Wrong Way Summer

Wrong Way Summer
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Release Date
April 21, 2020
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Claire used to love her dad’s fantastical stories, especially tales about her absent mom—who could be off with the circus or stolen by the troll king, depending on the day. But now that she’s 12, Claire thinks she’s old enough to know the truth. When her dad sells the house and moves her and her brother into a converted van, she’s tired of the tall tales and refuses to pretend it’s all some grand adventure, despite how enthusiastically her little brother embraces this newest fantasy. Claire is faced with a choice: Will she play along with the stories her dad is spinning for her little brother, or will she force her family to face reality once and for all? Equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, Wrong Way Summer is a road-trip journey and coming-of-age story about one girl’s struggle to understand when a lie is really a lie and when it’s something more: hope.

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Claire's father has always been evasive when it comes to answering questions about her mother, who left the family when Claire was young; he would launch into elaborate stories about her being kidnapped by trolls or other fantastical explanations. When she was younger, like her brother Patrick, she believed her father, but as she approaches twelve, she becomes increasing annoyed at his games. When he decides to sell the house, buy a van, and spend the summer living in it, traveling around the country, Claire is very angry. She doesn't want to leave her home or her best friend, Ronnie, especially since Ronnie's older brother Mike seems interested in her. She's not given a choice, however, and soon the family is traveling from Michigan, through Ohio, and to Maine. They visit old friends of their father's along the way, but travel without much of a plan, much like the stories her father tells of supposed ancestor, Wrong Way Edgar Jacobus and his love interest, Evangeline Rose. When they head toward the west coast to visit her father's sister, Jan, Claire wonders if they might stop to see her mother as well. There's something not quite right about her father's plan, and once they land with her aunt, Claire finds out the truth about her family's travels.
Good Points
While it is fairly obvious that something is not quite right with the family's situation, the father hides the pertinent details about why they are leaving the house and undertaking the trip. The fanciful tales are his way of conveying some of the information about his painful past, and Claire understands a lot more about her situation at the end of the book.

There seems to be a minitrend in middle grade literature involving living in a van or camper; Svetcov's Parked and Nielsen's No Fixed Address have families living in vans because they are homeless, Gemeinhart's Coyote Sunrise has a similar plot about driving away from one's problems, and Nelson's upcoming (September 2020) Alpaca My Bags also has a family living in a camper. The details about finding a place to park, sleeping in hammocks, and using rest stop restroom facilities will appeal to readers who want some travel and adventure.

Road trip books are always interesting, and Claire's father drives VanHelsing through some interesting places; although they don't go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they pass it, and almost go to an amusement park along Lake Erie, probably Cedar Point. They meet a lot of other people who are camping, including a boy Claire's age who turns out not to be very nice.

Families splinter for all sorts of reasons; it's not always because a parent has passed away. Children often are not told about economic difficulties that families are facing, but are aware of them nonetheless. Books like Wrong Way Summer help build empathy for classmates who might be in difficult circumstances while also providing vicarious travel experiences.
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