The Summer of Broken Rules is a unique story about grief, love, games, and finding yourself. Set in Martha’s Vineyard in the USA, the book explores how a family comes together through shared experiences and through games, to be a great support system during times of loss. I was hooked right from the premise of some fun action and suspense within the genre of realistic YA fiction.
The book follows Meredith, an 18-year-old girl who has just lost her sister in a freak accident. She and her family are going to Martha’s Vineyard (an island off the coast of Massachusetts, USA) for a week for Meredith’s cousin Sarah’s wedding. Meredith’s grandparents live there and the whole extended family visits every summer. At the wedding, Sarah and her fiancé announce that the family will be playing a game of Assassin to honor Meredith’s late sister, Claire, who was the undisputed queen of the game. The gameplay goes like this: every player has a target – someone they have to “kill” (i.e. shoot with a water-gun). If a player is eliminated, their target becomes their killer’s next target. The winner of the game is the last player standing.
The beginning of the book is strong. The characters are introduced well and clearly defined. Meredith’s extended family and Sarah’s fiancé’s family, plus their friends and wedding guests, make up a truly huge cast of characters. Everyone’s personalities and roles were clearly defined from the start so it does not get confusing. The setting is described beautifully as well. You can almost feel the spray from the sea and the summer goodness of the island on which the wedding is happening.
But despite this, I felt that the book slowly lost momentum as the chapters went by. The suspense I expected was present in the beginning, but as the book went on I started wondering why the game was so important at all. The book explains that Meredith is invested in the game because she wants to win it for her sister, which I understood in the first few chapters. Yet I felt that this explanation did not hold up towards the end, as Meredith made new relationships with other characters. The importance of the game kept varying.
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Sometimes the “kills” were described comically, with over-dramatic betrayals and action movie-like moves, which I really liked. However, at other times Meredith seems genuinely scared and distressed by the game, leading me to wonder whether she actually found it fun or not.
I felt like the romance was a bit forced. Meredith meets someone from the groom’s party, Wit, at the wedding, and she almost immediately falls in love with him. This in itself would have been okay – I don’t mind a good “love at first sight” story. But I was disappointed that Meredith gave so much importance to what Wit thought of her. It seemed as though Wit kept telling Meredith what she was thinking and who she was as a person.
Don’t get me wrong, their love story is pretty cute, but I would have liked it better if Meredith had more autonomy over her perception of herself. A redeeming factor here is that Meredith eventually does make her own decisions and does not let her life revolve around what Wit or her family say. But I still felt like the love story was given undue importance. I was not convinced that the strength of their relationship was enough to make it so significant in Meredith’s life.
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I found myself almost rushing through the final chapters, not because I was impatient to find out who won the game (honestly, I lost interest halfway through), but because I just wanted the book to end. The epilogue seemed unnecessary too. The only purpose it served was to reiterate what was already established in the previous chapters, and the new information could have been added seamlessly in the last chapter.
Would I read this book again? Probably not. But would I recommend it to people? Maybe. It was not terrible, certainly not the worst YA book I’ve ever read. Despite everything, I would give it a solid 3 out of 5, the good points being for the setting, the first few chapters, and the amazing descriptions of the food they eat. (Donuts and pies, anyone?)
Overall, personally, I felt that the book was a bit of a disappointment, but not to the extent that I regret reading it.
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