Paperback, 352 pages.
Release date: May 23rd 2013.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
There are two sides to every summer.
When seventeen-year-old Rory McShane steps off the bus in East Hampton, it's as if she's entered another universe, one populated by impossibly beautiful people wearing pressed khakis and driving expensive cars. She's signed on to be a summer errand girl for the Rules -- a wealthy family with an enormous beachfront mansion. Upon arrival, she's warned by other staff members to avoid socializing with the family, but Rory soon learns that may be easier said than done.
Stifled by her friends and her family's country club scene, seventeen-year-old Isabel Rule, the youngest of the family, embarks on a breathless romance with a guy whom her parents would never approve of. It's the summer for taking chances, and Isabel is bringing Rory along for the ride. But will Rory's own summer romance jeopardize her friendship with Isabel? And, after long-hidden family secrets surface, will the Rules' picture-perfect world ever be the same?
Joanna Philbin specialises in short, sweet summer reads – and that’s exactly what you get with Rules of Summer. It’s aimed at a slightly older audience than her previous books but the atmosphere is just the same: it has a light, easy feel, defined by the contrast between the luxury of Isabel’s life in the Hamptons and the very different normality of Rory’s life back home. The Hamptons is a place where everyone is beautiful, and if they’re not, then they’re rich enough that their bank balance brings them all the beauty they need. It’s the perfect setting for a story of first love, second chances and self-discovery.
Rules of Summer is told in dual viewpoint. The transition from one chapter to the next is really well done, almost effortless; it made keeping up with events so much easier. I liked the main characters, but unfortunately I didn’t love them. They were well-written in theory; they had all the right assets, all the right place-holder hobbies and carefully-tailored insecurities, but they just didn’t leap off the page. I didn’t understand why Rory wanted her summer working as a ‘help’ for a supercilious aloof Hamptons family and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Isabel was just a rich girl playing at rebellion. There’s a lack of reality to the way they view the world that no amount of plot twists or shock revelations could overcome.
As far as plot goes, Rules of Summer has just enough to keep it ticking over. It relies on character development but it’s a little predictable. A disadvantage of reading a lot of young adult contemporary is that you start to see the same tropes appearing over and over again and I think this was my main problem with Rules of Summer. It doesn’t surprise or excite. The writing style in general was fantastic, reliable and descriptive; I just wish someone had thought to take advantage of this by introducing ideas or storylines less used in YA. That said, the few issues that are raised in the narrative are handled deftly, even if the ending is a little too neat and perfect to be realistic.
Thankfully, the romances of Rules and Summer exceed expectations. Rory’s falling for Isabel’s brother and while you may see that coming (she gets just a little love-struck when they first meet) while Isabel’s falling for gorgeous surfer Mike. Each relationship is a flipped mirror image of the other - the same upper-meets-working-class contrast being looked at through different eyes. Relationships across this class divide are apparently a cause for concern in this world where appearances and reputation are everything, which inevitably leads to a lot of secrecy and melodrama. While it’s not exactly a tale of star-crossed lovers, readers enjoy seeing Isabel and Rory learn to forgive their own prejudices and see that really, they’re the ones standing in the way of their own romantic happiness. Of course, some of the supporting characters put up a bit of fight but there’s such a lack of depth to this books cast, it’s difficult to take them seriously.
The friendship between Rory and Isabel was without doubt my favourite part of the book. Family plays a big role in the story but for me, Rory and Isabel’s slowly-growing friendship was the one truly genuine thing about Rules of Summer. It was what made them real to me and it was the reason I kept reading to the final page.
In short: Rules of Summer isn’t exactly a ground-breaking piece of YA contemporary fiction, but it has enjoyable romances and best of all, a genuinely refreshing focus on teenage friendship. A guaranteed stress-free beach read.