Anna was in love with the boy next door, Matt. She and Matt and his sister, Frankie, were the ultimate triumvirate: they did everything together, but Anna kept her feelings to herself. Then, on her 15th birthday, everything changed: Matt kissed her (of course she kissed him back!). They hid their relationship from their parents and his sister; he promised that he’d break it to Frankie when they went on their annual pilgrimage to Zanzibar Bay in California. Except he died — heart failure from a defect no one had caught — before he could get the chance.
Fast-forward a year. Anna and Frankie are still friends, struggling through the grief of losing a brother (and a something-more-than-friend, though Anna is Long Suffering and True and hasn’t told anyone). Frankie’s taken to being wild — smoking in her room, flirting (and having sex) with boys — partially to see if she can get some kind of reaction from her parents, and partially to reinvent herself. Anna is lost, hanging around Frankie because she’s loyal, not really because she understands how to help, or even how to fully deal with her grief.
Then Frankie’s parents invite Anna to go with them to Zanzibar Bay, the first time they’ve been back since Matt’s death. And Frankie invents this game: 20 boys in 20 days: they should be able to help Anna dump her “albatross” (her virginity) and make it the A.B.S.E. (absolutely best summer ever). Anna goes along, but only halfheartedly because she’s still in love with Matt and is determined to be faithful to his memory. Besides: if she falls in love with someone else, doesn’t that mean Matt will be erased?
I’m torn about this one: it’s an interesting look at dealing with grief and with the unexpected loss of a loved one, whether it be a friend or a relative. I liked the romance Anna has, both in flashbacks with Matt, and her learning that she can love again with Sam, the local surfer boy. However, I cringed at everything Anna and Frankie get away with — and they get away with a lot; understandably, Frankie’s parents are grief-stricken, but it makes them really lazy in the parenting department. I also don’t think the shedding of one’s virginity — especially as a one-time affair — is really a valid method of dealing with grief, which is what I ultimately saw it being used as in the book, which made me uncomfortable.
At any rate, the characters — especially Anna — are interesting and complex, which is difficult to do when dealing with intense emotions and situations. And while everything is not perfect in the end, everything will be OK.
Which, sometimes, is all you can ask for.
Rated: High, for teen drinking, sex (a couple of tastefully written, “on-screen” sex scenes), and mild swearing. If it were an adult book, it’d be Moderate.