When I was feeling down in the middle of winter, I was looking for books that were going to make me feel good and dream of summer. When I stumbled across Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler, I got YA Grease vibes without the problematic “I’ll change to be who you want me to be” messaging (or the confusing floating car at the end, if I’m being honest). This longing-for-summer reader was excited to jump right in!
Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.
Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.
Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?
I’m not going to lie, I devoured this story. I really enjoyed how seamlessly the story went from present to past and how well developed the characters were. There were a lot of high school “roles” in her friend group (the popular girl, the head cheerleader, the reclusive goth, the quarterback, etc.), but they weren’t stereotypical, which I appreciated, though the throwaway comments about the race and diversity of some of the characters made me think they may have just been added in to check off boxes.
I really enjoyed reading about a person’s struggle with their sexuality—but not in an unaccepting kind of way, just that she had never been attracted to a woman before and has really hot friends, so couldn’t really wrap her head around it all. The reader was right there with her, going on the journey along with her. There’s also a moment with Lara’s best friend Shannon near the end that I could imagine would be relatable when you have a friend coming out to you. You also get a bit of Jasmine’s similar journey, though more from a third-person perspective, and it just shows, even with these two characters, how everyone’s story is so different.
Lara’s relationship with her mother in this book was a chef’s kiss. Generally I find YA either has terrible parental figures, or these superhuman, perfect parents, and though Anya is almost the latter, their banter (especially with the Russian-isms built in) was so enjoyable to read. Her mom works a lot, so she’s not perfect, but they make time for each other when they can.
My one biggest criticism of the book is the male love interest, Chase. I’m not sure if it’s because we start the story right at the beginning of the school year, but there doesn’t seem to be like Lara and Chase have much history together (other than they run in the same circles, but I wouldn’t call them friends), and right off the bat he’s super into her all of sudden, despite him knowing she’s practically been drooling over him for years. It just didn’t seem believable out of the blue and the way he went about pursuing her. And then as the story went on, I felt bad for him because of the way Lara was clearly not feeling any type of way about him and he was still being a very good boyfriend (which for a high schooler is shocking in and of itself), but I wish the whole thing could have been navigated differently.
But despite that one snag in the story, it didn’t deter too much from my enjoyment of this book. I enjoy Adler’s writing style—it’s funny and witty without trying too hard—and who doesn’t love a good love triangle?
“If being bi means always knowing, well, that isn’t me. The only girls on my bedroom walls are my friends, and I’m certainly not into any of them that way. That settles it. I’m straight. Just like I always thought. I wait for the feeling of a weight lifting from my shoulders, but it never comes.” —Dahlia Adler, Cool for the Summer
Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books for the advanced copy, and to Victor Figueroa on Unsplash for the featured photo of Outer Banks.