After all the buzz of the National Book Award, I had to blow through this one to see what the hype was. Wow! Judy Blundell has created a setting not often seen in YA novels. First of all, while we have lots of WWII books, this one takes place about 5 or 6 years after the war has ended. Evie Spooner and her mom and stepdad decide to take a break and vacation in the sparsely inhabited or visited, Palm Beach, FL. While we think of the 50's as bucolic and prosperous, there was actually enough anti-semitism that Palm Beach had a "no Jews" and "no coloreds" law. Thus, it is that the new friends the Spooners make at the undervisited hotel are asked to leave. They are there under a false name- a gentile one rather than their Jewish name by which they are known in NYC.
Evie believes she's ugly because she is constantly comparing herself to her drop dead gorgeous mother. Actually, Evie has become a beautiful young woman at 15, and she catches the eye of a 23 year-old veteran of the recent war, coincidentally a colleague of her father's from his platoon. While Evie pines away for Peter and Peter tries to constantly remember their age difference, another illicit relationship is brewing between Peter and Evie's mother. However, Evie isn't privvy to this information until after a boating accident puts all of the Spooners into the spotlight- on trial. At a crossroads now, Evie has a difficult decision to make.
This is a searing novel where the main character has a painful revelation of the fallibility of her own mother on top of some hard hitting revelations about what it means to grow up. I have read lots of coming-of-age novels, but this one really gripped me with the decisions that Evie was forced to make. She truly matured in a matter of 200+ pages. Her innocence was taken in her new view of the world and her parents. (By the way, the dad has adopted Evie and the mother was previously a single mother in the early 1940's-very taboo.) The hurricane in the novel is a wonderful metaphor for the flight of Evie's childhood and a realization that she has been ushered into a new phase of her life.
I instantly thought of one of my students when I read this book. She, too, devoured it along with her mother. The appeal of Evie and the dramatic irony so cleverly constructed by the author makes this a difficult book for anyone, any age, to put down.