Review: The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Book cover for The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh BaskinJulia and Eliza are best friends. Julia’s mother is serving in the National Guard in Iraq, and Julia spends all of her time trying not to think about what could happen. So the girls lose themselves in their summer, hanging out at the resort where Eliza’s father works. But when they meet a new boy, neither of them is prepared for how it impacts their friendship, and Julia has to cope with the possibility of being separated from yet another person she loves.

Award-winner Nora Raleigh Baskin delivers a poignant look at the way a first crush can come between best friends—and the importance of not rushing to grow up.

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a sweet and thoughtful story about the summer that everything in 12-year-old Julia’s life changes. Her mother, a nurse, is serving in Iraq, and Julia is counting down the days, fingers crossed, until she comes home. The Summer Before Boys is a quiet, personal look at what life is like at home for the children of deployed military personnel.

Nora Raleigh Baskin has written a story that is certainly a thought-provoking and sensitive glimpse of Julia’s coming of age, bit by bit, while also worrying about her mother. And interspersed throughout the telling of the main story–Julia spending her 12th summer at a lake resort with her best friend, Eliza–The Summer Before Boys tells us about what Julia was thinking and feeling in the months and weeks leading up to her mom’s deployment (anger and fear), as well as some facts about female servicewomen who have been killed in wars from The Civil War all the way up to the war in Iraq. Both of these things help put the main story into perspective, as well as provide some really interesting information. Occasionally the jumping around took a little bit away from the rest of the story, and as a result, the entire summer passes pretty quickly. Overall, though, everything served to make the story well-rounded, important for such a short book (barely 200 pages).

Julia herself is an interesting character. Gradually, she’s losing her childishness and has to learn how to handle it, and how to handle the reactions of the important people in her life. Still, she’s only 12, and when it comes to a young boy named Michael, she acts like it. It’s kind of cute, actually, but their little summer fling is really not the focus in The Summer Before Boys. No, Julia is really dealing with the constant worry over her mother, who is due to come home at the end of the summer. In dealing with this aspect, Julia almost sounds like a grown person, which made this reader a little sad for her fun, spunky, innocent childish self. She is the one who looks up all the information about women killed in action, she knows the number of soliders who’ve died in Iraq, she thinks often about what it must be like for the kids whose parents don’t come home. It’s kind of heartbreaking. Julia will definitely make readers FEEL THINGS.

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin is perhaps not the book for people who are looking for fast-paced action and drama, but that shouldn’t take away from readers appreciating it for the thoughtful moments it shares in a young girl’s growth. It’s also a great little story about a friendship undergoing some changes, as Julia and Eliza find themselves suddenly on slightly different paths. But The Summer Before Boys is ultimately a touching story about a young girl who can’t wait for her mom to come home safely, and who’s ultimately ready to start taking some baby steps into tweendom.