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Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

If I were asked what the most haunting phrase in the English language is, stage four pancreatic cancer would have to be somewhere towards the top. It is, after all, a phrase thats virtually synonymous with death. Theres something so terrifying about this disease, more than so many others: its an invisible disease that devours from the inside out. Its a disease that people dont know how to deal with, one that seems to make no sensewhy would ones body turn on itself?'Its a disease that flouts all of our typical grieving processes, our goodbyes. Its the awkward silence that descends on a room and makes everyone who they are.

Its also something that follows you no matter how far you run, and for the first time in her life Taylor Edwards, who has made a habit of running, is being forced to stand her ground and follow something through to its conclusion. When Taylors dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer, her family decides to spend the summera last summerat their old lake house in Pennsylvania. But its a decision that means not only that Taylor has to face the inevitable death of her father, but a past that shes been outrunning for years.

The Edwards summer home is a strange mix of the new and the old: some things, like the decor, have remained utterly unchanged in the past five years, while others, like their neighbours, have changed completely. The neighbourhood is mix of the familiar and the strange, much like the situation with Taylors father. A successful lawyer, hes always been strong and successful in Taylors eyes: until now, she has seen him as a rock-like figure in her life, never changing, but always just there. Its not that Taylor doesnt love her father, its just that there have always been priorities shes put ahead of getting to know him. After all, if you see someone as unchanging, then your future with them seems infinite.

But now Taylor can see the changes: from day to day there are differences in his conduct, his manner, his aspect. And although hes wasting away, ageing at some sort of supernatural rate, he wants this summer to be one where he can experience as much of his children, his wife, and the rest of his life, as possible. The family has perhaps three months together until everything changes forever. But Taylors torn between wanting to spend as much time with her father as possible and his need to be able to get his affairs in order. And so Taylor leads whats largely a normal teen life: beginning a love affair with a childhood friend; rekindling a friendship with her best friend from years ago. Getting a job for the first time. Helping her brother find a date, and her sister find her first best friend. Taylor uses the summer to atone for the wrongs she feels she has committed, and also as a second chance for her and her father. Her father, on the other hand, uses it to relieve all of the things that have meant so much to him throughout his lifeand to encourage his children to become the people they have always wanted to be. But time, of course, is running out.

Second Chance Summer is a beautiful novel in so many ways, and there are parts of it that are tremendously strong: the end had me very close to tears. But I was disappointed by the scope of the book: the emotional impact of Taylors fathers illness and her growing relationship with him, which is the key aspect of the book, was diluted by the various side plots of summer love, friendships, and summer jobs. In particular, the terrible deed that Taylor keeps so obliquely referring to, and which turns out to be very much a mountain out of a molehill, is hugely overemphasised, with a good half of the book spent focusing on this element and not on the more crucial plotline of her fathers illness, her familys reaction to it, and Taylors subsequent growth as an individual because of it.

The problem with red herring of Taylors past shows up in other places, too: there are things that were led to believe should be more important than they are, which becomes quite exhausting in a book thats as emotionally challenging as this. There are, throughout the book, scenes that feel like they should go somewhere, but dont: for example, Taylors boyfriends reaction to an abandoned dog seems to hint at something more than what we get: the reader expects a plot-related progression rather than a simple emotional reaction.

However, this aside, there is a good deal here to like, and I adored the relationship between Taylor and her father, not to mention all of the ways in which each tried to make right their relationship through small but meaningful gesturesbuying licorice, watching certain films, having pun warsbut with the many subplots on display here the book feels bloated to the point that much of this loses the emotional impact it should have had. Its when, at the very end, the novel condenses back down to just the family that its at its best, and Matsons considerable skills as an author show through.

Second Chance Summer is deeply moving, but I couldnt help but feel that its lack of focus dampens its emotional impact.


The next couple of weeks feel into a pattern almost like a pendulum, with the good and the bad in constant flux, and I could never fully enjoy the upswing because I knew that the downswing would be coming shortly thereafter. We all started staying in a night, and spending the time after dinner sitting around the table.After much protesting from my mother we excavated the old battered Risk board and set it up in the living room, where it became a shrine to strategy. And later on, when it got too dark or cold to stay on the porch, we all came inside to play the game, until my dad started yawning, his head drooping, and my mother would declare detente for the night and she and Warren would help my dad upstairs.

Rating: star Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matsonstar Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matsonstar Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matsonhalfstar Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matsonblankstar Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson (very good)

With thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Morgan Matson:

Amy and Rogers Epic Detour by Morgan Matson Book Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson


  1. Yeah, I do agree about the point where the all the lead up to the betrayal led tothat. I was disappointed in that aspect of the book. Youre right, it could have been more fleshed out. I really enjoyed it overall though, I even gave it my first 5 star based purely on what it made me feel.

  2. Stephanie /

    I was surprised that the betrayal was such a small thingalthough I suppose that that was the point, in a way. Things that *seem* so big at the time are dwarfed by retrospect and by other far more challenging things. I got what the author was getting at, but it just didnt quite work with me. But I agree with you about the emotion: the ending of this one had me utterly invested, and I was very moved!

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