The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach: A Novel

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach: A Novel

by Pam Jenoff


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780778317548
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 07/28/2015
Edition description: Original
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 50,239
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including the international bestseller The Kommandant's Girl, which also earned her a Quill Award nomination. Pam lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Read an Excerpt

Washington, DC
November 1943

I did not fight the umbrella which blew inside out as I stepped from the streetcar. Instead, I clung tighter to my nearly soaked cloche to hold it in place against the icy rain that slanted sideways across Pennsylvania Avenue. Navigating the slick pavement carefully, I swam through the midafternoon crowd, mostly women and a few men too old or broken for service, who were waiting in line at the Red Cross canteen truck for coffee, or making their way between government buildings and the makeshift tent offices that lined the Mall.

Brushing the raindrops from my overcoat, I slid under the awning that shielded the security booth outside the Department of State Building, pausing to fumble for my press pass. The guard eyed me incredulously as he scrutinized my credentials. Ignoring him, I gazed up at the White House, pale against the stormy gray clouds. Something moved on the roof above, the swivel of an anti-aircraft gun pointed upward. My heart skipped. Washington was a city occupied not just by the thousands who had come here to work, but by the army that defended it as though the Germans might at any moment descend from the sky.

Lowering my eyes, I caught a wistful glimpse of my disheveled reflection in the window of the guard booth. I'd left the rooming house in good form to a sky that, if not sunny, had certainly not suggested this downpour. Arriving at the Post, I expected a day like most I'd had these past few months, typing stories from shorthand notes on a Remington at a desk barely wide enough to hold it, pressed close to a dozen other girls. I didn't mind; I needed work and I was grateful that my high school secretarial course had qualified me for it. Though it would have paid a few dollars more, I had dreaded the prospect of working as one of the government girls at the War Department. I couldn't bear to endlessly type letters telling families that their sons were not coming home, seeing Charlie's face in each of them.

During my first few months at the news bureau, the work had been quiet and predictable. But one afternoon nearly two weeks ago, a man with his sleeves rolled up had opened the door to the steno pool. "Italian?" he bellowed. A cloud of cigarette smoke appeared before him as he exhaled, making him seem a gray-haired dragon. The room fell silent. Chip Steeves, managing editor of the Washington Post, never came into the typing room. "My secretary is out and I need someone to call a translator." Impulsively, I raised my hand. Then I looked around. I was the only one and I started to lower it.

But Mr. Steeves was already weaving his way through the desks, descending upon me. "You can find me someone to translate Italian?" He spoke through the cigar stub clenched between his teeth.

"No." I looked at him squarely. "I can do it myself."

He eyed me for several seconds, his face a scowl. "Well, come on," he barked impatiently, as though I, and not he, had hesitated. I could feel the eyes of the other typists on me as I walked from the room.

"Montforte, isn't it?" he asked, surprising me as we entered his office. The desk was covered in piles of papers, the floor littered with dirty coffee cups.

"Yes." I cleared my throat. "Addie, that is Adelia."

He didn't introduce himself; he didn't need to. Chip Steeves was legendary as journalist and terror. "You're the girl who caught that mistake in the U-boat story." I straightened slightly. My job was only to type articles, not proofread them. I had seen an error in one of the stories, though, a date that I knew from my own reading was wrong. I had pointed it out to Mr. Steeves's secretary, who oversaw the typists. But I did not know that the message had been passed on—or that I had received credit. "That was good work. You speak Italian?"

"Yes. I was born in Trieste." Being foreign-born was not something that one announced loudly these days, and I'd worked hard to remove all trace of an accent. This might be the first time it was an asset.

He thrust out a pen as if he might hit me with it, and I fought the urge to cower. "Well, translate this, Adelia Montforte." I took the paper he offered and moved an overflowing ashtray from the nearest chair, then perched on it and scrawled the translation hurriedly. It was a cable about a skirmish that had taken place near Salerno, brief but with a few military terms I wasn't quite sure I'd gotten right.

When I finished, I handed it back to Mr. Steeves, who scanned the page. "This is good."

"I could do better with more time," I offered.

"Couldn't we all? But you don't botch the feel of it, like the real translators do."

After that, Mr. Steeves sent more translation work my way through his secretary. But he had not reappeared himself—until this morning. "Montforte," he hollered as he stuck his head into the steno pool, causing me to jump. I'd leapt up and grabbed my pen and pad, assuming it was another translation job. But when I started for the door of his office, he waved me away. "Be at the State Department this afternoon at three."

I stared at him blankly. "Me? But why?" He tossed me a press pass and disappeared into his office.

