Release Date: February 1, 2016
Jess Gordon is out for revenge. Last year the jocks from Knights College tried to shame her best friend. This year she and a hand-picked college girl gang are going to get even.
The lesson: don't mess with Unity girls.
The target: Blondie, a typical Knights stud, arrogant, cold . . . and smart enough to keep up with Jess.
A neo-riot grrl with a penchant for fanning the flames meets a rugby-playing sexist pig - sworn enemies or two people who happen to find each other when they're at their most vulnerable?
It's all Girl meets Boy, Girl steals from Boy, seduces Boy, ties Boy to a chair and burns Boy's stuff. Just your typical love story.
A searingly honest and achingly funny story about love and sex amid the hotbed of university colleges by the award-winning author of Raw Blue.
I was incredibly excited for this book. In fact, when I was filling out the End of Year survey a while back I genuinely had the thought “god, I hope I can list Summer Skin as one of my favourite books in the 2016 edition”. Well, I really hope there’s going to be 2016 version of the End of Year survey because I’m already planning to put down Summer Skin as the book I’m most likely to reread next year. This book is incredible. It’s wild and nuanced and full of energy, and there’s a sort of frenzied rhythm to it that makes it immensely readable. For a good 50 pages I didn’t know what was going on but I was into it. Then the next 50 pages I still had no idea what was even happening, but I was laughing my ass off and having a great time. I’m already warning you that nothing I say here will be able to do this story justice so maybe you should just go pick it up and starting reading it immediately? Yes, good.
(Be warned: run-on sentences ahead.)
Let me say, though, that this book isn’t what I was expecting. Between the synopsis talking about school rivalries, asshole jocks, and hand-picked college girl gangs and it dropping the epic “it’s all girl meets boy, girl steals from boy, seduces boy, ties boy to a chair and burns boy’s stuff. Just your typical love story.” summary, I’d expected it to be flirtier and about constant confrontations between these two groups. There is some of that, and it’s glorious, but the majority of the story is actually kind of intimate and personal. I know I just called it very readable and I still stand by that, but there’s something in the way it’s written that makes it all very jarring and sometimes hard to follow. There’s so much that happens within the span of a single page that I regularly had to go back a few sentences to get all of it. I felt like I was reading a 500-page book (at least), not because it dragged or anything, but because the story was just so rich.
One of the things that stuck with me the most is how Summer Skin represents college life. It heavily features the hook-up culture side of it and I like how this wasn’t unilaterally condemned. There are definitely some messed up situations and it’s obvious this way of life isn’t for everyone, but it’s also about people having fun and figuring out what they want, and it was great to see how the Unity girls stick together and help each other out. I like the nuanced approach Eagar takes to relationships and the different views on them and how she isn’t afraid to explore the grey areas. Slightly related, I’m also very fond of the passage where Jess comments on how everything at Unity is supposed to be a joke and like lighthearted fun and that there’s this certain preferred Unity persona of the person who cares enough to not seem like a total asshole but who also doesn’t really get involved and generally keeps some distance from the more serious parts of life and relationships. Gah, there are so many details I can rave about for days.
I’m sure many people will label this book “sex-positive”, and it is, but it’s also a wider range of sex positivity than just calling out double standards and the usual “woohoo a girl has sex and isn’t judged for it. Feminism!!” exclamations. Obviously, neither of those are bad things but I feel like the conversation about sex (positivity) in general gets simplified A LOT. There are girls in Summer Skin who have awesome, casual sex. There are characters who’d rather only have sex in committed relationships. There are those who admit to the pressure they feel to be seen as the Cool Girl who is fine with getting naked, having sex, moving on, and never complain, even when that isn’t really them. There aren’t really any absolutes and I love how each character got to figure out what worked for them. (I keep using this word but) it’s that nuance that I sometimes miss in the sex-positivity convo.
So, as you might be able to tell at this point, the characters are definitely memorable. One of my favourites is Leanne, who is an absolute maniac and I’m honestly slightly worried for her (as is pretty much everyone in this novel) but she’s good entertainment and just a very fascinating character to me. Jess is also fantastic. I’m not sure I have a full read on her yet, and at a certain point I was convinced I never would, but she’s one of those people who continues to surprise you in a good way. She’s so genuine and uninhibited that she can make people fall in love with her and have the time of their life within ten minutes. She’s very opinionated and I don’t agree with her on everything, but she has a very entertaining way of phrasing her thoughts. She can also be a little self-involved and has her moments of insecurity and I love how she’s so many of these things at once. All I can say on “Blondie” without spoiling too much is that he has issues,. Seriously, he sets an entirely new bar for just how much you can hate yourself. And while his behaviour came very close to exasperating at times, he’s also so well-written that it never annoyed me.
