November 13, 2015

Book Review: The Summer Remains (The Summer Remains #1) by Seth King

The Summer RemainsThe Summer Remains by Seth King
Rating: /5

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My kindle copy told me that typical time it took to read this book is 6 hours and 42 minutes for 335 pages. In fact, it took me 10 HOURS in a span of 5 DAYS to read this book that feels like having 123284034092478132 PAGES in my eyes. And I was thoroughly ‘tortured’ the entire time.
‘Life was going to destroy me anyway, be it in three months or sixty years―why not let love help finish the job, too?’
(Chapter II)
The Summer Remains tells a story of Summer Martin Johnsons, a 24-year old girl-woman who’s fighting a battle against rare illness of Esophagus Intresia, which literally means she had no complete structure of throat and had to feed herself with liquid-y food through a plastered tube on her abdomen. It had been a long, bumpy, and windy road all her life but she was not a weak girl and she refused to be defined by her illness. Living with a brother and single parent wasn’t an easy deed either. Due to her rare circumstance, her mom constantly obsessed on her brother’s non-existent illness while juggling her role between a single parent who should stay 24/7 taking care of her kids and as a going-older woman who’s been missing out so much of life to find her own happiness. Summer realized that it’s more and less was all because of her so she tried her best to be strong, to babysit her brother while overlooking her mom’s sneaky escapade to some dates she didn’t even want to know about, to live her life just the way it treated her: cynical but boringly safe. When the doctor told Summer there would be a surgery that would be a turning point for her life, whether in a good or bad way, she jumped into the chance with no hesitation. And then when people asked whether she has any just-in-case wish before the surgery was performed in three months, she uttered her deepest desire to fall in love in her possibly last summer.
‘Because, I, Summer Johnson, Purveyor of Pragmatism, Lover of Logic, Ultimate Believer in the Rational, and Person Who Was Maybe Going to Die Soon, wanted to drown in someone.’ 
(Chapter I)
Cooper Nichols hadn’t had it easy with his life. Eleven years old boy was left alone by her father with a mom who’s diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Cooper was haunted by the bad memory that he dreaded he would eventually became just like his father and left her mom getting worse alone. But Cooper never did, or at least he tried his best not to. Growing up, Cooper had been battling with the monsters of his self-doubt, insecurity, and fear of having severe breakdown any moment. He felt like he’d been standing on the edge of a cliff all his life, waiting for some storm to knock him down for good. Until Summer. The girl with a broken throat and scarred face was a living-proof that unfairness of life had nothing in human’s passion to keep going. Summer’s existence made him realize that someone out there was trapped in a far worse condition than him but still, they lifted their chins up and exchanged judgments to anyone who came across their path. Summer had a very round opinion about life and when Cooper first ‘found’ her he knew that this summer would be the moment his whole life changing.
‘After all, there were only a few moments in a human’s life that came along and changed everything, […]. Mine was at six in the evening, the twenty-fifth of March, humid breeze, golden sunset. The moment I’d met Summer.’ 
(Chapter XXII)
The story is truly heartbreaking yet powerfully moving. I’ve read a lot of books with terminal illness as its main topic but somehow this one felt so much different for me. Unlike those other books that ‘demand’ the readers to focus mainly on the illness, Seth King slipped the Intresia just as another layer of Summer’s character instead of as the center point to which the whole story revolved.
The Summer Remains is simply a story of a girl and a boy both with messed up and seemingly hopeless life sharing one summer together, comparing perspectives, discovering life, battling the limits, exchanging friendship, and finding self-worth under condescending judgment and uncertainty of the future.