The guard handed back my pass now, along with a visitor's badge, which I pinned to the collar of my blouse. I stepped uncertainly into the massive lobby of the State Building, marveling at the high chandelier, better suited to a ballroom. But before I could take it all in, Mr. Steeves appeared, grabbing me by the arm. He led me unceremoniously past a marble staircase, down a corridor and into a room with a long oak conference table. "The deputy secretary has called a meeting with the press to talk about our coverage of our allies, making sure it doesn't hurt the war effort, that sort of thing."

"I don't understand. Isn't there something you need me to translate?"

He shook his head. "Nah, kid. My cub reporter's been called up so I need someone to help me cover the meeting. You were the best one for the job."

"The best one? I'm a typist. I can't possibly cover a story."

"Just take one of the chairs against the wall and take notes. And don't say anything," he instructed, then disappeared into a group of uniformed men clustered in the corner.

I took off my overcoat and folded it in the lap of my navy blue skirt, noticing as I sat down a run in my nylons. Then I tried to smooth the wrinkles from my pleated-front blouse. I was the only woman in the room, except for the one setting out coffee cups. The war might have brought women to work, Rosie the Riveter and all that, but in high-level Washington meetings like this, the seats at the table were still reserved for the men.

The door opened and a man I recognized from the papers as Undersecretary of State Edward Stettinius came in. "Be seated," he said, as the others came to the table. "I've only got a few minutes so I'll be brief. I've called you here to ask for your help in talking to the American people about the war." He launched into a discussion of a new initiative by the Office of War Information to work with the press on the way it would communicate information about the fighting.

I scribbled furiously. Though I frequently typed the shorthand notes of others, I had seldom taken dictation and I feared I would not be able to keep up with Secretary Stettinius's rapid English. But as I listened, I became absorbed by what he was saying. The relationship between newspapers and government had always seemed adversarial, one seeking information and the other holding it back. But he was speaking now of ways they could work together. "I'm happy to take your questions," he concluded a few minutes later.

A correspondent from the Washington Star whom I did not recognize raised his hand, then spoke without waiting. "It sounds good on the surface—but isn't it something of a conflict of interest?" I had been wondering the same thing: Could the newspapers still maintain their independence and integrity while working with the government?

Secretary Stettinius offered a vague explanation of how it would all work without compromising the independence of the press.

"Surely you aren't suggesting we show you our stories before they go to press?" another reporter pressed. "That would be censorship."

"No, of course not," Secretary Stettinius replied, looking tugging at his collar. "We simply want to be a resource." Across the room, Mr. Steeves folded his arms, unconvinced. "My deputy will be in touch with each of you individually to discuss specifics," Secretary Stettinius promised, cutting the questions short. He rose, signaling that the meeting was over.

As the newsmen stood and chatted among themselves, I tried to catch Mr. Steeves's eye, but he was engrossed in conversation with a foreign correspondent. I made my way toward the door of the too-stuffy room, uncertain whether to wait for him or return to the bureau.

As I neared the massive foyer, a door across the hallway opened, letting loose a low din of chatter from another meeting. I started past. "Then we are agreed," a voice broke through the others, unexpectedly familiar. I stopped mid-step. "We'll meet again when we have the plans drawn up."

Charlie! My head swiveled in the direction from which the voice had come. It couldn't be. I craned my neck, trying once more to hear the voice. I had imagined him so many times since coming here, seen him in every uniformed soldier on the street corners. But I'd never heard his voice.

I stepped toward the door of the other room, not caring that I had no business being there as I scanned the crowd. "Oh!" I cried so loudly that a man in front of me turned to stare. I brought my hand to my mouth as Charlie's broad shoulders appeared above the others. Joy surged through me, making my head light. It really was him. But how? There was no reason on earth for him to be in Washington. He was meant to be off training somewhere or deployed, not standing in front of me, tall and glorious. Had he come for me? No, there was simply no way he could have known I was here—which was exactly how I had wanted it.

Anxiety rose, eclipsing my happiness, and the walls of the immense room seemed to grow close. I started to duck away, the idea of facing Charlie unfathomable. But even as I took a step toward the door, I turned back, drawn to him. He looked different to be sure, aged by all that had happened, with lines in places I hadn't remembered and a permanent sadness about the eyes. His brown hair was cut short and it was thinner, too, without the thick, rich curls he had once had. He was still beautiful, though. My breath caught. That did not, could not, change what had happened. I had to leave. Now.

