Review: Second Chance Summer

Second Chance Summer

by Sarah Kapit

Henry Holt Books, 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Karen Shakman

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Second Chance Summer tells the story of two former best friends, Chloe and Maddie, and the summer they spend orbiting one another at a sleep-away performing arts camp. The two middle schoolers were friends back home, until an unfortunate incident involving a performance of The Music Man goes viral and heralds the end of the girls’ friendship. Maddie resents Chloe for the part she played in Maddie’s very public embarrassment and, while Chloe is sorry, she doesn’t quite understand what she did that was so wrong. Where Maddie is slightly awkward and a little insecure, Chloe is at home in the spotlight. Maddie has always been in her shadow, a shadow that she admits is exciting and fun, but a shadow all the same, and she has grown tired of it. At the sleep-away camp, neither girl is happy to be there with the other, and they end up in a battle of revenge that ultimately leads them to personal self-discovery.

In alternating first person chapters, the novel zeroes in on these two girls and their friendship. It captures the nature of middle school friendship well, particularly in terms of the small ways friends let each other down, take advantage of one another, or make assumptions that they know better. In the case of these two girls, they do care for one another, but they have good reason, at the same time, to feel hurt and disappointed. That rings quite true.

The bulk of the Jewish content in the novel revolves around Maddie’s dream to be a screenwriter, and the story she writes about a girl golem who becomes her alter ego, willing to take risks she might not take on her own. Maddie’s golem, however, inspires her to pursue revenge against Chloe as a way of exerting her own strength. Despite the references to golems, one need not understand Jewish mythology to follow the story. Rather, the reference to a golem is fairly incidental, and the real story is one of the girls' self-discovery. Over the course of the novel, Maddie learns that revenge is not strength and rather, telling the truth and being oneself is what makes her brave. Chloe also embarks on a journey of self-discovery, coming out as gay, and facing her fear of asserting her needs with her pushy stage mom.

This sweet story of friendship and self-discovery will certainly appeal to young readers of contemporary realistic fiction, and especially to theater camp lovers.

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Reviewer Karen Shakman lives in Cambridge, MA where she teaches middle school and writes books for children and young adults. She was a member of the PJ Library’s inaugural group of emerging Jewish picture book writers’ at Highlights Foundation in summer 2022, and was a participant in Grub Street’s Novel Generator and Novel Incubator programs.


  1. Thanks, Karen, for this helpful review. From your description, I think a lot of kids will resonate to these characters and their experiences.


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