July 26, 2007


So Inn Love. By Catherine Clark. HarperTeen. $5.99.

Summerhouse Time. By Eileen Spinelli. Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Knopf. $12.99.

Babymouse #6: Camp Babymouse. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $5.99.

      These three books could be a case study in changing expectations where summer-reading-for-fun is concerned. Teens, especially teenage girls looking for an uncomplicated, un-deep approach to summer romance, should enjoy So Inn Love, which takes place at the Tides Inn in Rhode Island. Catherine Clark, author of a number of “beach reads” for ages 14 and up, here serves up a typical teen tale of a first job, first love and first heartbreak…with none of it too serious. Elizabeth (Liza) McKenzie is in her first year working at the prestigious Tides Inn, but just about everyone else has worked there before, and so there is cliquishness to cope with, and a girl Liza knows who is “snobbing” her, and some problems with Liza’s own self-transformation from the more conventional girl she has been in the past (she now has a tattoo – temporary – and a pierced belly button, and in general does not conform to the strict rules and appearance code of the Tides Inn). There are the expected flirtations and misunderstandings, some interesting encounters with a writer’s-blocked writer, a big blowup involving a wedding, and a satisfactory conclusion involving another wedding. It’s all fluff, all forgettable and all summertime fun.

      For ages 8-12, summer books are less fraught with overflowing emotion and more filled with small joys and worries involving family and friends. At least that is the case in books such as Summerhouse Time. Written in verse by Eileen Spinelli, with charming and often slightly silly illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, this is a story in which 11-year-old Sophie and her extended family spend August in a pink beach cottage, with everything that “beach” implies – swimming and taffy and sand and sharing secrets. The mild drama here – and it is very mild – comes from Sophie’s discovery that things seem different this summer: Colleen, her teenage cousin, doesn’t want to share a room with her and is grumpy and withdrawn; her aunt and uncle are arguing a lot; and although Sophie has a crush on a boy, she has no one to share it with – which takes some of the fun out of it. Much of the charm of the book comes from its depictions of ordinary scenes: “It rains after dinner./ The aunts turn the kitchen/ into a beauty shop./ They do each other’s hair./ Mom paints Tammy’s toenails/ Strawberry Pink./ Dad and Uncle Joe play Scrabble with Cooper./ Cooper wins!” Or: “Grandpop says/ he’s not one/ for churches./ Grandmom says/ they used to fight/ about that/ when they were younger./ Now/ Grandmom/ goes to church/ by herself.” The easy flow of the free verse is lulling, and although Sophie learns that “life is never perfect,/ even at the summerhouse,” the book’s ending is upbeat, with a hopeful look ahead toward next year’s beach-cottage trip.

      Still-younger readers, ages 7-10, can get some summertime fun from the latest Babymouse installment, Camp Babymouse. It is full of the expected Babymouse things: fantasizing, talking with (and back to) the book’s narrator, and making all sorts of mistakes – which in this case lead Babymouse to keep getting demerits for her cabin at Camp Wild Whiskers. Babymouse is as endearing and messy-whiskered as ever, and her daydreams (she turns into Babykong in one and scares Bigfoot in another) have, as usual, better outcomes than her real life – in which she fails to make her bed, sets part of the forest on fire, and more. Optimistic and plucky as ever, Babymouse does show her mettle by rescuing herself and another camper when they get lost one night. But she remains pretty hapless, if not hopeless, most of the rest of the time. Camp Babymouse doesn’t have quite as much zing as the best books in this series – Jennifer L. Holm and her brother, Matthew Holm, make this one a little too formulaic – but it’s an enjoyable summertime adventure for young readers who like the central character and just want a pleasant way to pass a little bit of time.

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