I stepped back toward the corridor, my ankle turning inward and causing me to stumble. As I struggled not to fall, I dropped my notebook, which clattered against the marble. Heads turned in my direction, seeming more annoyed than concerned. As the others resumed their conversations, Charlie stepped from the group and moved toward me in the hall, his face breaking. "Addie?" His tone was disbelieving. I froze, unable to move or speak as he drew close. He reached out, as if to touch me, but his hand foundered midair before falling to his side again. He leaned in to kiss my cheek and his familiar scent made the room wobble. I struggled not to turn and meet his lips with my own. "Addie." There it was in that single word, that voice which cut right through and connected with my insides as it had since the first time I heard it. "What are you doing here?" He didn't know any of it—that I had left Philadelphia, or how I had come to be here. Because he had gone first.

"I'm working for the Post." I watched his face for any sign of disbelief. But Charlie had never doubted me. "I never expected you to be in Washington," I added.

His face flinched slightly as though he had been slapped. "You aren't pleased to see me."

"Of course I am. It's just that I thought you were training." My words came out too quickly, piling on top of one another.

He fumbled with the hat, neatly folded in his hands. "I was, for almost a year. But now I'm here for some extra briefings." There was a strange undercurrent to his voice. A year had slipped through our fingers. How was that possible? Once it had seemed unthinkable to keep breathing without Charlie, but somehow the clock had kept ticking. I tried to imagine his days in between, all of the things he had done and seen since we'd last laid eyes on one another. But my mind was blank.

"Your hair," he blurted. I raised my hand to my temple, wincing at how tousled I was from the rain. "It's short." It was the bob, so different than last time he had seen me. "I mean, I like it." I couldn't tell if he was just being kind.

"How's your family?"

"Holding up as well as can be expected." He shrugged, helpless but not indifferent. "My folks are in Florida. Mom has thrown herself into the women's auxiliary." It sounded so much like Mrs. Connally that I had to smile. "Dad's Dad." Guilt at having left them flickered across his face. "It tore them apart, you know." Yes, I knew only too well. The Connallys lived in a place where their grief would always be as raw as the day it all happened, no matter how much time passed or how far away they moved. "They're together, but in a separate kind of a way. They know now," he added, and I wanted to ask if he meant about the army, or what had been between us, or both.

The question stuck in my throat. "And the boys?" I asked instead.

"Jack, well, he works at a plant in Port Richmond. He's taking night classes at Temple, though." Jack had been the real brain of the boys—he might have gone to an Ivy League school and practiced medicine as he once dreamed, but for money and circumstance. "He hasn't been called up yet, thank God. Mom couldn't bear to lose another son."

I swallowed. "And Liam?"

Charlie stared hard at the floor. "I'm not sure." But surely his parents knew about Liam's whereabouts, and whether or not he was okay. Or had they cut ties with him as well? My stomach tugged. I still hated Liam for what he had done, yet I could not help but worry.

