Something Like Summer – Jay Bell (Jay Bell Books)

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Nothing is more important to a novel than its structure. Without the proper frame, the best characters and the most interesting plot won’t hang together correctly. The end result might be readable but will ultimately make the reader feel askew—as if something’s not quite right. That’s one of the problems with Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer.

Ben Bentley meets handsome, athletic, funny, absolutely perfect Tim Wyman in high school, enduring mixed signals, family difficulties and the usual spate of problems before they finally achieve a (nearly) idyllic existence. Until they’re discovered. Zoom forward a few years and Ben is again in love with Jace—until Tim re-enters the picture.

Half the book is devoted to those teenage years (and the teenagers already behave, think and speak like twenty-five year olds), then we skip ahead three years for approximately a hundred pages then a short thirty pages to the epilogue five years away. As the characters never seem like teenagers, their transition to adulthood is less than believable. As good a writer as Bell is (and he does indeed have a way with dialogue and plotting), he does not make this work.

The logical conclusion that the reader comes to when Tim re-enters Ben’s life is that Ben will have to make a choice between the perfect boyfriend of his adulthood and the perfect boyfriend of his recently departed teen years. That would be lovely, allowing an opportunity for Ben to grow through making a decision. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. One of the points of this triangle is eliminated, effectively rendering Ben’s choice a moot point. He’ll have to settle for one perfect boyfriend. Even worse, this is done in less than ten pages. Then an epilogue, and bang we’re done.

The ending is horridly, noticably rushed—enough to negate 260 odd pages of stewing, angst and internal monologue—as if the novel began its life as a YA piece, then grew too large and needed to be lopped off quickly before it got to the 300 page mark. Perhaps a better idea would have been to slice those teen years in half, and use that room to deepen the characters as well as lay some foundation for the ending. The result would have been smoother, with less reader frustration approaching the last page.

The good points? Bell, as stated before, does well with dialogue and plots nicely. Ben, if not a convincing teenager, is a well-developed character as is Tim. The relationship they find as “teenagers” is realistic and drawn with well-observed details. Ben’s best friend Allison is also interesting, especially her relationship with her father. But I felt so cheated by the ending that I really had to think before I remembered what I liked about the book.

So if you’re a forgiving, astute reader, you’ll find something to like in Something Like Summer, and perhaps you won’t even feel frustrated with it. If you’re a writer, however, use this as a cautionary tale. With an unhappy ending.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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