Summer’s character is quite unique for me. I admit that I had a feeling at first that I might dislike her for her cynical trait because it always bothered me when the main character who diagnosed with a rare/terminal illness tends to shaped into possessing high level of cynicism towards his/her surrounding that sometimes overdone, like getting mad for small things to their parents and such. Summer is one of those characters, yet I couldn’t bring myself to dislike or even hate her. It’s because Summer’s cynicism was directed to things that I could relate like, for example, how people nowadays loved to ‘abuse’ social media into some popularity contest of whose life’s happiest. And when she got frustrated to her mom, it’s understandable because as much as she loved her mother and wanted her to have a life outside their scarred little family, Summer still felt a huge need of a mother figure by her side. A mother who’d willingly embrace her role as a parent of a little boy and a disabled girl-woman… I loved Summer for her strong personality but somehow I loved her even more when she showed her weakness, like how her insecurity came creeping in sometimes. Her character seemed much realistic that way. And her honesty, well, I think Summer might be the most honest heroine I ever read. How she admitted that she didn’t have time to think about other people because of her own situation, how she admitted that sometimes what hurt more was not the pain caused by her ‘defect’ but the fact that the ‘defect’ didn’t give a strong impression to people like cancer or any other terminal-illnesses did, how she once admitted that she longed for attention so much she’s willing to let her ‘defect’ to help her gain sympathy. The scenes where Summer threw some little confessions like I mentioned above were just heartbreakingly honest.
‘If human were colors, Cooper was the most dazzling gold in the world and I was a million different shades of the same boring grey.’ 
(Chapter VI)
Meanwhile Cooper was a little difficult to connect with at first because of his insta-attraction toward Summer when we didn’t have enough background story of him. Summer’s wariness about Cooper’s too-good-to-be-true self came to my mind too. But along the way, Cooper started to show how interesting his way of thinking is. His clever opinions and analogies were my best favorite and that’s I guess that made me fall for him hard. Reading Cooper’s character brought some new perspective about life within me. His thorough opinions about several nowadays issues in our society were just over the top. Here is the part that I loved the most:
‘They called death the great equalizer, and it was―because in the rearview mirror, everyone was a hero.’ 
(Chapter XXVI)
(Dude, don’t you agree with that argument??)

One of Cooper’ issues was so relatable: trapped in the moment of uncertainty in your life when you’re not sure about what you’d do. But Cooper’s circumstance was much worse since he was also exposed to the pressures from his family’s situation.

Summer and Cooper’s romance was not the kind that makes you all gooey inside. Seth King didn’t give you that because he focused more to the congruity of both characters’ minds than putting down a lot of heart-melting scenes between them. But it did make their relationship seems even stronger because its fundamental wasn’t solely based on physical attraction but attractiveness of beautiful minds. The romance wasn’t presented in this book to give you a dreamlike story of a gorgeous flawed boy falls in love with a sick scarred girl, but it had a deeper meaning than that. Summer and Cooper’s love taught us that to fall in love isn’t to find someone perfect for your incomplete soul because even two flawed people could create the most perfect love in the world if given the chance.
“… . Everyone has issues. The key is finding someone whose issues mesh well with your issues.” 
(Chapter X)
And the way Cooper patiently never stopped reminding Summer of her self-worth was really sweet. Cooper loved her for who she is and he determined to make Summer sees that, to understand that just because people walk away from you doesn’t mean you’re less than them.
“But anyway, now you can see what I see. You were wrong, Summer: you do glow.” 
(Chapter X)
Despite all my favorite things about this book, there were things that bother me. First, I suspected that because the author is male, the romantic scene between them felt kind a little ‘off’. So did the expressed feeling of the characters, especially when the story was told from female character’s perspective during the first part of the book. But when it reached the second part where the perspective was shifted into Cooper’s, the tensions, feelings, every single emotion was suddenly all perfectly captured within the scenes. The second slash last one, the usage of certain insignificant words repetitively in the book really bothered me as a reader. I didn’t have any other minus points regarding this book though I admitted that both points I mentioned above were a little crucial since they’re part of story-delivery elements.

The ending was absolutely my favorite. Some people might disagree with me but I personally thought that it’s just how this story should end. An ending is where the writer resolves every twist and every unfulfilled wish of the characters. Seth King didn’t need to execute the former because when he performed the later beautifully, it became more than enough the readers to solve the rest on their own. I super loved his choice of final words which perfectly relayed the essential message of some issues on the book. God, this book is just imperfectly perfect, a raw beauty that holds a bunch of wisdom about living a hard life as a fragile human being.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. No category or such. Just everyone.
Because every living person needs some wisdom to boost their mood up and The Summer Remains basically exists for that.
‘So I guess I want you to know that there was a boy named Cooper, and that he loved a girl who wasn’t beautiful until she felt like she was.’ 
(Chapter XXVII)

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.


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