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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I usually love Jenoff's books, but this one was a flop for me. I found the main character to be immature and unlikable. The book just dragged on from one poor choice to another. Honestly, I didn't even like any of the characters in the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book andwould highly recommend.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A historical fiction that doesn't span a lot of years, but has such a huge sweeping romance that as a reader I had to remind myself again and again that this book was really over just 4 years. Addie leaves her home at a young age to live in America with her aunt and uncle and by chance they have a summer condo next door to a Catholic family with four boys and Addie will find a new kind of family with them. I loved this different perspective on World War II and how through Addie's eyes the reader sees the impact of the war in the States on the Jewish community. Throughout the story Addie travels to Washington, DC and Europe and in each place she shares how this war is impacting the community. I absolutely LOVED the parts where she was in journalism and reporting on what was happening, I had never read about the journalist endeavors to help the war effort.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
Alelia’s parents are worried about their daughter in 1941 Italy. They send her to live with her aunt and uncle in America. While there she meets the neighbors, the Connally’s. They help her adjust to life in America and Aledia ends up falling in love with one of the sons, Charlie. But when America joins in the fight of World War II, Alelia leaves her aunt and uncle to work in Washington DC for a while then leaves for London. Alelia wants to find a good life but doesn’t know if it is possible with her past continuing to follow her. I admit that I have not read any of Pam Jenoff’s books. I liked the portion of the story relating to World War II. You can tell that there is a lot of research involved and you feel right there in the middle of everything going on. But I have to say that I wasn’t really impressed with Adelia. I understand the whole sending her to America. It seems natural that she would fall in love with the neighbor boy Charlie. What gets me though is the fact that she just leaves her aunt and uncles place with no note or such to go to Washington DC. Then when things get tough she runs away to London. I admit that I was a bit irritated with the ending, Adelia just settles. This is not a bad book, there are just a couple things Adelia does that just rub me the wrong way. I heard that The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is based on the line of Little Women. So I’m think that if you liked Little Women you would really like this book. I’m sorry but it’s not one of my favorites. I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
MTSmith More than 1 year ago
I went into this book expecting a sweeping romance, a love that would grow between a man and a woman despite dire circumstances. What I got was the opposite. Romance is still evident throughout this story, but this story is (more or less) about a young immigrant woman who is searching for her place in this world after the only life she'd know is upended. I don't read a lot of historical romances from the 1900s. The time period is too close to home for me, and war torn countries aren't exactly my cup of tea when I read. But I learned to really appreciate the chaos of that time in this story because Ms. Jenoff uses it to Adelia's advantage. I got to experience the early 1940s through Adelia, saw war come to America, saw war torn London when she moved there. I watched her experience friendship, first love, true love, acceptance, and forgiveness. I had a front row seat as she discovered her purpose in the middle of madness. Ms. Jenoff is a new-to-me author. Her writing is smooth and it's obvious she did her research. The world she wrote about it was descriptive enough for me to see it in my head as Adelia did. I can't say this story will be for every reader, but it's definitely a must-try for those who enjoy period fiction with a touch of romance and a healthy dose of self-discovery. (Received from NetGalley via Tasty Book Tours for an honest review)
FeatheredQuillBookReviews More than 1 year ago
Readers know that, every once in a great while, stories appear which are retained forever because of their capacity to overwhelm and delve into a person’s heart so deeply, that the tale becomes a part of them. Upon saying this, it will come as no surprise to learn that behind the power, suspense, romance and history found in this one amazing creation, is author Pam Jenoff. When we begin, Adelia Monteforte is put on a ship bound for America by her parents. The tide is turning and the end is near for their family in fascist Italy, and her parents want nothing more than for Adelia to be safe and have a shot at a life. This brave young girl arrives on America’s shores and ends up living with her aunt and uncle. Although they are a nice couple, they seem to be more than awkward when it comes to raising their niece. What they do for her, however, is head every summer to a place called Chelsea Beach. And here is where Adelia runs into her destiny. An incredible Irish-Catholic family, consisting of four boys who each have their own attitudes and emotions, envelop Adelia and bring her ‘in’ as part of their family. They all grow up, experiencing emotions from anger to envy to love; yet, even as they are having fun, the fear of WWII going on across the ocean hangs over them like a veil of darkness. Adelia falls in love with the eldest boy, Charlie, but their hopes for a lovely life are dashed when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and America enters the frightening battle. Pain occurs on Chelsea Beach which sends Adelia running straight into, and not away from, the war. Her job on a newspaper, helping children in an orphanage, dealing with the youthful emotions that have strengthened over time – all of these cause Adelia to find herself stuck in tragedies. The Germans seem almost easier to deal with, considering the fact that every time Adelia turns around, the past comes back to haunt her. The Kommandant’s Girl was the first amazing novel by this author that dove into readers’ hearts and stayed there. With this new story, readers will once again be in awe of the power and beauty of these characters that will never let them go. Quill says: Pam Jenoff has yet to make one mistake when it comes to delivering the best of the best in literature.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
Pam Jenoff brings a heart-wrenching tale of loss and forgiveness, first loves and second chances. Her story shifts between Europe and the US during the World War II years. Her narrative is haunting and eloquent bringing to life her fresh, unforgettable, and a few unconventional characters, her devastatingly amazing depiction of war torn Europe and a family ripped apart by unthinkable tragedy. This reader especially loves the realness and the perseverance and forever-hopeful optimism she gives her characters. I love traveling with Pam through her stories, timelines and worlds and I’m packed and ready for the next journey. In the summer of 1941 16yr old Adelia Montforte’s parents send her to live with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia to escape the rising turmoil in Italy. Assimilating into a prejudicial population already on edge is not easy for an olive skinned Jewish girl especially one with an Italian accent. Luckily she’s been befriended by the boisterous Irish-American-Catholic Connally family that includes four brothers, the oldest three around her own age. Her first summer in America is full of sun and fun spent with this seemingly idyllic family that fills many voids for Addie from familial to confusing when she becomes enamored with the oldest boy Charlie. Then unexpected tragedy strikes that once again upends Addie’s world and sends her on a long perilous journey that’s equal parts escaping and self discovering.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. I liked all the references to Atlantic city which I am familiar with. Adelia's character went through a lot but the idea that she could go from one brother to another was a bit strange. Her aunt and uncle were very typical of the times in taking in their niece and did a great job. The scenes in London were interesting.