One year after the tragic death of Frankie’s older brother, Matt, to a rare heart condition, Frankie and her parents plan to return to the California town they have annually visited. This time, Anna, Frankie’s best friend will join them on the trip. Anna also was Matt’s best friend. In addition, Anna and Matt had secretly been more than friends for more than a month before his death. Matt had promised Anna that he would tell Frankie when they were in California but he never got the chance. As time has passed, Anna has never found the right moment.
The thought of keeping something so important, so intense, so unbelievable from my best friend for even one more day almost killed me. Never before in our shared history did I hide so much as a passing crush—she knew everything.
This trip may be a chance to mend the hurt and provide an opportunity for Anna to open up to Frankie about Matt. Anna has been carrying around this guilt about loving Matt for all this time. She feels that she should keep it a secret because Matt wanted it a secret but she also wants to tell Frankie because Frankie is her friend and is here. Anna and Frankie no longer are as tight as they had been before Matt’s death. Frankie only wants to have fun. Her grades have gotten worse and she’s known at school as the “fun, party girl.” She proposes a “20 Boy Summer” to Anna. On their trip, they will meet one boy each day or 20 boys total. Anna looks toward Frankie as the more experienced one in the way she dresses and puts on make-up even.
Within days, Frankie and Anna meet Jake and Sam and start to lie to Frankie’s parents and to sneak out at night to meet the boys. Anna develops a crush on Sam and worries about forgetting all about Matt. Frankie acts out and betrays Anna in the worst way possible. The beginning of the trip is bumpy for the parents but by the end everything is looking up. Ockler doesn’t ignore the parents in her book. There are very genuine moments with Frankie and her mother: where they reminisce about Matt and where they fight just like teens and their moms do, out of that love/hate relationship all young women have with their moms.
The guilt of not telling Frankie about Matt and me is overwhelming, but it’s a pale second to the violation I feel that she read my most private, raw thoughts and destroyed them. She broke into my carefully guarded heart, stole the only memories of Matt I had to myself, and turned them into a monstrosity.
20 Boy Summer deals with the grief process in a realistic way. Frankie lost the big brother who meant the world to her. He doted on his little sister and she became the literal little girl lost by experimenting with drugs and boys and a new identity, so to speak. His girlfriend Anna cannot let go, she cannot move on. She is waiting for some sign that may never come. She holds onto a secret she cannot share and this is destroying her from within. When she develops the crush on Sam in California, she says: The truth is the one thing I can’t say – that if I can be interested in Sam, I’m forgetting about Matt. Poor Anna is stuck in the past. In limbo with Matt’s death. She’s a young girl and does not understand that she will always remember Matt and it is okay to make new friends and new memories.
20 Boy Summer is a wonderful YA novel for all teens to learn about loss in a genuine, understandable and sweet way.