Seventeen year old Taylor Edwards' family is leaving their Greenwich, Connecticut home to journey to their summer lake house on Lake Phoenix, in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. They haven't been there in five years mainly because everyone was too busy with other activities to take time out for vacations at the lake. Now Taylor, her twelve year old sister, Gelsey, and her older brother, Warren, along with her parents, former ballet dancer-mother, Katie and her defense lawyer father, Robin are planning to spend the summer at the lake house. But this will be anything but a normal holiday as Taylor and her family have just learned that her father has been given three months to live, after having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Not only does Taylor have to deal with her father's terminal illness but she is also dreading a return to the home where five years ago her actions hurt her best friend Lucy Marino and her first love, Henry Crosby. That summer, Henry and Taylor began dating and had their first kiss but things had ended badly, very badly.
Now, early June, Taylor and her family begin to settle into their home on Lake Phoenix. The first day there, Taylor encounters Henry at the shared dock. Henry is stunned to see her and asks Taylor why they have suddenly returned to Lake Phoenix, but Taylor does not tell him the real reason. She learns that Henry now lives in the house next to her family's.
Taylor's dad continues to work on a case for his law firm as well as something he calls his special project. Taylor is struggling because no one is talking about what is happening.
"I really didn't know how I was going to get through the summer. It had only been a few hours, but it already felt like more than I could handle. It was like we were all just pretending that nothing was happening. We weren't even talking about the reason that we had all decamped there. Instead, we'd spent dinner listening to Warren go on about how pizza was invented."
Taylor runs into Henry once again and his younger brother Davy when she becomes lost in the woods near their home. This brings back memories of how she and Henry first met one another in similar circumstances seven years ago in the very same woods. Henry is brusque and closed off with her but helps her find her way home.
At first everyone stays close to home, struggling to cope with their father's presence at home. However Taylor's father tells his family that he wants them to enjoy their summer and for it to be as normal as possible. Taylor's father encourages her to get a summer job, which she does - at the snack bar on the beach. On her way to meet her father, Taylor and Henry have a third unexpected encounter when she decides to check out a new store, Borrowed Thyme and discovers that it is Henry's father's bakery and that he works there. This time Henry is more friendly although the situation is still awkward.
Taylor's first day at the beach snack bar reveals that she will be working with a boy named Elliot and her ex-best friend, Lucy Marino, whom she hasn't spoken to in five years. Lucy is hostile towards Taylor and avoids talking to her but Taylor, determined not to disappoint her father, does not quit. Instead she learns how to make burgers, work the ice machine, the scary industrial coffeemaker and the fryer. Taylor discovers Lucy is boy crazy, dating one boy after another and flirting with all the male customers. But when her first movie night intro is a disaster and Taylor tries to flee the scene, Lucy tells her that running away leaving her and Elliot to clean up and her family behind would be
As the weeks pass, Taylor and her father continue to share breakfast at the local diner in the morning where Taylor asks her dad questions about his life. Her family also meet the neighbours, Kim and Jeff Gardner who are screenwriters and their daughter Nora whom Gelsey befriends. They adopt an abandoned dog named Murphy, left behind by the previous tenants of their lake home, who forms a strong attachment to Taylor's father. Taylor's older brother, Warren, develops a crush on the local pet store clerk, a redhead named Wendy.
Second chances come in the form of Lucy and Taylor repairing their relationship when Taylor helps Lucy out of a tight spot. When the two of them finally get around to talking about what happened five years ago, Taylor realizes that Henry wasn't some guy who didn't matter, a boy she dated when she was younger and who was just a story to tell. This leads Taylor to confront Henry, to apologize for what she did five years ago and to ask if they can be friends again. But what starts out as friendship soon becomes much more in the weeks to come.
With the passing of time, Taylor's dad's health begins to fail. He loses his appetite and begins to sleep more and more. As death approaches, will Taylor's fear of love and trust push away the one person who most understands her in this time of great need?
Second Chance Summer is truly a beautifully written novel that deals with forgiveness, facing one's fears in life, dealing with the death of a loved one and both giving and receiving second chances. The main storyline is that of a young girl who ran away years earlier, from a problem that involved her best friend and her boyfriend. Taylor's been running away from difficult situations all her life. Eventually however, all this catches up with her as she returns to her family's summer home and she is forced to confront what happened five years earlier, ask forgiveness of those she hurt by running away and mend the relationships. This is set against a second storyline that of her father's imminent death from cancer. This is a problem Taylor cannot run away from and with the tender guidance of her father she learns how to face problems one day at a time.
All of Matson's characters are well drawn, realistic and interesting because they are all very different and because the reader can easily identify with them.Taylor is a typical teenager with the very human habit of running away from her problems. She recognizes her habit of not being able to deal with conflict and struggles to overcome this tendency as the story progresses. Her relationship with her dying father is touching Henry Crosby is her noble opposite, patient, forgiving and willing to give her a second chance. These two are supported by well-drawn secondary characters such as the wordly Lucy, who embraces life with gusto, the nerdy but sweet brother Warren who loves to quote facts to people, and Taylor's father Robin, whose puns and easy manner, lighten the mood of the story.
Although the main storyline is that of Taylor and Henry's relationship, the story of Taylor and her father is especially touching. Taylor's relationship with her father at the beginning of the novel is typical of many father-daughter relationships, superficial, mainly due to lack of time spent together. However, with Taylor's father now at home 24/7, their relationship deepens. Matson's portrayal of Taylor's father's inevitable decline is realistic but not heavy. There are good and bad days as his health deteriorates and each member of the family spends time with him during his lucid periods. This storyline is sad, but written with sensitivity and care that acknowledges palliative care in a very positive light, especially given the recent promotion of voluntary euthanasia.
My only complaint about this novel was Taylor's second time dumping Henry. It seemed overdone given the situation - Taylor becoming overwhelmed with her father's sudden turn for the worse. I think rather than impulsively deciding that she should never have involved Henry in her life again because it was strangely selfish to do so, Taylor should have realized (as most people would) that she was desperately in need of his support more than ever and that he was willing to oblige, given his caring personality.
Overall, Second Chance Summer is a wonderful novel, that deals with the themes of forgiveness, second chances, love and death.
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
New York: Simon & Schuster 2012