I’m still holding on to the last golden rays of the summer sun (although I don’t know why, I genuinely hate summer). So to close out this season, I thought I’d review the last book I read.

My cousin is the one who introduced me to this novel. She struggled to start it, so she let me borrow her copy, that way I could tell her if it was any good. I was in the middle of a reading slump when she gave it to me, and after two months of struggling to read literally anything, I finally finished it.

The main plot of this novel does contain elements that may be triggering to some readers. For these parts, I have included trigger warnings whenever I talk about those elements, both in my review and in the content review. The trigger warnings will look like this:

Trigger Warning

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[Triggering material]

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End of triggering material

The Blurb

Sandwiched between two exceptional siblings, Taylor Edwards never felt like she stood out—except for her history of running away when things get too complicated. Then her dad receives unexpected, terrible news, and the family makes the last-minute decision to spend the summer at their old lake house.

Taylor hasn’t been to the summerhouse since she was twelve, and she definitely never planned on going back. Up at the lake she is confronted with people she thought she had left behind, like her former best friend Lucy, and Henry Crosby, her first crush, who’s all grown up…and a lot cuter. Suddenly, Taylor is surrounded by memories she’d rather leave in the past—but she can’t run away this time.

As the days lying on the beach pass into nights gazing at the stars, Taylor realizes she has a second chance—with friends, with family, and maybe even with love. But she knows that once the summer ends, there is no way to recapture what she stands to lose.

From Morgan Matson, the PW Flying Start author of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, this is a remarkable new novel about hope in the face of heartbreaking grief.

The Review

Reviewing books like Second Chance Summer are always really hard for me because while I utterly adore the story, I have to step back and admit that it’s far from a perfect book. The “plot twist” wasn’t very surprising (I called it, like, four chapters before it happened), and felt very cliche to me. I caught some typos in it that made me wonder if the author had someone proofread it before pursuing publication, and sometimes the pacing felt a little slow.

But I still really enjoyed the book. It managed to (temporarily?) pull me out of my reading slump, which was a nice relief. The story was equally heartbreaking as it was romantic, summery, and nostalgic. The writing could be described as “all tell and no show” but for me, that worked. It made the story easy to read and easy to comprehend without a ton of extra brain power (which is important when coming out of a reading slump). It is a rather long novel, but the easy, flowing writing made it feel much shorter.

I really enjoyed Taylor as a character. She felt a little bit like a cardboard cut out in the beginning, but as the story unfolds, so does her character arc. Taylor likes to run away when things get uncomfortable or complicated, but what is she going to do when suddenly running away won’t fix things? Her character arc felt realistic and complete, even though the end of the novel is really just the beginning of something new for her and her family. I liked how much I could relate to her in the small moments: when she lays on the dock, uncertain of how to move forward, when she’s afraid of hurting her friends because of her bad choices…when she slowly, but steadily starts to open up to the very people who should hate her.

It’s a hard novel to read because Matson doesn’t shy away from the very real, very honest mistakes and bad choices that teenagers have the capability to make. And Taylor makes a lot of them. There were times when I wanted to scream at her for being so stupid or doing something that left me cringing, but looking back, it was exactly what Taylor needed to do because without the “cringe moments,” she never would have learned anything. She’s far from perfect by the end of the novel, but she’s learning, slowly. Taylor is still incredibly broken when the last page is turned, but I felt okay closing the book because I knew she’d be okay.

And somehow, I think God knew that this was exactly the kind of book I needed to read right now.

It wasn’t until now, when every day I had with my father was suddenly numbered, that I realized just how precious they had been. A thousand moments that I had just taken for granted—mostly because I had assumed that there would be a thousand more.

Second Chance Summer

Obviously, I cannot write this review without talking about Henry and Lucy. It’s hard to really properly review them without giving away things that count as spoilers, but I’ll do my best.

Henry Crosby was a great character. He’s not a perfect character by any means, but he’s everything that Taylor needed: someone strong, understanding, and caring. He truly cares for his friends and even though the friendships are super messy, Henry is proof that sometimes second chances are okay…and maybe even necessary. I’m not dismissing what happened between them (I’m being vague for a reason), but I think the author crafted Henry is a very realistic way that left me knowing that he’d be okay.

As for Lucy…man. I really like her. If I had to choose a favorite character, it would probably be her. Lucy is that best friend who drops everything to help her friend’s little sister throw the perfect slumber party. She’s the type of friend that everyone wants, but few ever find. Lucy is the character that all writers love to write because it’s like creating a gateway into the BFF that you might have never gotten to have in real life.

