Summer Skin came to me at just the right time. I wanted a romance that wasn’t cheesy or trite, and I got it. Jess and Mitch felt like real people, not just personality vacuums with good bodies pointlessly resisting falling in love, only to cave at the last second. It celebrated my favorite parts of romance: the anticipation, the character growth, the secret make-out sessions, in a way that was incredibly positive and affirming of women.
The story opens at the beginning of a new year at an Australian University. Jess and her friends are plotting revenge against a nearby fraternity, which culminates in the abduction and hair dying of Mitch Crawford, football star and self-proclaimed manly man. Obviously, the opening hostilities quickly soften into something rather warmer.
It’s Kirsty Eagar’s (Raw Blue) portrayal of the main characters that pushed this book out of the common way. I loved Jess’ insecurities and her strength. She has to make a conscious effort to self-define, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: who I want to be, as opposed to who I’m ‘supposed’ to be. Jess works hard to avoid slipping into roles she doesn’t want.
I loved Summer Skin’s messages of embracing womanhood and not allowing others to define the parameters of that. As inspiring as it is to watch self-assured women being amazing in literature, those characters don’t always seem to face the frustration and restrictions of society’s expectations. Or if they do, it comes across as a silly obstacle that our hero can just sneer at and ignore.
That’s not how I feel about people’s expectations of me, especially the expectations of people who matter to me. I have to fight a battle between the part of me that wants to please people and the part of me that wants to decide who I am. It’s exhausting, and hard. It was reassuring to see that experience shared in Summer Skin. It made me feel like I’m not alone.
I surprised myself hugely by liking Mitch. At their first meeting, he’s insulting and arrogant and clearly doesn’t have a good opinion of Jess – though he doesn’t know her. Honestly, he was insufferable most of the time, but not groundlessly so. He works on his crap. I loved watching him challenge his assumptions and learn to take Jess for who she was, as she was. Who doesn’t love a good redemption story, after all?
Their romance was grounded in good conversation and moments of touching safety. While it was by no means the perfect book, Summer Skin got enough right to make me look indulgently upon the moments of immature miscommunication and unrealistic conflict. Jess’ inner world felt so genuine that I bought into her struggle one hundred percent.