Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How To Ruin A Summer Vacation

How To Ruin A Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles. Flux.

The Plot: What could be worse than your father deciding to spend time with you? What, that doesn't sound like a bad thing? Did I mention he's a deadbeat, barely remembering to call on birthdays? Or that he's now decided that you're going to spend the entire summer with him, and for some reason, your Mom has agreed? Meaning you cannot spend the summer with your best friend and your boyfriend? OK, maybe this will convince you -- the sudden reason he's all Daddy dearest is he wants to introduce you to his sick mother. Talk about playing the sympathy card! Oh, and another thing, not only have you never met this Grandmother, guess where his mother lives. Israel!! I know!! It gets worse, if you can believe it. Mom and Dad never having been married; and it's not until you're in Israel, outside the house, that Dad lets you know his family knows nothing about you.
Oh yeah. This summer is ruined.

The Good: Amy is in a snit over her forced trip to Israel. She's mad at her mother, who is involved with a new guy; mad at her father for being an absentee Dad; mad at both of them for forcing her to change her summer plans and fly to Israel. I love a good self-righteous angry teen; Elkeles puts you right in Amy's shoes, so you are just as angry at the world as she is.

Amy is so angry that she pretty much turns off everyone she meets, earning the tag American bitch. She has to make the best of this situation; and the cute guy she meets helps. A lot. This is a story about finding family (Amy connecting with her father, Ron, and her Israeli relatives), accepting and forgiving other people (Ron has let her down), romance (the cute guy, Avi), religion (Amy isn't Jewish, but her father and his family are), and discovering a new country. It's also very funny, as Amy makes so many goofs that I almost shut my eyes in embarrassment for her. Did she just say that? Did she just do that? Oh yes she did! Some of her highpoints include calling her cousin O'Snot (Osnat), one of the local kids Moron (it's Moran, actually), and starting a fight at a disco.

Deadbeat/absentee Dads are a tough thing to write; or, at least, I'm tough on them being done realistically, especially because I don't think someone changes from distant to TV-Dad for no good reason. So, here are the excuses made for Ron: he was young, he let the mother's family keep him out of the picture, he decided to concentrate on his career, he had no family or resources in the US. What's changed? His job is secure, and his mother dying makes him want to establish a relationship with Amy, he' s no longer a kid barely out of his teens. I'll be honest; not the best of reasons... but I'll live with it, because other than that this is a fun book. Hey, maybe I'm getting soft in my old age.

Finding roots has been done in teen books before, but how often are the roots in Israel? Amy thinks she is going into a war zone; she ends up in a small town in the Golan Heights. Amy learns about Israel and about being an Israeli. It's not the warzone she pictured; but there are soldiers, people whose lives are changed by bombings, and the teens she meets are preparing to go into the army. It's a comedy, but it's realistic; this isn't some fantasy version of Israel. Amy's mother isn't Jewish; and this trip is the first time she learns about Judaism; in addition to embracing her father, she also embraces Judaism. How many romantic comedies for teens are about finding religion?
Edited to fix names.


Brian Farrey said...

You rock like crazycakes.

Simone Elkeles said...

I love the review, thanks so much for writing it! Believe it or not, I've experienced a lot of what Amy did in the book. Some summers of mine in Israel were very interesting, to say the least!

~Simone Elkeles