

In her follow-up to the award-winning Anything But Typical, Nora Baskin Raleigh has written a powerful, touching story about friendship, first love, and how the people who are farthest away from us are sometimes the ones we need the most.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Julia and Eliza have grown up together as Eliza's mother, though 22 years older, is Julia's sister. The girls have been close friends and go to school together and, now that it's summer, Julia has moved in with her sister, brother-in-law, and Eliza because her mother is a nurse serving in Iraq. With her father working in another town, Julia is feeling untethered and worried about her mother, but the familiar resort where her brother-in-law works and where she and Eliza are part of the staff family is a reassuring place, full of traditions and known boundaries. Eliza is not quite ready for boys, and Julia's discovery of Michael, another child of staff their age, sets up the drama. The language is uneven, sometimes lyrical and sometimes plowing along. The premise that Julia, seeking attention, will want to be involved with boys before Eliza is realistic for 12-year-old girls. Of course, things go awry between them. Throughout the book, Julia's awareness of the danger her mother is in, the news and its impact, and how the adults seem to be oblivious to any possible concern are relayed. While better books are bound to be written to meet the need of children whose parent, especially a mother, is serving in the military, this one is useful to fill the gap. However, combining the discovery of the opposite sex with serious concerns about war, compounded by the unusual family dynamics, makes the book feel unfocused and less than satisfying.—Carol A. Edwards, Denver Public Library, CO
Publishers Weekly
The intimate tone and absent-mother theme found in several of Baskin's previous books (What Every Girl Knows; All We Know of Love) echo in this coming-of-age novel about the growing pains endured by Julia, the daughter of an American soldier. With her mother stationed in Iraq and her father working, Julia spends the summer with her "cousin" Eliza ("who is really my niece, but since we are both twelve years old that feels kind of stupid"). Growing up together, the two girls have always been best friends, but this summer Julia feels distanced from Eliza, not just because Eliza has a mother who is at home, but also because Julia suddenly finds herself more focused on boys than on the games of make-believe she and Eliza play at the hotel where Eliza's father works. When Julia develops a crush on the son of a hotel employee, the girls' friendship becomes even more strained. Baskin's wistful narrative carefully evokes the changes in Julia's life and attitude: Julia's uneasiness about new romantic feelings and her anxiety about her mother's safety ring true. Ages 9–12. (May)
From the Publisher
"A vivid and moving story about traveling the road between childhood and what comes next. I loved it."
--Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal-winning author of WHEN YOU REACH ME

“Perfectly captures the way a girl’s life can be suspended between the last days of childhood and the glimmerings of her first crush. The Summer Before Boys is a novel of great depth and tenderness.”
--Frances O’Roark Dowell, award-winning author of THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS

"An extraordinary novel explores the challenges faced by children whose parents have gone off to war.
. . . Baskin adeptly portrays Julia’s ambivalence and anxiety in this thoughtful tale that artfully brings the war to the homefront." - KIRKUS, April 15, 2011, *STAR

"Baskin perfectly captures friendship among girls on the edge of puberty, especially the way big dramas work out in small moments. . . . A poignant story of children on the homefront and the ways that a first love can break up longtime friendships and change things forever."
--Booklist, March 1, 2011

"Baskin covers this emotional territory with respect and honesty, allowing readers to see themselves in these complicated, yet likable, girls."
--The Horn Book Magazine

It is a rare story for kids of this age that treats such matters with straight-forwardness and without mushy and ridiculously high hormonal responses. This is not Twilight; it's a gentle story about two long-time friends and how they figure out who they are when one of them starts to see boys in a new light. There is a big adventure at the end, which ends up better than you would have thought when it started. There is no salacious gossipy junk to muddle up the story. Instead, Baskin writes real-life characters that kids will relate to, especially girls, and gives them a story they will take to heart because most readers will know that this is going to happen to them (or perhaps already has). It's a nice story about a normal part of the growing-up process, and readers and parents will appreciate Baskin's gentle but pointed storytelling techniques.

THE SUMMER BEFORE BOYS is highly recommended for a tween's bookshelf --- right alongside all those books about your changing body and relationships. There is no AAA map to guide one through the craziness of puberty, but books such as these and protagonists like Julia and Eliza will surely cast some helpful glow on the proceedings.

