Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Review: Summer Secrets by Jane Green

Alcoholism is an illness. It occurs across race, class, and gender. It is influenced by both nature and nurture, or more properly genetics and environment. The World Health Organization estimates that just over 4% of the world's population older than 15 are alcoholics. As large a number as that works out to be, alcoholics don't only just affect themselves but they affect all the loved ones around them so the number of people touched by this difficult and pervasive disease is exponentially higher than just 4%. And it is incredibly difficult for an alcoholic to get and stay sober as they have to confront all the things that drove them to cope with alcohol in the first place and to do it without the long term crutch they are working to beat. Such a weighty and difficult topic is not one that readers often come across in books touted as summer beach reads, in part perhaps because the topic itself is sobering but also because it is hard to do the damage it causes justice. But the impact alcoholism has on families and relationships actually makes it perfect for examination in family dynamics stories like Jane Green's newest novel, Summer Secrets.

Cat is a freelance writer living in London. She's a divorced, single mother who works everyday to maintain her hard-won sobriety. As she walks the 12 step program, she knows that she must make amends to those she's hurt through her drinking starting with the ex-husband she still loves, her daughter, and her mother. But there's another part of her family to whom she must atone as well and dredging up the memory of the unforgivable thing she did to them makes this set of apologies particularly difficult.

After Cat's emotionally cold and unloving father dies, her mother, witnessing yet another aftermath of Cat's hard partying and drinking lifestyle, tells Cat that the man she thought was her father was not. Her father was an artist on Nantucket with whom her mother had a brief fling one summer and that one of the reasons she didn't leave her husband for him was because of his excessive drinking, the same troubling drinking that she now sees in her daughter. All Cat can focus on, though, is that she has a father and two younger half sisters, Ellie and Julia, she never knew about and she is eager to meet them. Despite her fledgling attempt to get sober for Jason, the wonderful man she's met in London, when she goes to Nantucket to meet her other family, she slides back into social drinking first and ultimately into excess, blacking out and committing an unforgivable act that estranges her from the family she's just found.

The novel jumps between several different times in Cat's life and also includes her mother's summer on Nantucket as well. Current day Cat must face the demons of her past in order to overcome them, remembering the devastation she left in her wake not only in Nantucket that summer but also in her marriage and her daughter's young life. She must examine the reasons she has had in the past for giving up drinking and why this time is different for her, why she can't go back to burying herself deep in a bottle of vodka, why alcohol can never again be her coping mechanism. Most of all, if she intends to live a sober life, she must apologize for and own her past actions. And so she, her daughter, and her gay best friend Sam, make the pilgrimage to Nantucket so that Cat can say she's sorry.

Green has done a good job capturing the pain of the alcoholic and of those around the alcoholic. She makes Cat go through the hard challenges accompanying sobriety, makes her suffer the relapses and the wish to change for all the wrong reasons, and has her hit rock bottom. The cast of secondary characters illustrate very clearly many of the different sorts of reactions people have to their alcoholic loved one, from Cat's mother's worry for her, to husband Jason's resigned sadness over her inability to change which drives him to divorce, from half-sister Ellie's anger and fury, to friend Sam's partial understanding while still believing that it isn't quite as bad as all that. But ultimately the focus is on Cat and her own honest reactions to her past drinking, the pain she's caused others, and the way forward. This is very definitely a family drama but one complicated by alcohol and the havoc it wreaks in so many lives. It is also a story of forgiveness, both from others but also forgiving and accepting yourself regardless of the past, as Cat must learn to do. The ending was a bit tidy and convenient compared to what came before it but, in general, it was a fast and engrossing read. It's a little weighty for a summer beach read, but don't let that dissuade you from tucking it into your beach bag.

For more information on Jane Green and the book, visit her webpage, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. Check out the book's GoodReads page. For others' opinions on the book, check it out on Amazon.

Thanks to the publisher and BookSparks PR for sending me a copy of the book for review.


  1. Certainly a heavy topic for a beach read, albeit an intriguing story

  2. I have read some very positive reviews of Summer Secrets so I am going to chase this one down and read it. I like a book that explores an issue and explore something I haven't experienced.

  3. This one is on my TBR list because I liked the sound of it and I like the author. I am well acquainted with the reasons and results of alcoholism and want to check this one out.


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