The First Magnificent Summer

The First Magnificent Summer
Age Range
Release Date
May 30, 2023
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Twelve-year-old Victoria Reeves is all set for her “First Magnificent Summer with Dad,” even though it’s been more than two years since she last saw him. She’s ready to impress him with her wit, her maturity, and her smarts—at least until he shows up for the long road trip to Ohio with his new family, The Replacements, in tow.

But that’s not the only unpleasant surprise in store for Victoria. There are some smaller disappointments, like being forced to eat bologna even though it’s her least favorite food in the world. And then there’s having to sleep outside in a tent while The Replacements rest comfortably inside the family RV. But the worst thing Victoria grapples with is when she begins to suspect that part of the reason Dad always treats her as “less than” is for one simple reason: she’s female.

As Victoria captures every moment of her less than magnificent summer in her journal, she discovers that the odds are stacked against her in the contest-no-one-knows-is-a-contest: Not only does her wit begin to crumble around Dad’s multiple shaming jabs, but she gets her first period. And when Dad does the worst thing yet, she realizes she has a decision to make: will she let a man define her?

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There's no need to be anybody but yourself
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What worked:
Victoria, not Tori anymore, has a mind that won’t stop. She frets when her mother fails to call when she promised so you can see that meeting her father for the first time in two years will be even worse. Her father’s time away has made him ignorant of his own children’s interests and lives as he seems to be more concerned with his new wife, toddler, and infant. Victoria struggles to get any type of positive attention from her father and it seems to be a losing battle. He treats her as the younger girl from two years ago while older brother Jack is rewarded with praise and kindness. She’s pessimistic when it comes to the possibility of receiving her father’s affection which may be a more common problem for female readers than I’d like to think.
The author uses descriptive words and writing techniques to create a colorful, imaginative narrative. The story is told as journal entries although it doesn’t often sound like them. In one part of the book, Victoria compares her brother and herself to a pair of Sketchers shoes. She’s not sure if Jack’s changed because his laces have been tied too tightly or maybe he’s been wrapped around scratchy, stinky socks for too long. (Or no socks at all!) Victoria has her first menstrual period (she calls it The Visitor in her mind) on the first day with her dad and this physical change can be a traumatic time for young girls. It certainly is for Victoria as there’s a page and a half of lines sharing the terror she feels, such as “I CAN’T BREATHE!” and no one can enter the bathroom “Not until the floor swallows me whole!” Inspired, I’m sure by her father, there’s a whole chapter about the world of women defined by men. There is the word MENstrual itself, her MENacing MENace father, the MENu of creatively condemning words her father has for Victoria and her younger sister, and many other negative words from the dictionary that start with MEN (there are many!)
Much of the story casts Victoria in a lonely light as she grapples with the challenges of puberty on her own. She’s a thousand miles from her mother in Texas and doesn’t feel comfortable seeking help from a stepmother she just met or from her little sister who’d be no help at all. She obviously can’t talk about girl things with her father since he already gets angry when she won’t eat baloney sandwiches his stepmother made. It’s hard to believe she’ll find any understanding from a father who calls her “ungrateful”, pouty, and “Miss Priss”. Consequently, Victoria is forced to face the distress of menstruation, pimples on the forehead, and suffering through summer with The Replacements without any support other than her journal. Readers will speculate whether her father will finally realize the wonderful daughter in front of him or if he’ll become the monster she imagines.
What didn’t work as well:
Young boys probably won’t relate as well to the story as much of the conflict is sexist against girls. It’s difficult to read the constant verbal abuse Victoria endures from her father. The story can be a powerful lesson for more mature readers as it’s truly a story of empowerment against the expectations of others.
The Final Verdict:
This story can be emotionally taxing at times but Victoria’s strength and resolution present an inspirational message for young girls. The author’s vivid, expressive narrative evokes stroke feelings that will touch the hearts of young readers. I highly recommend you give this book a shot!
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