by Richard Peck
When I think back on this book it is very much like thinking on old friends. Such an incredible book that it absolutely has to be on my list of the three most influential books from my childhood. Previously I wrote about Prince Ombra and Out of the Bug Jar. They were both fairly innocent introductions to the world of fantasy and adventures, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had while reading Richard Peck’s book, which is not a fantasy at all. It is a drama for young adults, which seems very boring and certainly not anything I was interested in at the time.
It’s about three teenagers of different social classes who end up being very close friends. There’s the girl who’s lived in the area her whole life in one of the last remaining old farmhouses with her grandma. There’s the boy who is living in a work trailer with his (divorced) dad who is a worker hired to build the new developments taking over the area. And the last boy is from one of the first families to move into the big new fancy homes that are quickly covering the farmlands surrounding the area. To be honest, I’m not sure why I decided to borrow it from the library. I had no idea at the time who Richard Peck was or that one day I’d be so sad to hear of his passing. It was just another book at the library. Perhaps something in either the original cover art or in the synopsis alluded to summer. Summertime was a magical season for me as a child, and in my head, I spent my summers on a dreamy countryside or old farm. Whatever it was, once I started reading, I could not stop. Even though I wanted to. I wanted to rip out the pages and punch the author. I had never been so emotional over a book in my life.
I recall being in my bedroom one afternoon when it happened. At one point in the story, I became absolutely furious and threw the book across the room. I stormed out of the bedroom swearing I wouldn’t finish reading it. I was more than swearing, I was crying. Balling my eyes out. My mom asked what was wrong and I had to tell her what was going on with Buck, Kate, and Trav as though they were actual people I knew. This was the very first time a book caused such an emotional response from me and I will never forget it.
Who knew books could be more than entertaining? Who knew they could evoke such devotion to a character, cause actual emotion, not just an interest in plot? The power of books, of stories, was revealed to me. Previously I was reading others’ stories but this was like living it and being there the whole time. I hung out in the orchard with them, laughed out loud at their jokes, and disliked the same annoying kids from school as they did. Out of all the books from my childhood, this one is by far the most influential.
I will never forget Kate, Buck or Trav probably as long as I live. It’s one thing to create a new world or an entire universe of imaginary places and creatures, but it is an entirely different accomplishment to create a character that is so incredibly realistic it feels as though you’ve gone through life together, or in this case, just one very unforgettable summer.