--- Reviewed by Jana Siciliano

Children's Literature - Danielle Williams
Everything changes so fast for children and the changes only speed up as they approach their teen years. For Julia, the summer before she turns thirteen is especially difficult. Forced to spend the summer with her half-sister and her niece while her mother is deployed to Iraq, Julia finds herself torn between wanting to be an adult and the safety found in childhood. Interspersed with facts about nurses who served during wartime, this coming of age story chronicles Julia's struggle to reconcile the changes in her life with what she believes her ideal life should be. Baskin presents a typical coming of age novel with slight twists that add tremendous depth to the story. Julia's worry about her mother, her desire to remain friends with Eliza, and her first crush on a boy engage the reader in Julia's story—upholding interest through the satisfying conclusion. Reviewer: Danielle Williams
Kirkus Reviews

An extraordinary novel explores the challenges faced by children whose parents have gone off to war.

When her mother's National Guard unit is deployed to Iraq, Julia spends her summer with her best friend and cousin, Eliza. The grounds of the century-old mountain lodge where Eliza's dad works is the perfect setting for Julia and Eliza's favorite childhood game, in which the girls pretend to be young ladies from the past. For years, their vivid imaginations transported them to another time. Now, though, while Eliza eagerly reenters this imaginary landscape, Julia discovers her mother's deployment keeps her firmly anchored in reality. The arrival of Michael, a child of another lodge employee, further strains the girls' relationship. Julia must decide where her loyalty lies: partnering Eliza in their imaginary world or with Michael. Interspersed throughout the narrative are Julia's accounts of American women who have died in wars throughout history. These poignant commentaries serve to illuminate Julia's anguish and uncertainty about her mother's safety.

Baskin adeptly portrays Julia's ambivalence and anxiety in this thoughtful tale that artfully brings the war to the homefront.(Fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
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File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


My Aunt Louisa, who is really my sister, snored like a machine with a broken part, a broken part that kept cycling around in a shuddering, sputtering rhythm.

“Whistle with me,” Eliza said into the dark.


We lay together in bed, in Eliza’s room that was really not a room, but a part of the den that had been sectioned off with a thin portable wall. Each night either Aunt Louisa, or Uncle Bruce, who is really my brother-in-law, pulled out “the wall,” like stretching an accordion as far as it would go. Then Eliza would yank her bed right out of the couch and we would both slip under the cool sheets and the thin cotton blanket.

It was summer.

The summer I spent living with Eliza, who is really my niece, but since we are both twelve years old that feels kind of stupid. So we just tell everyone we are cousins.

And it was the summer before boys.

“If you whistle, she stops snoring,” Eliza told me.


“Really. Watch.”

Mostly Eliza was my best friend. We both went to New Hope Middle School, but I lived in town, on Main Street. And Eliza lived way up here, right at the base of the Cayuga Mountain, right at the gatehouse entrance to the Mohawk Mountain Lodge. She lived at the foot of a magical place and now I got to live there too. For the whole summer.

Because my dad, who is technically Eliza’s grandfather, had to work.

And so there was no one home to watch me.

And because my mom got deployed to Iraq nine and a half months ago.

Eliza whistled one long, clear, unwavering note. It floated out of the perfect circle she made with her lips and into the air. Her whistle slipped right under “the wall” that didn’t quite touch the floor, or the ceiling, so that Eliza’s room was lit with flickering gray light from the television set left on all night. Her whistle carried through the den and into Aunt Louisa and Uncle Bruce’s bedroom.

And the snoring stopped, just like that.

“It worked!” I said.

“Every time.”

“Does it last?”

“For a little while.”

I poked my feet out of the bottom of our sheet and thin white cotton blanket, careful not to pull the covers from Eliza.

“I’m hot,” I said.

Eliza was already standing beside the bed, her bare feet on the wood floor. “Then let’s go outside,” she whispered to me.

Her white nightgown wrinkled and clung to her thighs—it was so sticky out—her scabby summer knees were showing. Her hair was sleepy, pulled from its ponytail so it poufed up around the back of her head and glowed like a halo in the unnatural light from the TV.

“What time is it?”

“Don’t you know? It’s time to go outside,” Eliza said. “Run!”

And we ran. I ran. Past the TV, past the bedroom door, into the kitchen and right onto the big crack in linoleum that pinched my big toe.

