Book review: ‘Only Summer’ features a real take on real life

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“Where are you?”
“I’m in the ladies room at Eleven Madison Park,” I whisper, attempting to keep my voice down inside a bathroom stall in one of the most expensive restaurants in Manhattan.

We’ve all been there, texting or calling a friend from the bathroom, desperately wanting out of whatever awaits beyond the stall door. This clip is from Rachel Cullen’s newest novel “Only Summer”, which follows four women from New York City and Westchester, each struggling with personal relationships, change and understanding what they want from their lives. Well written and fast-paced, Cullen’s writing is accessible and sure to bring a smile to your face.

Sabrina lives in a Manhattan apartment with her fiance Peter, who’s never actually home. But as the reality of a wedding starts to seep in and “the one that got away” shows up, she questions whether this is really what she wants.

Heather is recovering from a history of breast cancer. Though she has dramatically improved, her husband Kevin refuses to let her do anything on her own. A summer on the cape offers the promise of more freedom and a new friendship.

Molly has just moved to Rye from Boulder, CO and is experiencing what can only be described as culture shock. She knew Rye was more upscale than her previous home, but the pressure of social expectations quickly pulls her in. Molly is trapped in a world of excess and lies just may keep her there.

Megan was planning on spending most of her summer with her boyfriend Ryan. But with Ryan in Europe, her prospects look bleak until she gets an offer to be a live-in babysitter in Cape Cod. While Ryan doesn’t answer his phone, Megan meets a handsome new friend and realizes her summer may not be so terrible after all.

Cullen’s characters are relatable and well developed, especially with such a large and connected cast. Heather, Meghan, Molly, and Sabrina all make obviously terrible decisions at different points, but when faced with the situations ourselves, most of us would do the same. Importantly, even the minor characters are given thought and time, adding an organic sense of realism to the whole story. Readers are able to pick up on the little things Cullen write about other people without gaining a sense of unrealism.

The story has the rhythm of a short story but the length of a novel, which some may find unappealing. I felt it made the story more accessible, keeping the plot flying by, just as summer seems to. The prospective switching chapters were confusing at times, as it made it slightly difficult to keep the characters straight, but kept the reader wondering about what would happen next.

I know this review overused the word realistic already, but I found that to be the best feature of this book. The characters struggle with marriage, commitment, social expectations, and other problems we all face at some point in our lives. Questions like, “how do you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone?”, “How do you deal without your parents?” and “What do you tell your partner and what do you keep to yourself?” are featured in this book.

While the plot was slightly predictable, it was a real take on real life, portraying squabbling families and insecurities faced by teenagers and adults just as they exist in reality.

Whether you’re sitting on the beach or under a mountain of blankets wishing for summer, Cullen’s writing is sure to make you feel called out, laugh and maybe shed a tear or two when all’s said and done.