Wednesday, June 7, 2023

The Girls of Summer by Katie Bishop

The Girls of Summer
by Katie Bishop
First published June 6, 2023 by St. Martin's Press

"That place has been my whole life. Everything I thought I knew about myself was constructed in those few months I spent within touching distance of the sea. Everything I am is because Alistair loved me."

Rachel has been in love with Alistair for fifteen years. Even though she’s now married to someone else. Even though she was a teenager when they met. Even though he is twenty years older than her.

Rachel and Alistair’s summer love affair on a remote, sun-trapped Greek island has consumed her since she was seventeen, obliterating everything in its wake. But as Rachel becomes increasingly obsessed with reliving the events of so long ago, she reconnects with the other girls who were similarly drawn to life on the island, where the nights were long, the alcohol was free-flowing and everyone acted in ways they never would at home. And as she does so, dark and deeply suppressed secrets about her first love affair begin to rise to the surface, as well as the truth about her time working for an enigmatic and wealthy man, who controlled so much more than she could have ever realized.

Joining a post #MeToo discourse, The Girls of Summer grapples with themes of power, sex, and consent, as it explores the complicated nature of memory and trauma––and what it takes to reframe, and reclaim, your own story.

4 Stars

A little bit cult-like, a little bit coming of age, The Girls of Summer is a thrilling beach read that takes readers on a dual-timeline journey to a secluded Greek island where the escapades of young backpackers feel like both a dream and a nightmare. Rachel was just 17 when she visited the gorgeous escape for a week with her best friend on a summer trip before their final year of school. There she discovers she too can be the main character, as she forms new friends and catches the eye of mature, handsome Alistair, a wealthy man living in a party mansion. The summer ends in tragedy, but sixteen years on and now married, Rachel looks back on that time fondly, like a dream. A visit to the island brings back feelings both good and bad, and it takes her back in time to Alistair, the spark so vividly alive inside her still. At a crossway in life, Rachel chooses nostalgia and as she revisits the past she soon discovers that her rose colored glasses have been lying to her.

Rachel is like all young teen girls, unsure of herself and not yet comfortable in her womanhood, brimming with confusion as others step into the world with confidence. Even as an adult, parts of that youthful naivety still battles inside her as she looks back at her time on the island. Who would she have been had things gone differently? We all question our choices, the what-ifs, and wonder where our paths would have gone, but Rachel decides to actually find out. We see the island through Rachel's young eyes, the parties, the friends, the feeling of maturity and adulthood as a man sweeps her off her feet. We see the island through her adult eyes, recognizing the lies and secrets that swam beneath the surface, seeing the conductor pulling the strings. Yet, like Rachel, we all want to frame things positively, at least until the truth really comes out. Rachel clings tightly to what she remembers, to the lust and joy she believes she felt, but the island's tide washes it all away.

I truly enjoyed The Girls of Summer, it felt like a glimpse into the stories we see on the media regarding Epstein and other party islands. More so, I loved the dual-timeline that offered readers a fresh perspective on the events, those of a fun and in love 17 year old and those of a mature adult. It's a story of innocence and naivety, power and control, and the strength of women when they bond together. It joins several other novels that touch on the #metoo movement, but with a fresh perspective and a story that sweeps you up.

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