Lucy is a complicated character. She looks like the stubborn, stuck-up brat that hates everyone. But as the story progresses, she starts to soften. Lucy has been hurt by the people she called family. She doesn’t open up easily. Lucy represents the girls who try to hate people because they’re afraid of getting hurt…again. And I really related to that part of her because I think every girl goes through that. Maybe not in this season of life, like Lucy, but at one time or another, I believe every girl goes through a betrayal or hurt that threatens to break her completely…and Lucy embodies this girl in a really gentle, beautiful way.

I’d forgotten that when you were around Lucy, there always seemed to be the possibility of something happening. She could somehow make going to the PocoMart to get snacks feel like an adventure.

Second Chance Summer

Content Review (taken from COmmon Sense Media)

Violence:

Trigger Warning

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It isn’t violent, but it could be disturbing (particularly for teens who’ve experienced the loss of a parent) to read about her father’s sickness and death. Taylor describes how his pancreatic cancer progresses. She also falls and injures her hand.

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End of triggering material

Sex (SPOILERS): Taylor reminisces a lot about her summer crush…when they were 12; they shared their first kiss and early make-out sessions. Taylor and her crush reunite with considerably more passion at 17 than they had at 12. Taylor reveals that her desire for him surpasses what she’s felt for any other guy she’s dated/kissed. They can’t keep their hands off each other, but there aren’t any graphic scenes, and the making out never leads to sex. Other characters go on dates, kiss, and flirt.

Language: Like many teenagers, Taylor and her friends say the f-word, s-word, a–hole, bi*** and more when they’re together.

Drinking, Drugs, and Smoking: Grown-ups drink at a party; one high schooler drinks at a party.

The Star Rating

This book has some flaws. There’s no way around that. But it’s also a beautiful, fresh take on the “coming of age” trope that everybody seems to hate. Taylor is a girl who’s made a lot of mistakes, and they come back to bite her…a lot. She runs away because she doesn’t want to confront anything. And she’s fine with that…until one day she can’t run anymore.

Henry represents those second chances that we so often take for granted because we think we deserve them. But we don’t. Henry didn’t have to risk his newfound stability for the sake of giving someone a second chance. But he did.

Lucy embodies the broken girl who’s afraid to trust people again because the last time she did, it nearly destroyed her. She’s such a minor character in the broad scope of the novel, but to me…to me, Lucy was crucial to Taylor’s arc. Lucy was crucial to MY growth. Lucy was crucial. Period. End of story.

Trigger Warning

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And no, I didn’t forget about the elephant in the room. As anyone who’s read the blurb knows…death is a part of this story. It’s the main plot, in fact. But I really applaud Matson for how she approached it because it felt…real. The way he slowly became sicker and sicker, the way his appetite diminished, the way Taylor learned how to value and treasure every single moment because nothing is guaranteed. Reading about her father’s slow fade toward death was absolutely heartbreaking.

For anyone who’s ever loved someone that’s died…it’s a very raw experience. It hits you in the gut in a way that you don’t believe will ever heal. The pain…it’s something that no words will ever do justice because an ache like that cannot be measured in 26 letters, no matter how you arrange them. But somehow, I think Matson did capture that feeling. The scene with the stars (if you’ve read it, you’ll know) was equally heartbreaking as it was beautiful because it was the moment when everything came full circle and Taylor knew. Her dad knew. And there was finally peace.

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End of triggering material

I can’t tell you that this is a fun book, because while it is, it’s also an incredibly painful book. It captures the new joy of first love, the unrelenting grief of loss, and the feeling of summer nostalgia. It captures the essence of what it means to be alive…and to truly live. It captures the mistakes, late night tears, and the war between being the happiest you’ve ever been but grieving the loss of that happiness because you know dark days are coming.

Second Chance Summer encapsulates a pretty, near perfect glimpse into the highest joys and deepest aches of growing up, letting go, and learning how to keep your head up when you know nothing will ever be the same again.

And that’s why I’m giving it 5 stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

And I’ve realized that the Beatles got it wrong. Love isn’t all we need—love is all there is.

Second Chance Summer

Let’s Talk!

Have you ever read Second Chance Summer? What did you think of it? If not, have I convinced you to add it to your TBR? Do you love Lucy as much as I do? What’s your go-to summer book recommendation?

2 thoughts on “Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson // A Book Review

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