The Summer of Guinevere (2019) – John V. Madormo

Title:The Summer of Guinevere
Author:John V. Madormo
Publisher:The Wild Rose Press
Publication Date:2019
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:I was sent a copy of this novel from the author John V. Madormo in exchange for an honest review

The feeling of an endless summer is not easy to describe. As one gets older memories fade and its difficult to remember the feelings of ‘forever’ we had as kids. As adults we slowly start forgetting what it felt like to be so in love that there really was nothing else that mattered. We’ll forget those loves when we grow up, and the world becomes a much more complicated place. It’s good to be reminded every now and then that despite life’s hardships there is nothing quite like the heartache and pain of your first love. It puts things into a little bit of perspective.

In 1968 Paul ‘Paulie’ Passero is a sixteen year old kid living in Chicago. There’s a war going on in Vietnam, and recently Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr and Senator Robert Kennedy have both been assassinated. It is a time of extreme upheaval and of fear in the lives of the American people, but not so much for sixteen year old Paulie and his best friend Mickey who are contemplating summer vacation, and talking to girls. Paulie is a C-average student with little ambition. He’s sixteen, its no big deal and the country’s politics don’t seem to bother him as much as they do the grown-ups in his life. He lives with his parents and his life is pretty average.

One day his Dad gets a call from Paulie’s Uncle Buddy with the news that the grandmother Paulie never met is very sick and possibly dying. She lives with his grandfather and his Aunt Gloria in the small town of Leroy, Pennsylvania and Buddy needs his brother to come back home and say goodbye. Through the point of view of young Paulie we learn that his dad left home twenty years ago and that he hasn’t been home since. Two weeks before school is about to start again Paulie and his Dad set off on a road-trip to Leroy that will be the perfect introduction to this coming-of-age tale as father and son are forced to learn about each other in more ways than they ever had before. In Leroy Paulie will meet his distant family who seem to be at odds with his father for reasons Paulie will only understand once he starts to talk to the family he never knew.

During his first day in Leroy he will see Guinevere Thompson, a beautiful girl about his age on the back of an old pick-up truck with a bad muffler problem, and whose brothers Paulie will learn are the town troublemakers. Paulie can’t get the beautiful Guinevere out of his head, and will remain completely infatuated the rest of that summer. All he wants to do is talk to her, but that will prove very difficult when he is forbidden to have anything to do with the Thompsons.

Meanwhile his father is helping his grandfather in the family business, a little bar on the side of the family home. His aunt Gloria seems permanently bitter, and his grandfather is struggling to run the bar without any real help. Uncle Buddy, a high school English teacher who lives in a mobile home on the edge of town and often quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, suggests taking care of Paulie during the summer whilst his father spends time at home with his estranged family. At first Paulie is delighted as he’s always looked up to Uncle Buddy and is hoping he’ll be given the chance to see Guinevere without being under the watchful eye of his father. This new plan will prove to be not as Paulie hoped and he is forced to sneak out of the house to see her, and on one of these occasions (that never seem to go well) Paulie learns a terrible secret about Guinevere’s life at home forcing him to break a few promises in order to do the right thing.

Madormo’s novel is a story about the pain of growing up, and the relationships we have with our parents. Its a story about family and the secrets that people keep that can sometimes last for generations. The protagonist Paulie is a sixteen year old kid who is infatuated with a girl whose home-life is anything but enviable, however those intense feelings of being a teenager in the midst of a crush are undeniable. Sometimes Paulie’s observations are repetitive and upon closer inspection the reader realizes that we are right smack in the middle of the summer crush of a teenage boy. Paulie is a kind and decent kid who not only wants to help Guinevere but also wants to be there for his father whose past pain includes a brother who died in the war, and a disagreement with his mother (Paulie’s grandmother) that made him leave Leroy twenty years ago.

As with many young adult novels there are lessons to be learned, and an awakening to the greater scheme of things. Paulie’s limited time in Leroy will not only bring him closer to his own family, but will also bring him closer to his own heart. As his family and those around him learn to love a little more so too does Paulie learn from his own mistakes and even from the mistakes of others. The Summer of Guinevere is a remarkable slow burn reminiscent of hot summer days and the awkwardness of being a kid in love. A really heart-warming young adult novel that not only deals with the frivolity of being sixteen and misunderstood, but deals with some very serious issues that were relevant in 1968 and are equally relevant now.

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