Book Review: Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Book Review: Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Title: Invincible Summer
Author: Alice Adams
Publisher: Little, Brown
Hardcover: 308 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Four friends. Twenty years. One unexpected journey. Inseparable throughout college, Eva, Benedict, Sylvie, and Lucien graduate in 1997, into an exhilarating world on the brink of a new millennium. Hopelessly in love with playboy Lucien and eager to shrug off the socialist politics of her upbringing, Eva breaks away to work for a big bank. Benedict, a budding scientist who’s pined for Eva for years, stays on to complete his PhD in physics, devoting his life to chasing particles as elusive as the object of his affection. Siblings Sylvie and Lucien, never much inclined toward mortgages or monogamy, pursue more bohemian existences-she as an aspiring artist and he as a club promoter and professional party-er. But as their twenties give way to their thirties, the group struggles to navigate their thwarted dreams. Scattered across Europe and no longer convinced they are truly the masters of their fates, the once close-knit friends find themselves filled with longing for their youth- and for one another. Broken hearts and broken careers draw the foursome together again, but in ways they never could have imagined.

A dazzling depiction of the highs and lows of adulthood, Invincible Summer is a story about finding the courage to carry on in the wake of disappointment, and a powerful testament to love and friendship as the constants in an ever-changing world.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BEA 2016. This is an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Invincible Summer tells the life story of four friends over the course of twenty years, mostly starting when they graduate college and continuing from then onward. I know it says it’s a novel right in the title, but I have a hard time exactly classifying what sort of format this is told in; it’s not a saga in that it spends an excruciating amount of time detailing each moment of their lives. Instead, it feels like a series of extremely short snapshots of their lives — too short for it to really be considered a short story cycle — but with each year only given a handful of pages, it also doesn’t exactly feel like a novel. Whatever the format you want to label it as, though, it works. Adams does an amazing job in capturing the progression from just-out-of-college young adults to older adults approaching middle age and is somehow able to create relate-able, complex characters in the short amount of page time she gives them.

This novel would not have worked without the characters or their dynamics together, so I’m glad the characterization was spot on. They’re complex and greatly progress throughout the course of the novel. While they’re all friends, they all take vastly different approaches to life; Eva gets a big finance job straight off the bat, Benedict goes in for more school, and Sylvie and Lucien live the bohemian lifestyle while Sylvie tries to make it as an artist and Lucien just continues to live his college dream — partying and clubbing. I thought all of them had at least something that was endearing, but for the most part, they’re incredibly like-able characters. Also, it’s nice to get a story of friends not being with each other every moment, but still trying to make their relationships with each other work among the crazy busy times of adult life, and also seeing how they deal with the rocky points that inevitably come up.

The plot itself was handled brilliantly. Each character has his or her ups and downs; the theme that comes up consistently is that you can’t plan for everything in life, and most of the time, we have no idea exactly what we’re getting into when we make decisions. The characters go from dreaming, idealistic just-out-of-college adults to aged, more experienced adults who realize that they have no idea what they’re doing half the time, and that’s okay. I appreciated how this theme is handled, because it all-too-often goes into the condescending territory of belittling the dreams of young people. Instead, the reader learns along with the characters just how hard life can be, given circumstances and luck; just like real life, some of those young dreams are still there but have to find more realistic avenues to be achieved, and some of those young dreams are shredded entirely. This story has a lot of reflective moments of the characters wondering if they should have made different choices, which the reader is able to follow along with, because we get to read about pretty much every big moment in their lives.

Mostly, I like that Adams doesn’t pull her punches. Life gets really difficult for these characters and they have to deal with realistic, hard situations. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky growing up story where nothing too bad happens, though it is hopeful and optimistic. I think this story works more for an older audience, maybe at least late-twenties so that you can relate to the post-college (or post-high school, if you didn’t choose to go to college) “oh, so this is what life is like” realizations that the characters have. Not saying that younger people wouldn’t enjoy this as well, but it’s more geared to people who’ve been out of school for a couple of years. It’s a quick read and if it sounds at all interesting to you, I say give it a try. I think it’s a rather lovely story.

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