“Ouch,” I said.

“You’ve got to jump over that,” Eliza reminded me. “C’mon—”

We ran until we were flying.

Light elves, higher with each leap—onto the wet grass, into the hot summer night. We were the fairies that lived in the woods beyond the yard, hidden under the fallen trees, making homes of the leaves and twigs. Growing wings of glistening, glowing gossamer, as we felt ourselves lifted from the ground.

“Look at me,” Eliza said. She lifted her arms and twirled around. She threw back her head. The bottom of her nightgown unstuck from her legs and spun out around her.

“Look at me,” I said. And when I looked up I saw the sky, dotted with sparkling stars and a sliver of the moon that looked like someone had tried to erase it but couldn’t quite get it all. I arched my neck and turned around and around in place.

We spun until we couldn’t stand up and we both fell together, down the hill where Uncle Bruce parked his truck, and we lay there at the edge of the lawn to catch our breath. I was wearing a white nightgown identical to Eliza’s—worn and pilled. I picked off pieces of grass, one by one—looking so closely—and I could barely make out the faded kittens and puppies in the fabric. Little pink kittens and little blue puppies, when this nightgown must have been brand-new.

I wondered if Aunt Louisa had bought it, if she had bought two, thinking of me, one day, spending nights at her house. Had she ever thought her father would have another little girl, twenty-two years after she was born, with another wife who became another mother? Or maybe it was just another hand-me-down from a whole other mother to another little girl altogether that Aunt Louisa picked up from Goodwill when she found out I would be staying here for the summer.

“Tomorrow we can go up to the hotel,” Eliza said. “It’s check-in day. There’ll be a lot of people driving up. But Roger will pick us up for sure, if he sees us walking.”


“The van driver.”

“Oh, right.” I liked to pretend I belonged there too.

The mosquitoes began to smell our sweat, found our skin, and feasted. I scratched at my ankles and my left elbow and my forehead, but I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to keep looking at the moon, to memorize it and fill in the empty space.

What time is it?

Of course, I knew what time it was.

I always knew what time it was.

In Baghdad.

Or Ramadi. Or Tikrit. Or Fallujah. But my mother can’t tell me where she is. She calls and sends me e-mails, but she isn’t allowed to tell me where she is.

It’s morning time in Iraq right now.

I know what time it is.

My mother was probably getting up and making her bunk. And maybe eating breakfast already. She tells me she hates the powdered eggs, but they are okay with lots of ketchup.

She can’t see the moon at all anymore. The sun is shining now where she is and I think that right at this very second she might be thinking of me. And I wonder if she is as worried about her forgetting my face as I am about forgetting hers.

© 2011 Nora Raleigh Baskin

Meet the Author

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the ALA Schneider Family Book Award–winning author of Anything But Typical. She was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start for her novel What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, and has since written a number of novels for middle graders and teens, including The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah, The Summer Before Boys, and Ruby on the Outside. Nora lives with her family in Connecticut. Visit her at NoraBaskin.com.