It’s funny, though, because “Blondie” is in almost every scene and the majority of the story is about romance and them running into each other, which very rarely works for me, but here I was completely into it. I do wish there would have been more friendship shenanigans or independent Jess moments to balance it all out, but overall the romance was so charming that I didn’t really mind. This is going to sound weird, but the sex scenes were really cute. (I CAN’T EXPLAIN IT YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO READ IT I GUESS) I can tell I’m really into a ship when I get these little heart squeezes — it’s much more pleasant than it sounds — and let me tell you, pp. 140-142 brought them out like whoa. It’s possible I have a bus kink considering some of my other OTPs. But anyway, Jess and Blondie’s relationship goes through a lot. It was so much more intricate than the usual relationship arc I see that I often thought “well, if they’re already getting to this point in their relationship how come there are still so many pages to go” and yet it never felt like too long or drawn out. Usually, this is also a sign that some serious drama is coming, and while things get really dramatic and intense towards the end, it wasn’t the eye-roll-worthy kind. Random shout-out to the outrage Jess feels for the way Sylvie has been treated because it was everything to me.
A last thing I want to say is that Summer Skin has one of the most honest portrayals of friendships and group friendships I’ve ever seen. I remember being a little surprised when it was revealed Farren is Jess’s best friend because Jess seems to spend more time with Leanne and Allie. However, I feel like Farren is the person who gets Jess the most (and vice versa) and the whole scene with Farren drunk-dialling Jess and telling her stuff she would never admit sober did things to me. The scene where Jess drops by Farren’s room super early in the morning because she needs someone to talk through her complicated feelings on a certain hook-up and they end up sitting on Farren’s bed while Farren’s boyfriend just lies there (naked) and occasionally tries to join in giving advice was equally incredible. I can list so many examples of great and nuanced friendship moments in this book, but I just want to say that it made me think about friendship a lot.
I also loved how Eager showed the complex feelings that can come with friendship. I don’t doubt for a second that these four girls will defend and protect each other, but there’s also some exploration of jealousy, small annoyances, and things they don’t really get about each other. On the other hand, they also learn from each other. I will say that I’m not 100% convinced that these friendships will survive college and I do feel like they’re the sort that will be put on the back burner once they all have boyfriends — because yes, for all its exploration of female sexuality this book is still the straightest — but that doesn’t take away from how much I appreciate the intricacy with which they’re handled. The same actually goes for the romance, now that I think of it. I went back and forth a lot on whether that relationship was even meant to be a lasting one, but it convinced me in the end because they just go through so much.
All this to say that Kristy Eagar has some serious skills. The fact that Jess manages to pull of things like defending Blondie to his brother by calling him lovely without that ever sounding sappy is just one example of that. Something in the tone of this book makes me think this will go over well with fans of Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Year of Secret Assignments (whoop) and Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon, and I, for one, am going to reread the shit out of it within the year.
“I reserve my right to choices, too, and I choose to behave badly. So there.”
“Let me guess,” he said, taking in the details of her T-shirt. “There is no F-floor.”
“That’s what I like about you,” Jess told him with a tight smile. “You keep up.”
“Hey, listen, I’m sorry I didn’t-“
“It’s the only thing I like about you,” Jess said. “Can you move, please?”
Heather straightened, pulling at the hem of her linen blouse, her tone brisk: “What you aren’t is a second-place girl.”
“Oh, thanks, Heather,” Jess said, touched. “That’s lovely.”
“You’re a competitive little shit.”
“Right to go?” Farren asked. “Leanne’s waiting.”
“Sure.” Jess slammed the fridge shut and walked out of the door bare-chested. Luckily, there wasn’t anybody around at that moment. Farren’s laugh rolled out into the hallway after her. Jess returned to the room, giving her a huffy look. “Well, obviously, I’m not right to go. You’re early and my boobs are out. Why even ask? You know it annoys me, but you do it every time.”
“Because you react every time,” Farren told her with a big cheesy grin.
“Oh, how embarrassing. Your brother’s a hipster.”
Jess laughed, delighted, and in one cinnamon-sugar moment Sunday’s humiliation was forgotten, simply because talking to [Blondie] was just more fun than talking to anybody else. It was the same for him — she could see it in his eyes, his grin.
“Yeah, Jess. I’m feeding you lines so I can go down on you. There’s a situation your mother warned you about.”
And I was like, “Wow, I’m so moved.” Then he said — and I’ll quote this bit, because it was embarrassingly over the top — “All right, I wanted to tell her that when she said it was goodbye this morning I thought I was going to fucking die.”
“This veal parmigiana better be–” he stopped short, taking in the mess the kitchen was in, the empty wine bottle on the bench, the two bottles next in queue, Adrian and Jess huddled together near the oven, staring back at him with guilty looks on their faces, wide-eyed, obviously a bit tipsy, Adrian wearing his tie as a headband…
And Adrian, unable to help himself, snickered.
[Blondie] frowned at his watch, and then at Jess. “Seriously, you’ve only been here for fifty minutes.”
“My boyfriend hath got summer skin.” [Blondie] grunted. “He did not want to let me in.” Jess thought for a moment. “But he was cracked. And I was…”
“Whacked,” [Blondie] suggested, unkindly.
Jess let her Shakespeare fall and turned towards him. “So I put on my boots, and kicked his fucking heart open.”