The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale (Random House Australia
PB RRP $16.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
Living in England, the Jackman family is grieving the death of teenage son and brother, Floyd, a gifted guitarist. Central to the story is his younger sister, Summer, who feels alone and angry. Her mother is in a state of depression, her sister Wren is uncontrollably nasty, and their father is trying his best to hold everyone together. As if Floyd’s loss and Mum’s ‘disappearance’ aren’t enough, there is further loss to come – the loss of home when Dad, an Australian, decides to move the girls to his homeland. And too, there is the loss of Summer’s closest, long-time friend, Mal.
Summer doesn’t outwardly express her fierce underlying anger or her continual internal talk of and to Floyd. She even keeps her cool when the new Australian neighbours impinge on the Jackman family, offering unwanted friendship and family BBQs: at school she keeps her distance from others, especially an Asian girl who is trying to befriend her.
However, after some time she makes an unlikely friend, a needy boy who (literally) drifts in an out of life and who seems magically connected to a guitar which Floyd once owned and which Summer treasures.
Emily Gale writes clearly and convincingly with lots of memorable language, but this is a difficult book. Throughout it is always a sense of unhappiness and lack of hope. While Wren changes dramatically in Australia and becomes much easier to live with, Summer seems determined not to make the most of her situation, always living in a past that mostly includes her dead brother. Thus it’s the novel’s content which is the problem, rather than the story-telling and characterisation.
Nevertheless, this book will possibly appeal to teenagers, especially girls aged 14+ years.