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The Summer Before Boys 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
BlkosinerBookBlog More than 1 year ago
The Summer before boys captures perfectly the awkwardness and transition of age 12 to 13. It had a real childlike quality to it, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's short, and I'm not sure if it's classified as MG or not, but it's very clean. It does have some darker (not extremely dark, but...) issues. It's the first book I've read where a mom is in Iraq. She's dealing with this in the whole book, and I think that it's a noble and needed thing to talk about in contemps. (maybe dark isn't right word... just hard) I love the complicated family structure, it really adds to the authenticity, because in real life, families are almost always complicated in some way or another. The friendship between Julia and Eliza is dynamic, and I like to see what causes it to change and grow in different ways. It was a neat touch how they had their imaginary world and it was a form of bonding that helped them. This is a great summer book, and I recommend to give it a try.
l_manning More than 1 year ago
The Summer Before Boys was a couple stories in one. The first deals with the that time in life where we begin to lose our youth and become interested in things like boys. The other story is about the sacrifices that member of our Armed Forces and their families make during times of war and deployments. Both stories are intertwined in a simple and beautiful manner. Julia and Eliza are best friends and relatives. They love to read and pretend. They read the classics- Little Women and Little House On the Prairie. There is magic all around them as they imagine the lives of these characters and create there own. However, at 12 years old, things are beginning to change for Julia at least. Sometimes she can't see the same things Eliza sees. Julia's also begun to notice boys. One boy in particular. This change threatens to tear Julia and Eliza apart. The other part of the story is the part that touched me the most. Julia's mom is serving as a nurse in Iraq. The current summer near the end of her deployment is mixed in with flashbacks to the past year, when Julia and another student were sent to special counciling for students with deployed parents. The worry and longing for her mother's safe return is so strong. Nora Raleigh Baskin did a particularly good job in describing what it's like to have a parent serving in the military far away from home. It was a wonderful reminder of what the families of our men and women in uniform must go through not only while their loved ones are away, but also how different things can be when they come back. I found this book to be so moving and real. I understood these girls. I was always reading the same books as they did. I could see myself in their shoes. I also appreciated the harsh realities of war and having a mom so far away. Julia went through so many emotions while her mom was gone, and I felt them right along with her. I think everyone should read this to really understand what kind of things the families of our service members can go through. The worry of not knowing if your loved one is safe. The agony of missing a simple phone call because you never know when you may get another. I ended the book with a heart for of thankfulness for both our service men and women and their families. This was such a good book, and I hope everyone will read it. Galley provided by publisher for review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got te book at a book fair not on my nook and so far it is super good just like the first few chapter i highly recommend this book
BooksWithBite More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great coming age story with lots of life lessons in it. Boys, school, family. Everything that you grow up with and come to learn. What I like most about this book was how it talk about the war and how it effected her. Julia grows up so fast and so much just over the summer. Her mother has been over seas for the war and Julia is alone with her father which forces her to do things on her own. Julia is a very smart, bright girl. And even thought she made mistakes, I loved how real she was. She does her best to go to school and spend time with her friends, but you can see the pain of not having her mother there in her feelings. There aren't a lot of books that talks about the war with kids in them. I love how well Ms. Baskin got into the mind of a pre-teen dealing with the hurt, anger, and separation of parent. At times, Julia needed her mother badly. She needed that guidance and counsel that only a mother can give. I especially love all the stupid stuff that they giggled at. Boys, and spelling names wrong. This book is great for girls just coming into the their teens. Its had a lot of real like issues that anyone can relate to. The Summer Before Boys is a great story filled with lots of feelings that flow right off the pages. It simply adorable and a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ok savysweets. The book was based on her pre teen stuff. It is based on real facts on what happened
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in like one day!!! I couldn't put it down... Im 11 yrs old but i read at a 12 grade level. This was like a vaca book. Highly recomended to 10-16 yr olds.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just bought the book at my school book fair, and i started reading it and i cant stop, it is a really good book, you must read it!!!!!!!!!!:)smile:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i didnt like this book. you cant tell the difference between wat happened in the past and what was happening in the present. these 12 year old girls liked to make up games and you couldnt tell wat was real or make believe, some of the characters couldnt even tell wat was real or not, specifically Eliza. i wouldnt waste the money on this book, if you rele rele want to read it check it out at your public library. its a short book with short chapters but dont think its a quick read, it is very confusing like i said. the author is known for books for the audience of kids and teens, and let me tell you, this is not a teen book, it is too easy to read and teens will get bored with it. these characters are 12 yrs old, and thats probably the right target audience, maybe even 10 or 11 too. please, please, please dont waste your money on this book, if you rele want to read it go to the library, thats what i did and i am happy for making that decision.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am not even finished with the book and i already luuuvvv it. It has a great like sort of rhythm as you read i am 11 and read at a college level but its sorta hard to find apropriate college level books so i read 4th grade and up level reading material and this book was really good i suggest fourth to sixth grade
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was AWESOME! I loved the way it explained how love can get in the way of more lmportant things, like friends. I went though that it was hard. But, life isn't Easy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is myFAVORITE chapter book EVER
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dont put just one star if you never read it, it rude please dont be a jerk
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes! I am 12 yrs. old and i fell in love with this book. Get IT!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many pages
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's awsome book get it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite book of all time!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My big sister read this book and I am pretty sure she liked it. I am going to read it pretty soon. :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It reminds me of my sis
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should i read???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read a lot of books abd this is my third favorite! I wabted to read it again so i bought it for my nook! Enjoy yiur read! :)
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