Review: Those Summer Nights

Those Summer Nights

by Laura Silverman

Margaret K. McElderry Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster), 2022

Category: Young Adult
Reviewer: Sarah Blattner

It’s the summer before her senior year, and Hannah Klein has just returned from a year at Mountain Bliss Academy, a boarding school in the north Georgia mountains for troubled teens. Last summer Hannah lost everything that mattered to her: the ability to play soccer due to an injury, her bubbie to cancer, her best friend Brie Bradley, and her parents’ trust. Hannah turned to self-destructive behaviors: she took partying too far one night and almost got behind the wheel of her car while intoxicated. Her bestie Brie took her keys, drove her home, and notified Hannah’s parents. But now Hannah is back in Atlanta, and she must prove herself to her family, her friends, and most of all, to herself.

A main theme in the novel is taking ownership for your actions by repairing harm. While working with her brother Joey at Bonanza, a family amusement complex, Hannah finds many opportunities to mend friendships and make new ones. To Hannah’s surprise, Brie works at Bonanza, and she must navigate the awkwardness between them, as they haven’t spoken since last summer. Hanging out with Joey allows Hannah to see her brother in the spotlight as the emcee for the coveted staff Olympics. She also helps Joey navigate his gay crush on coworker Tony, who is gorgeous but lacking in character. As for finding a new passion beyond her quashed soccer dreams, Hannah first wildly crushes on heartthrob Patrick Cho, but she quickly turns her affections toward her true heart’s desire, Ethan Alderman, Joey’s longtime best friend. Suddenly, Hannah notices Ethan’s muscles, not to mention his empathy and kindness.

Those Summer Nights uses the rom-com genre to both engage the reader and lighten heavier topics of mental health, substance abuse, and grief. Throughout the novel, Hannah’s first-person narration flips between the current summer, or main narration, and “Last Summer” chapters, an effective flashback tool for filling in details that created Hannah’s current situation. As a character, Hannah is relatable and true-to-life, demonstrating a wobbly conscience around the impact of her poor choices upon her friends and family.

Throughout the novel, Hannah’s family demonstrates ties to Jewish culture and religious ritual. For instance, Hannah’s bubbie lovingly calls her “mamaleh,” and Hannah uses the expression “oy vey”. There is also mention of attendance at Hebrew school, synagogue, and a bar mitzvah. References are made to holidays such as Yom Kippur and Passover. As a central conflict, Hannah struggles with facing the unveiling of her bubbie’s grave marker. A flashback to bubbie’s burial reveals a graveside service where the Mourner’s Kaddish was recited, and the family sat shiva. The unveiling creates an opportunity for Hannah to make amends with Brie, as well as to learn about Joey’s coming out to bubbie, because she was the only one to whom he felt he could reveal his truest self.

While there are many YA stories that tell what happens to teens who engage in risky behavior, few books show what it’s like to navigate the messy consequences upon the return to normal life, as in Hannah’s journey. Those Summer Nights is a refreshing rom-com where we meet Jewish teens navigating what it means to be human, one crush at a time, and it is a solid contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

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Reviewer Sarah Blattner is a high school English teacher in Portland, Oregon, and she has been in and around the middle and high school classrooms for over 20 years, both in Jewish Day Schools and public schools. She is also an aspiring young adult author, drawing inspiration from her joyful summers at Jewish sleepaway camp, leadership experiences in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, her childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her clever students. She has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators since 2008.