Out 7th July 2016
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Reviewed by Elizabeth Gibson
The word ‘summer’ in the title of a YA novel is often an indicator of something sunny, fluffy and coming-of-age. Eden Summer is very different. In place of sun we have the ever-changing weather of Yorkshire and in place of fluff we have a sad but poignant story, one that is not a coming-of-age tale in the traditional sense. Jess, our protagonist, has already come of age, in a manner; she has survived a terrible incident that has led to her having a wisdom beyond her years. The novel’s aim appears to be to examine what happens after that; after a life-changing incident. This is what makes Liz Flanagan’s début really interesting.
Jess goes to school one day to find her best friend Eden missing. Soon a manhunt is underway, the level of concern of all involved no doubt heightened by the fact that Eden recently lost her sister. Jess is at first infuriated at how the school failed to support Eden properly following that loss, just as they failed Jess after her own life-altering event. After berating her teachers Jess decides the only thing she can do is search for Eden herself. A keen fell-runner, Jess scales hills, clambers up waterfalls and, most importantly, mentally retraces her steps throughout the last summer she and Eden spent together, looking for clues.
Jess is a fresh and believable narrator. Eden begins as a standard shallow school beauty but reveals other facets of her personality over the course of the novel. Eden’s late sister Iona is also an intriguing character. Past and present are blended together expertly, with nature and landscape playing a crucial role. The novel is bookended with snowy scenes – the same scene, really – that are among its most striking.
Love is a major part of the story: both the power of love and the different forms it can take. Jess’s mother is gay and has a girlfriend, and it isn’t a big deal – it’s just there in the background. It’s also refreshing to see friendship identified as being equally as potent as romance, perhaps at times more so. Jess appears to understand Eden far better than Eden’s boyfriend, Liam. The love between sisters is also explored, with a spotlight on the often fraught relationship between teenage sisters.
One element that jars a little are the views about writing and writers expressed by Jess. They aren’t the kind of thing a teen would say, and feel like the author using her protagonist as a mouthpiece. Jess shows no interest in writing most of the time but then says rather dark things about the likes of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, which doesn’t really ring true. The section about tarot cards also seems out of place in the wider story. On the whole, however, Eden Summer is a bittersweet but uplifting novel about how to go on after your world has been irreversibly changed. I’m greatly looking forward to seeing what Liz Flanagan comes up with next.