CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 40 . . . . June 14, 2013
Set in 1962 at Sandy Shores, the family's home, summer resort and business, Summer Days, Starry Nights is told in the first-person by 12-year old Reenie. The story revolves around the Starr family with Reenie as the story-teller. The book opens with Reenie's mother, Mimi, suddenly and mysteriously disappearing. No one knows where she is, and the reader learns that Mimi is at times moody, withdrawn, sad and inattentive to her husband and three children, 16-year old Bo, Reenie, and five-year old Scarlett. Mimi is gone for several days, long enough for the police to be called in. There is a brief mention of suicide, but this is glossed over and never mentioned again, and just as mysteriously, Mimi returns home.
No suitable answer is given for Mimi's absence, and the whole episode is glossed over. Mimi distributes presents, which Reenie surmises come from the nearby town, bought not by Mimi but by Reenie's father. Reenie is hurt and angry, both about her mother's abandoning the family for several days, and about the gifts being used as bribes to forget what happened.
Sandy Shores has been having financial trouble, and the family has tried a few things to entice people to come to vacation at the resort. Reenie is especially concerned about losing their home, but she feels certain that only her father would agree with her. Her brother Bo is a talented budding musician and wants to pursue his dream of performing, although their parents don't take him seriously. And Reenie is sure that, given the chance, her mother would leave Sandy Shores and never look back.
Mimi, however, does offer ideas and suggestions to help make Sandy Shores financially viable. One idea is to add a high-class restaurant. Mimi is often portrayed as headstrong and determined to get her own way while, at the same time, offering fanciful business ideas which are not likely to catch on. Her husband appears to be more of a puppet, just doing her bidding and trying to make her happy. The restaurant is added, and it doesn't do as well as Mimi had hoped, leading her to fall into a wistful, sad mood.
Mimi's next idea to attract business is to offer dance classes, and Mimi knows just the dancer to bring in - an 18-year-old girl named Gwendolyn who is the daughter of a family friend. Gwendolyn comes, somewhat reluctantly, to work at Sandy Shores for the summer and gives dance lessons. Gwen's character is at times almost a stereotype of a Hollywood movie star and spoiled child who stays in her room for days at a time, smoking. However, Reenie loves Gwen, and, for her, this is a dream come true. Reenie admires Gwen, and she wants to learn to dance like her. Reenie feels very drawn to Gwen. There is a family secret involving Gwen that is revealed in a dramatic event at the end of the book.
Although set in 1962, except for mentioning the date, there are very few references to the Sixties except the names of songs and musicians on the records Gwen brings with her. The dialogue of the characters doesn't reflect the language of the time period, nor do any descriptions of items in the story. No historical references are made in the story. There doesn't appear to be any reason to set this story in the 1960s, and it doesn't really have a 1960s feel for me. This story reads to me like a present-day novel.
The theme of mental illness or depression of the mother is never really addressed or confronted, although one of the reasons for her sadness and absence from the family becomes clear at the end of the story. At one point, as an explanation for his wife's unhappiness in life, Reenie's father says, "That sort of sadness runs in families sometimes." And with that, the whole thing is dismissed.
I never warmed to the characters and was sometimes confused by things they did or said. The motivation for why things happened or didn't happen wasn't apparent, and I didn't feel they always acted in line with their personalities. In many ways, 12-year old Reenie seemed too wise and worldly for the naive 1960s child she should have been – she thought and talked more like a young girl from the year 2010. It is for these reasons I would recommend this book with reservations.
Recommended with reservations.
Mary Harelkin Bishop is the author of seven books and is most well-known for the "Tunnels of Moose Jaw" time travel adventures. She is currently pursuing her Master's in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, SK.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.