Novel follows trials of two girls from childhood to adulthood

Never Be Ordinary, or “NBO or die!” is the childhood motto of Caitlin Somers, a girl from a well-off family who sweeps classmate Victoria ‘Vix’ Leonard away to spend the summer with her by the ocean. Vix is at first in awe of Caitlin, whose family seems to have so much more than her own, and quickly grows to be her best friend.

Judy Blume, the author of Summer Sisters, is the also the author of well-known young adult books such as Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret and Blubber. Published in 1998, Summer Sisters is one of Judy Blume’s adult novels, on the ‘summer picks’ shelf at the Calgary Public Library this month.

A coming-of-age novel, the book follows the lives of the two girls from the time that they are 12 years old until they are in their 30s. Set from 1977 to 1996, the story tackles subjects such as sexuality, death and the divisions between the rich and the poor.

Two relationships sit at the centre of the novel – the friendship of Caitlin and Vix, and the romantic relationship between Vix and Bru, a boy who lives on the island. The novel begins with a grown-up Caitlin calling Vix to tell her that she and Bru are getting married. The narrative then flashes back to the past to build upon the relationships between these three characters.

Told from the perspective of Vix, the story also contains snippets of the perspective of other characters – family members, friends, and lovers. While these snippets can help build insight into the actions of the main characters, occasionally they feel jarring and like an unnecessary interruption of the main narrative.

The main tension in the novel comes from the friendship between Caitlin and Vix. Caitlin is determined to be different no matter what and when they graduate from high school she leaves to travel Europe. Vix remain behind, receiving a scholarship and acceptance to Harvard University. The years go by before they see each other again, with Vix turning down each of Caitlin’s invitations to come visit with her in favour of keeping up with her studies and maintaining a romantic relationship with Bru, which is faltering despite her efforts.

The story continues up to the point where Vix receives Caitlin’s surprise invitation to attend the sudden wedding between herself and Bru, a few years after they had broken off their relationship. The chapter is almost a word-for-word match to the introduction, which feels a bit repetitive. The narrative after this event chronicles Vix’s attempt to reconcile with the changed relationship between the two most important people in her life.